The next grant proposal you submit may be one of hundreds, if not thousands, that a funder receives. After sweating over every sentence, it will become a needle in a haystack. So how do you ensure it sticks out?
Given the limited format of a grant application, articulating a noteworthy story isn’t easy. And you’re not alone: professionals in other fields face the same challenge. Researchers condense 100 page evaluations into one page executive summaries. Strategists distill the complexity of an organization into 50 word mission statements. And media relations specialists have only seconds to interest and educate a broad audience.
As part of our ongoing Wednesday Webinar Series, Imagine Canada recently presented on how to communicate impact across both traditional and social media. The presenters - Marnie Grona and Stephen Faul - drew from their extensive experience and provided practical advice about engaging media across multiple platforms. While watching the Communicating Impact webinar, the Grant Connect team was struck by three lessons in communication that grantwriters can steal for their proposals!
1. Doing good work isn’t good enough
Media outlets are presented with far more stories than they can cover and grantmakers receive far more applications than they can support. The stories that end up being chosen by media outlets are the ones with perceived value for their stakeholders: sound bites that will keep their audience tuned in day after day. Similarly, funders will ultimately invest in grants that have perceived value for their stakeholders: stories that their audience – such as the local community, board members, and their donors – will feel passionate about.
2. There is no such thing as a general audience (or a general funder)
A key takeaway from the presentation is that the general public is not an audience. Effective communication is tailored to a specific group. A tweet loved by Justin Bieber’s followers does not go over as well with those of Noam Chomsky.
Stephen Faul explains that traditional media outlets provide advertising rate cards that indicate what type of audience they are reaching. Any story that isn’t tailored to this audience may find a home in the recycling bin. Likewise, any cookie-cutter grant application ends up in the same place. If you were submitting an article to various magazines - MoneySense, Life & Style, Macleans, etc. – you would vigorously edit the content for each submission, aligning the point-of-view for each magazine. Like these magazines, grantmakers are a diverse group with distinct objectives and personas, and each application should be tailored accordingly.
3. Focus on the solution, not the need
As we’ve discussed in a past blog post, the statement of need is arguably the most important part of your grant application. It can also be the most challenging when you are restricted to a mere 100 words in a letter of intent or an online form. In the Communicating Impact presentation, Stephen suggests that when forced to be concise, explain your solution to the problem rather than the need that exists. To illustrate, he provided a real-life example: while working at an organization that prevents avoidable blindness around the world, Stephen saw an increase in both media citations and donations by shifting their language from needs to solutions.
Need: Avoidable blindness elsewhere in the world is a terrible situation.
Solution: We are working to end avoidable blindness – we have the solutions, we are on the road to reaching our goal we just need your help to get the job done.
Every grant applicant has a need. By placing emphasis on the solution – and inviting funders to take part – your application will stand out from the pile.