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Five Common (and Avoidable) Grantwriting Mistakes

Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Grantseeker Monthly

So you had a fantastic idea to transform your community and you put together a solid funding proposal. After mailing out 100 copies, you eagerly awaited the funds to start rolling in. Instead, all that came back in the mail was a handful of rejection letters and this week’s McDonalds coupons. What went wrong?

In this blog post, we’re highlighting five of the most common grantwriting errors that can easily be avoided. For more fundraising tips, be sure to sign up for future issues of our e-newsletter: Grantseeker Monthly.

Mistake #1: Forgoing Good Research

In a Chronicle of Philanthropy article, Debbie Rey of the WK Kellogg Foundation revealed that eighty percent of the grant applications that cross her desk are immediately rejected. Why?  The grant applications simply didn’t align with the grant making priorities of the Foundation.

Keep your grantseeking efforts focused on only those funders whose priorities precisely align with your work. Although it can be time consuming to review the priorities of every prospect, we believe that it is less time consuming (and less frustrating) than writing a grant application that ends up in the recycling bin.

For further reading on identifying appropriate funding prospects for your organization, check out Building Your Prospect List: What Makes a “Good” Funder?

Mistake #2: A Circular Need

Every grant application should have a well written statement of need . As we’ve said before, it is the underpinning of any grant proposal and the opportunity to tell the funder about the impact of your work.

In their Proposal Writing Short Course, the Foundation Center warns against using circular reasoning in the statement of need.  This is when a proposal argues that a lack of resources is the problem that will be addressed with additional money. Instead, a proposal should focus on the impact that will be achieved with support from the funder.

For example, a circular need such as “we need to hire a program coordinator because we do not have one,” is not very persuasive.  A stronger argument would discuss the outcomes that will be reached: “with extra resources we will hire a program coordinator, which as past results show, will allow us to extend our services to another 150 individuals in 2014.”

Mistake #3: The Cookie Cutter Request

When seeking funds with limited time, many grantseekers will send a single proposal to hundreds of funders, hoping that with such a high quantity of applications at least a few will have to be successful.

In his book Six Rules for Developing Grant Proposals, David Bauer explains that funders react to this type of proposal the same way people react to junk mail. He argues that because it is better to submit one successful grant application rather than 100 unsuccessful requests, it is essential for charities to tailor their proposals.

Kelly Meighen, President of the TR Meighen Family Foundation, agrees and explains that successful grant applications describe how the project intersects with the interests of the Foundation. “They should be able to justify and explain how our criteria are going to be met.”

Mistake #4:  Disregarding Application Procedures

Some funders ask for grant requests to be sent via email in a short letter of inquiry. Others, a full proposal submitted through their online form. Many prefer written requests, which – as they will specify – must include your most recent audited financial statements and a listing of your current board members.

It can be tempting to overlook these preferences. You’re almost positive that a funder will be so captivated by your proposal and your cause that they won’t mind that you didn’t use their online application form.

It may seem inconsequential in the overall evaluation of a grant application, but funders like the RBC Foundation receive tens of thousands of requests per year. One year the Ford Foundation – one of the largest grantmakers in North America - counted every letter of inquiry, e-mail, and full proposal, and the total was around 144,000 requests! Application procedures are designed to ensure an efficient selection process, so not adhering to these guidelines provides an easy excuse for funders to reject your application.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grant Writing explains that many foundations determine the professionalism of an organization, to a large extent, on how well it follows application guidelines. (If you’ve recently had to hire an employee, think of how many resumes you rejected because they did not follow protocol.)

Mistake #5: Passing up on Feedback

A report from the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at the Cass Business School encourages grantseekers to do a pre-application contact if it is offered by the funder. This is an ideal way to make a great first impression and to determine if you’re likely to receive funding before you invest time in an application.

If your grant request proves unsuccessful, see if the funder will provide feedback on your application. The Chronicle of Philanthropy investigation into common grantseeking mistakes found that many charities fail to take advantage of such opportunities, even though such feedback would be extremely beneficial in the crafting of future funding requests.

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This blog post was featured in Grantseeker Monthly, the e-newsletter of Grant Connect. To receive monthly fundraising tips, blog posts, and interviews with funders, register for this free e-newsletter!

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