I started my grants journey in 1991 with the Parks and Recreation Department for the City of Lenexa, Kansas. When my director asked who wanted to write grants, no one raised their hand. After looking around the room, he “volunteered” me. And so it began. I was 34 years old and had no idea what I was doing, but I liked to write. I learned by trial and error and read about grant writing wherever I could find information. I did know the first rule of grant writing, follow directions, and the second rule, follow rule #1. Though I did not write a large number of proposals for Lenexa, I did “bat” 100 percent.
Since that time, I have written successful proposals totaling more than $10.25 million, and have more than 16 years of experience in municipal parks and recreation alone. Drawing on that experience, I present you with five tips on grant writing. Whether or not you work for a municipality, these tips are intended to help you reflect on your grant writing process.
1. Don’t Chase After the Money
Though a grant opportunity may look promising, you have to make sure your organization stands a very good chance of receiving the grant. Otherwise, walk away. There is a lot of competition for limited funds, so you need to submit top-quality proposals. When the federal ISTEA program was in full swing, there was money for walking trails. We submitted two proposals and received both of them.
If grant writing is your full-time job or even a part of your job, your performance is probably judged on how much money you bring in. Don’t spend your time, and taxpayer dollars, on grant proposals that don’t stand a good chance of success.
2. Maintain a Grant Calendar
I continually juggle multiple projects, both grant-related and non-grant-related. Luckily I have never missed a grant deadline. I use an Excel spreadsheet to track grant proposal and report deadlines, expected release dates for RFPs, and all the other information related to a grant proposal: funder name, program area, amount to ask, grants submitted and the amount, grants pending/not yet approved and the amount, and grants denied and the amount. Grant management software programs are also available to manage this information.
3. Use Good Grammar and Avoid Jargon
Grant reviewers are looking for reasons to eliminate your proposal from the competition. Bad grammar and jargon can get you eliminated. Bad grammar shows that you do not take pride in your work and do not know how to write properly. Jargon is that "code" we all speak in our given profession. Yet many reviewers do not speak that language. You don’t want them to have to figure out what you are saying. I also emphasize three things in my writing: clarity, simplicity, and conciseness (another blog post in itself).
4. Have Someone “Outside” the Process Read Your Work
I find that when I have been looking at a narrative for a long time, I tend to overlook some obvious writing "issues." My wife reads all my proposals. She has a keen eye for mistakes and if she doesn’t understand what I write, a reviewer probably won’t understand it either.
5. Join the Grant Professionals Association (GPA)
I encourage you to become a member of both the national GPA and your local chapter, and consider taking the Grant Professional Certification Institute certification exam. I will leave the GPCI exam to another blog post. I am a GPA member and a Certified Grant Professional (GPC). I benefit from GPA’s education programs, both local and national, and the networking through chapter meetings and serving on national committees. It is a solid investment in your professional growth and development.
About the Author
Mark Hall Dunlap, GPC, is a Grants Professional Services partner with eCivis and the Owner/Principal at Dunlap Grantworks. In his career, he has written successful proposals totaling more than $10.25 million. He led the City of Lenexa, Kansas, to become the tenth agency in the United States to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Parks and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA).