Common myths and facts about the grantwriting process

publication date: Jul 20, 2016
author/source: Rob Peacock

Like other methods of fundraising, grantwriting success is built on the foundation of direct and indirect relationships with prospective donors. As with major gifts or direct marketing appeals, the successful grant solicitation must clearly articulate the need for support, the impact of donor investment, and the particular strengths of the project being proposed. It must also provide donors the opportunity to support a mission or project that aligns with their own philanthropic goals.  Don't let some common myths surrounding grantwriting stunt your potential for success!

MYTH: Grantwriting is a mysterious practice that should be undertaken only by professional writers with deep experience in grantwriting.

FACT:  While grants should be considered as a possible revenue stream in every charity’s world, there seems to be a degree of mystery and trepidation around the process itself. Grants are not free money; they involve a tremendous amount of preparation and planning to enhance the capability and capacity of a charity to make a difference. The grantmaking process is basically rational giving, with guidelines based on the funder’s identified priorities.

While proficiency with the written word is a useful asset for successful grantwriting, it is not the most critical element of your proposal. Granting bodies do not award grants for verbal wordplay or virtuosity. Successful grantwriting begins with access to detailed organizational planning materials, providing the fundraiser with the organizational “raw data” required to complete the application. The application itself is then prepared and submitted adhering to the following basic principles:

  • Ensure that the proposed initiative for which the proposal will request funding meets a philanthropic need that is currently unmet.
  • Develop a clear plan for the strategy, implementation and evaluation of the initiative before drafting a single word of the proposal.
  • Conduct thorough research to ensure the initiative will achieve the funder’s philanthropic objectives – in addition to the charity’s own!
  • Build a relationship with the funder prior to submission – this can provide valuable insight into the evaluation process and areas of strengths/weaknesses in your proposal. 

MYTH: Longer proposals are often more successful than short proposals.

FACT: Many people think that "longer-is-better" because it can contain more detailed information on the project and therefore have a greater opportunity to demonstrate alignment with the funder’s objectives. In reality, this is a dangerous assumption to make.  The proposal’s format will vary depending on the funder, but invariably, grants contain similar components, with a sound plan to meet an important need and impact. The length of the proposal itself is not important if it succeeds in meeting the application criteria.

Generally speaking, there are three grant formats that are the most common. In some cases, the prospective funder will indicate what proposal style is preferred, or provide a standardized application form for the charity to complete. If no direction is given, the grantwriter may choose one of the following:

  • The letter of intent is generally two pages, and provides a very brief description of the project, asking the prospective funder whether a longer, more detailed proposal would be considered, subject to criteria eligibility.
  • The letter proposal is arguably the most popular, and is often three to five pages in total, with a specified funding request. This format is often more of an introduction of the proposed idea, used to determine potential funding interest.
  • The full proposal includes a covering letter with a summary, often anywhere from 5-25 pages, plus attachments. Most importantly, all proposals will contain a detailed budget outlining the proposed allocation of funds.

MYTH: Grants are traditionally best suited for organizations seeking funds for capital support or special project funding.

FACT: Given the range of organizations that exist with varying needs, Canadian granting bodies may make investments in a number of areas:

  • Funds for capital support are often sought in the context of a capital campaign. These intensive efforts seek funding within a critical period of time, usually for construction and renovation of facilities, or the purchase of equipment or land.
  • Special project funding is often targeted to increase organizational capacity to better support and fulfil administrative and fundraising objectives.
  • Program or project funding is often used to start and/or expand programs, or launch a limited-time initiative.
  • Operating funding, often known as unrestricted revenue, is sought for ongoing costs associated with running the charity. Grantwriters will find that it is often easier to prepare program or capital grant applications than operating funding.
  • Endowments are sought to provide support for grants aimed at long-term investments that generate interest income over a number of years.

Some funders will entertain proposals seeking investment for any of the above purposes. In most cases, however, funders will clearly outline their investment interests.

Success in grantwriting is both challenging and rewarding. The decision to undertake grantwriting as part of your fundraising portfolio is not to be made lightly – it is a decision requiring a great deal of effort. Yet for any organization willing to seriously commit to the practice, grantwriting offers new and untapped revenue streams and opportunities for meaningful partnerships over the short- and long-term.

Rob Peacock, CFRE has over 28 years of fundraising experience from various philanthropic sectors — including health care, education, arts and social services. Rob holds a Masters degree in Philanthropy and Development and was a faculty member of Humber College’s Fundraising and Volunteer Management Program. 

Purchase your copy of Excellence In Fundraising In Canada Volume Two to learn more about grantwriting and other vital fundraising topics.

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