You've tweaked the text, finalized the supporting data and compiled pages of required attachments. If you've been attentive -- and lucky -- enough to finish your proposal with time to spare, how might you make your document stand out above the pack?
One in a pack is exactly what your proposal becomes once it hits the mailroom of most foundations. Put yourself in the shoes of a program officer at a foundation that is listed in one or more of the national directories. That publicity usually results in dozens of proposals per grantmaker per day. Funders simply do not have the time to read each one closely. If you spent your time doodling during Grantwriting 101, your proposal's time with a funder will likely be short and less than sweet. Lack of attention to guidelines, a rambling executive summary or a shoddy needs statement, among other things, will quickly disengage foundation staff.
If you have met those basic requirements, there are human factors that may determine a proposal's fate. These are the elements that make a text interesting to read.
Human nature draws us to documents that are visually appealing, readily understood and easy on the eyes. Most successful grantwriters incorporate some variation of the following into their writing routines:
- Read for succinctness. Each paragraph, sentence and word should help make your case. Cut text to a bare minimum, which if often a third fewer words than most of us tend to write. Omit text that you left in the document because it sounded impressive but does not directly contribute to your case. Your program officer will thank you.
- Write for dummies. No, you should not assume that your program officer is incompetent, but you should not assume that he or she has an advanced degree in the subject for which you are seeking funds. Find an editor who is unaffiliated with the proposal's preparation or even its basic premise. Ask that person to read the document with the aim of full comprehension. Since most grantmakers are generalists, your goal is to create a tone that is conversational and free from technical language, industry lingo, undefined acronyms or incomplete explanations.
- Format each page so that you leave some amount of white space on each. Page after page of solid text will increase the chances that your reader will skim the document rather than read it with care. You may consider adding bullets, creating more paragraphs, including some longer quotations (which are indented), leaving generous margins or inserting the graphics described below.
- Include one graph or chart to illustrate your most important point. One clear visual does wonders for providing the reader with a lasting image of your program results or the needs of your client group.
- Insert one photograph to put a more personal bent on your story. If you focus on a particular client's experience in your proposal, his or her picture will provide the reader with a sense of familiarity. If you make a case for a new facility, a photograph of the building will solidify your description of it.
If you write with another human being in mind, you will increase the chances that a program officer will spend time studying, and not skimming, your text. Make your submission as interesting to read as you would want it to be if you had dozens like it to pore over each day. The human side to winning grants is as critical as it is when soliciting gifts from individuals. After all, grantmakers are people, too.