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Virtually everyone who has ever had a grant proposal funded has ideas about what made it win funding. Some grant recipients may attribute their success to connections and networking. Others may attribute it to comprehensive planning and solid writing. Still others may attribute a grant award to great ideas and an exceptional history of accomplishments. All of such causal attributions may explain why a given proposal was funded; yet, seldom is any one of these attributions an exclusive cause of a funding outcome.

Here are five imperatives that, if heeded, should help to ensure your success from the start.

1. Communicate Quality:

Grant makers want to invest in projects that will succeed. Reassure them that you will be a capable, competent grant recipient. Provide evidence of past successes. Make your proposal a model of quality. Create a positive and memorable first impression.

2. Cultivate Funders:

Create a long-term relationship with a potential grant maker based upon a common purpose and commitment. Use an initial contact to explore shared points of concern, exchange insights about needs, and identify desirable solutions to problems. Be aware that grant makers seldom plunge into marriage. A suitable courtship must precede a union.

3. Prepare Thoroughly:

Do your research homework. Study public records to detect patterns in grant making. If approaching a private foundation, review its website, its annual report, and its recent filings of annual 990-PF forms. If approaching a public agency, review its website, its guiding documents, and its database of recent grant awards. In both cases, look at who got what, for what, for how much, and for how long.

4. Accept Priorities:

Every grant maker has a mission and an agenda. Arguing with a grant maker’s priorities, goals, and objectives is futile. Adopt and become one with them. Whatever you do, don’t quarrel with them! If accepting rather than rejecting them proves impossible, then pursue other grant makers instead.

5. Know Yourself:

A grant is an investment of scarce resources undertaken to solve a defined problem. You need to convey your organization’s competence at solving similar problems. Your proposed solution must fit the problem. In turn, your local capacity must fit the solution. Redefine the problem in a way consistent with the funder’s definition of it, then propose a solution and describe how you can deliver it cost-effectively within the available funding period.

More imperatives for winning competitive grants will appear here soon.


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