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Making the Pitch: Writing an Effective Statement of Need

Thursday, April 12, 2012
Grantseeker Monthly

This month the Grantseeker Monthly team is looking at what is arguably the most important part of a grant proposal - the statement of need. The underpinning of any grant proposal, the statement of need is your opportunity to sell the impact of your work.

“The description of need carries the proposal, it is the hub of it,” says Kate Mansell, Director of Development & Communications at the Boys & Girls Club Services of Greater Victoria.  “It is more important than any of the other elements which are only there to support it and describe how you will go about realizing the solution to the need.”

Tell your Story

A personal touch can make a good story great, helping shift the issue from an abstract topic to a human story. “While data and charts and statistics all support your case, personal testimonials written in very strong, emotional language will always reach funders – even those who may get hundreds of requests a year,” Kate tells us, “After you have clearly written about the need or problem, insert a simple statement that personalizes it like ‘Meet Joey.  He had just about hit the bottom but we knew we could be ready when he reached out…’ and then begin addressing what your solution was or is.  Finish this section with another statement that demonstrates Joey did reach out and [that] we can reach other Joeys.” Remember that people like to give to people.

Susan Fish, founder and principal of Storywell, also advocates telling a strong personalized narrative, “Everyone loves a great story. Take time to figure out the story you’re telling.”

Susan suggests sitting down to answer a few key questions before you begin writing your statement of need, “Why does your organization exist? What real difference does it make? What would be missing from the world if your organization ceased to exist? Don’t worry about how clear or professional your answers are, but write out the answers to these questions just for yourself.”

Balance Passion with Pragmatism

In building your case, it may be tempting to paint a picture of dire despair to emphasize the importance of your cause. Susan cautions against overly emotive or exaggerated appeals, “Many organizations believe that they have to frame their work in terms of crisis and superlatives (i.e., we’re the best or this situation is the most…the worst…etc.). Some work fits that category, but if yours doesn’t, that doesn’t negate the need.” Kate echoes this advice by cautioning us to, “Demonstrate a sense of urgency but at all costs avoid suggesting that without their support the world will end!”

Make it Count

If the need that your organization will address is not in any way linked to the funder’s interests, the chances of securing a grant are slim. As Kate stresses to us, “A foundation or company whose primary interest is in promoting recycling and other environmental issues isn’t going to support a project that matches seniors with children… If it doesn’t match the funder’s mandate it doesn’t matter how eloquent it is.  They won’t fund it and it is very disheartening.  Do your research.”

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

Invest in the Editing Process

Since it is unlikely any funder has the same level of knowledge about the cause as you do, good editing is always crucial. In fact, the statement of need may be their first introduction to the topic. “Avoid jargon, technical language, and lawyerese,” suggests Kate. If possible, invite someone external to your organization to edit your writing.

At many nonprofit organizations, the editing process of an application will involve several stakeholders. This can be challenging to manage, especially when you are working with a tight grant deadline. “Too many cooks can indeed spoil the broth,” Susan tells us, “The content of an application often really does need the input of various stakeholders, but once that has been determined, my advice is to have one person ultimately write the application so that the voice throughout can be consistent. Give everyone involved a last look at the application before it goes out.”

While this may seem like a significant amount of effort for a few paragraphs, a well-researched and written statement of need can make or break your chances of success. “I would say that a well-crafted case statement is worth its weight in gold and all the time and energy you put into it,” Kate assures us, “You will go back to it and draw upon it for so many things.”

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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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