Have you ever taken a vacation without planning where you’re going? In the film “Yes Man,” Carl (played by Jim Carrey) and Allison (Zooey Deschanel) decided to take a spontaneous trip to a random location. They drove to the airport and purchased tickets on the next flight that was boarding, and off they flew to explore—where else?—Lincoln, Nebraska.
I admit that serendipity has its appeal, but my inner Girl Scout usually trumps my inner vagabond. I like to know in advance where I’m going to sleep, and I plan a route that encompasses the sights I want to see at the pace I want to take. Planning doesn’t guarantee the result. The airline may lose my luggage, or the campground may flood in a storm. But I’ll know when the attractions are open, where to park, what to pack, etc.
Time = Money
Writing a grant proposal is not nearly as fun as taking a vacation. Like planning a trip before you walk out the door, however, the time you invest in pre-writing exercises will benefit you when you start typing. There’s a good reason why this tip is in my top five: spontaneity has no place in grant writing.
I know, I know. Grant writing is likely just one of many tasks that you’re responsible for. You have very little time to devote to grant writing as it is, let alone adding pre-writing to your to-do list. But, if your goal is to write a successful grant proposal, then pre-writing is a sound investment of your time. Plus, the time you spend planning what you want to write may save you some time in the editing and re-writing stage.
Avoid the Pitfalls of Typing Before You Think
I recently participated in a discussion among United Way grant applicants and grant reviewers. One of the review panel members commented, “Some of the people writing these proposals don’t know how to string two words together.” Another reviewer described the difficulty she had with following the writer’s train of thought in many of the applications she read.
As tempting as it seems to open a blank document and just start typing, that approach is likely to result in a lower grant score. Spontaneously composing a grant narrative could result in a meandering line of thinking that lacks a logical progression and includes irrelevant information.
The grant world is just too competitive to justify the “if I type it, they will read it” mentality. If your proposal doesn’t make sense, it’s more likely that the grant reviewer will set it aside and move on to the next proposal in the stack.
You may also be tempted to write your grant proposal in order from beginning to end. Unlike reading a novel or a how-to manual, there is no rule that you must write a grant proposal from start to finish. I typically begin with the need statement and let the rest of the proposal flow from that. You may also consider starting with the section that is worth the most points. Or you may choose to focus on your strengths and write the organizational capacity section first. And, as I blogged about in Tip #10, I always write the executive summary last.
Whichever section you start with, don’t begin to write until you have a plan that follows the funder’s guidelines in terms of content, structure, and sequence. List the points you want to make. Be sure to include all information the funder requests. If the funder doesn’t specify a sequence, decide the best order to present your points. Think about which points you can support with testimonials, research citations, charts, or photos.
If you’re a linear thinker, you may prefer to develop an outline. Each Roman numeral addresses a section of your proposal.
If you’re a spatial thinker, you may prefer a word map or word web. Create a map for each section of your proposal as well as a map that depicts the entire proposal. The example on the right is for the need statement of a proposal that requests funding for classroom technology. My main points are the need of the students, the need in the community, and the potential impact.
It’s Your Choice
You have a choice: you can invest time in pre-writing and submit competitive proposals that the grant reviewers can easily understand. Or you can skip the planning step and risk all the time you spent typing before you think. Remember: just because you submit a proposal doesn’t mean they have to read it. And if they don’t read your proposal, they’re certainly not going to fund it.
The next GrantSpeak post will address my #3 Grant Writing Tip about forming a grant writing team.