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Right on the Money: Ten Tips for Writing a Persuasive Grant Proposal

Photograph of a young woman working on a grant proposal.

With several Family and Youth Services Bureau grant application deadlines coming up this month and next, it seems like a good time to recap some grant-writing advice we’ve shared over the years. We’ve culled the best tips from previous articles. Here they are:

1. Follow directions. "Federal proposals are very much like baking a cake," Tammy Hopper, now of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Centers, told us a few years ago. "On the Betty Crocker box, it tells you what ingredients to use, what temperature to cook your cake, and it even tells you what type of pan to put the cake in." Read the funding opportunity announcement very closely and be sure to provide exactly what it asks for.

2. Start fresh. A common mistake is pulling out last year's winning proposal and starting from there. But unless you have the reviewer's comments, you don't know why that old proposal was funded. Get the reviewer's comments and start a brand new proposal from scratch.

3. State the facts. State the problem that exists in your community and find current research to support your proposal. In cases where your organization on its own doesn’t meet all the eligibility criteria, demonstrate that you have access to resources and partners that qualify your organization for funding.

4. Translate the mission. A crucial part of your proposal is aligning your program’s mission with the requirements of the grant. Talk with program managers and work out creative ways to explain how your nonprofit will fulfill the requirements of the grant.

5. Ask questions. In the case of FYSB grants, NCFY or the grant program’s training and technical assistance provider can help you navigate the funding opportunity announcement and the grant-writing process.

6. Forego the old "team" approach. Because many staff members have information to contribute, proposals often come in without a cohesive voice. A grant reviewer shouldn't feel the proposal was written by committee. Have one person tie it all together to present a uniform tone.

7. Make it visual. Convey as much information as possible in visual form. Use logic models, graphs and bullets points.

8. Choose your words. Make your points in short, clear, jargon-free language. And avoid words that over-promise, like “unique,” “the best,” “the only”—unless they are really true.

9. Proofread, please! Although you won't lose points on paper, if the grant reviewer spots a typo, you won't make the best possible impression. Have a pair of fresh eyes review the final product.

10. Don't rush. Too many grant writers end up chasing the FedEx truck at the end of the day because they didn't allow enough time to write a good proposal. Give yourself enough time to polish your work.

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