A Fundraiser’s Journey: Dave Bennett’s Top 10 List for Grant Writers

Kelly Updike for PCNRC, A Fundraiser’s Journey seriesKelly pic

You are in for a special treat as this post is written by David Bennett, executive director of the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne. Since its founding in 1956, the foundation has had a mission of serving the Allen County community by improving the quality of life for all of our citizens. In the last 10 years, nearly 7,000 gifts have been received totaling more than $86 million. At the same time, more than 1,100 charitable organizations and hundreds of students have been awarded nearly $80 million in grants and scholarships. You can read more about the foundation at www.cfgfw.org .

Dave’s expert advice for fundraisers.

top 10Your executive director comes to you and says, “Say, have you ever written a grant application?” Swallowing hard, you mumble something about a creative writing assignment you vaguely remember from first period English class. “Perfect!” she says.

So what do you do next? Here’s a Top 10 list to get you started.


10. Prepare to write – All writers are different; I need a decent chunk of time, a cup of coffee, and a quiet room. Prepare to write like you would prepare for a picnic. What do you need and what is the setting?

9. Read the requirements carefully. I know politicians say, “Don’t answer the question you are asked; answer the question you want to answer,” but that is a recipe for a grant application rejection. Carefully look at what the application asks and tailor your response to that question.

8. Outline first. Before you write a single sentence, outline what your entire application will say.

7. Brevity – Keep your narrative concise and to the point. I have a well-worn copy of Elements of Style in my den. Every so often, I pull it off the shelf and read a chapter. One of the key insights from the book reads as follows:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that he make every word tell.

Did you take four paragraphs to convey a message that could be told in one paragraph? Remember, the person reading your application likely is reading dozens of applications and probably under a time deadline. Make the job easier by keeping your application concise.

6. Avoid Acronyms. Never use an acronym that you have not defined. In addition, don’t overuse acronyms even if they have been defined.

5. Don’t hesitate to emphasize. Don’t hesitate to boldface or italicize a particularly important point. This helps the reader to focus on what is most important. If you want the reader to understand one key message, make it boldface or in italics (not both).

4. Proofread – Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. (How many times can I say this?) With spell-check there is no excuse for misspelled words.

3. Test your application safely – (I stole this idea from one of my fellow grantmakers.) After you have finished your application, give it to someone who knows nothing about your organization. Ask that person to give you feedback and criticism. Remember, there is a good chance that your grant reviewer will know nothing about your organization. It’s much better to get critical feedback from a friend than to have a grant reviewer find the same problem.

2. Reread the requirements. Do you need the signature of the board chair? Have you included all required documentation? How many copies should you submit? Is there a checklist and have you completed each item on the checklist?

1. Beat the deadline. I know, in this hurry-up world each deadline comes fast. But set a goal to beat the deadline by at least seven days. This means you aren’t rushing at the last minute and possibly making a big error. In addition, applications are date- and time-stamped when received and the reviewer will know if you beat the deadline by seven days or seven minutes.

Finally, keep in mind that rejection does not mean that your organization or your mission is bad. Often, it simply means that the foundation received more requests for funding than it had available. Don’t take it personally.

Writing a grant application is part art, part science. Keeping these tips in mind will help you and help the reviewer who reads your application.  Dave Bennett

The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Embassy or the PCNRC.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s