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How Captivating is your Grant Proposal?

As we seek to submit higher-scoring grant applications there are certainly potholes to avoid along the road. On the other side, my experience as a reviewer and panelist has shown there are key components of a successful grant proposal narrative. In the last couple of weeks, I have had the pleasure of presenting workshops relating to writing higher-scoring grant proposals and I’ve shared "four captivators” which I'll note later.

Sadly, the basics of grant proposals are what trip up many organizations. Simple things like not answering questions, not proofreading, and providing budget numbers that don’t add up are some of the most common. Organizations spend too much time (or sometimes not enough) to allow something so simple to derail their chances of receiving much-needed funding. Take the time and get it right. Show the proposal to third parties with no responsibility for the application for their objective viewpoint. Take their feedback to heart. Overall, make sure your application is clear, concise, and fills a need. Establish contact and communicate with the funder if you have questions relative to the proper approach.

With those basics out of the way, let’s look at the key components that can make your application stand out from others. What can you do that will make your proposal not be “just another project” to a reviewer?

I like to call these points captivators. They will do just that, captivate the reviewer who is reading about the project. Often, the written word is all that you have to sell the proposal when you’re not able to make an in-person presentation. That doesn't mean you load the narrative up with fluff, it’s quite the opposite. You become laser-focused in these key segments, or the four captivators.

1. Tell Stories of Need

By now, nonprofits should have a great appreciation of the need to tell their story. It’s another area we’ve focused on in our capacity-building efforts. Donors and others with resources will relate better to your efforts when stories are told. It’s how we communicate. At the end of the day, we relay what happened in our lives through stories, right? A story engages us and leaves us wondering what the result may be.

A grant narrative is much the same. You’ll want to be sure you familiarize the audience with how the community looks now, and what the issues and shortcomings are, while you expose and relate individual stories of the needs.

2. Develop the Hypothesis

Imagine solutions for the problems or needs, and relay how your organization is the most capable of providing the solutions. Show the organizational change and involvement you see happening soon as a means of melding the present into the future. Create the solution so the reviewer can “see” the potential.

3. Make Possibilities Real

A reviewer may love the idea but question whether the reality is attainable. This captivator will enable you to explain the transitions necessary. This is where you demonstrate the steps involved and how you not only approach but make the change you desire into reality. By laying out a definitive plan, with SMART goals and objectives, you allow the reader to see the progression from idea to implementation and increase their engagement.


4. Look Into the Future

Paint the picture of what the future will look like when your desired outcomes become reality. Relate stories of how lives will change, and statistics will improve. Give a glimpse beyond the destination and outcomes resulting from the implementation of funding. This isn’t fluff, it’s a realistic vision of the future that excites the reader about the change they can help implement.


Writing a grant proposal can be a daunting task. That’s why I recommend organizations use a grant tracking form, hold a kick-off meeting for the task, assign responsibilities among the team assembling the proposal, and provide a means of accountability for completion and submission at least 48 hours in advance of the deadline. Too often we find one individual trying to trudge through the many steps, becoming overwhelmed, or procrastinating until they need to throw something together and encounter technology issues in submission. None of these are recipes for success but ensuring that you incorporate a well-organized submission process, and the four captivators can be.

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