Fundraising Week 2012: How to Assemble a Grant-Writing Team

Photograph of a group of people brainstorming at a table.

It's Fundraising Week here at NCFY! We're re-posting some of our favorite articles from the Right on the Money series, which focuses on how youth-serving organizations can sustain their programs financially. In this article first published in November 2009, we talked to Washington fundraiser Kristen Valentine.

In these tough economic times, hiring a full-time grant writer or using a consultant may not make the most financial sense. As an alternative, small nonprofits can tap into the talents of their staff to put together grant proposals.

“What you ultimately want is to use your staff’s greatest strengths,” says Kristen Valentine, chief fundraiser for Bread for the City, a social service agency in Washington. “You want to find out what people do well and have them do it.”

Following are some tips she offered on training staff to write grant proposals.

Assess the staff. Who are the best communicators, organizers, strategic thinkers? Who’s good with graphics? These individuals should be on your grant-writing team.

Assemble a grant-writing team. Appoint a single point person to manage the project, set deadlines, create the file system and marshal team members along. Assign writers to support the point person. Rotate team members for each grant proposal to avoid burnout and to give various staff members the opportunity to develop grant-writing skills.

Host a training. At an all-hands staff meeting, teach the basics of proposal writing and give staff an idea of the types of grants your organization will seek. Here are four important themes to cover:

  1. Measurable outcomes rule. Don’t try to measure things that are too hard to measure, says Valentine. If it will take years to reach goal, or a goal is hard to quantify, start with smaller, identifiable things such the number of meetings or communications.
  2. Sound financial statements that can back up your program are critical. Smaller programs have trouble with this, but plan ahead so that the person who will be doing the back-end reporting is the one putting together the statements in the proposal. “Foundations are poring through these sections more, and there’s much more of a push toward transparency than ever before,” says Valentine.
  3. Brevity and bullets ensure your proposal gets read. Funders read hundreds of proposals each day. You’ll do well to teach staff to make their points in short, clean, jargon-free language and to visually convey as much information as possible. Valentine says to use logic models, graphs and bullets points. “Cut back on adjectives and stop congratulating yourself so much,” she says. “If you can say it in 10 words, use 10 words.”
  4. Translate the mission. A crucial part of the writing will be aligning the program’s mission with the requirements of the grant. Foundations are giving away mostly targeted dollars, says Valentine. The writers will need to be coached to talk with program managers and work out creative ways to explain how your nonprofit will fulfill the requirements of the grant.
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