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Writing Grant Proposals

January 2000
By: A. A. Baker

The probability of your proposal's getting any attention at all is minimal -- unless you have an edge.

Here we are at a typical board meeting of the average non-profit organization. As usual, the need for more funding is near the top of the agenda. Then someone makes a statement that is predictable and even logical:

"We are doing an important work that impacts lives. This is a worthy effort. We need help. Foundations have money to give. Let's write a grant proposal and send a copy to each of them. Surely they'll want to help."

Predictable, logical -- and flawed! As a result, someone likely will spend significant time and effort producing a proposal only to be disappointed. All the foundation replies will be the same. "I'm sorry but we are unable to fund your request. Please be assured that this in no way makes a judgment on the worthiness of your fine organization..."

Do you give up? No. Not at all! But try a different approach. Do your homework and then write your proposal.

Consider the following:

  • Less than 6% of all gifts to your organization will come from foundation grants. 
  • Most foundations are buried in grant proposals. They fund only a few. 
  • The probability of your proposal's getting any attention at all is minimal -- unless you have an edge. 

The edge comes when you focus your efforts.

Focus Your Grant Procurement Efforts

  1. Research local foundations that serve the people in your geographic area. 
  2. Target those foundations that have an interest in your area of service, i.e. education, health services, religion, etc. 
  3. Research names of foundation board members to determine if anyone from your organization has a relationship with any of them. Such a relationship may help your organization obtain funding for a proposal. 
  4. Check records of prior foundation grants to your organization. Perhaps the foundation being considered has given before. Maybe one of the board members gave before. The easiest place to get a gift or a grant is from one that has given before. 

Once you have identified the foundations that appear to be the most likely to consider your proposal seriously, develop a strategy to get to know the people of the foundation better and to enable them to get to know you better.

Foundation directories in your local library will provide some information, but that is only the beginning. You must take an important next step. Visit the foundation, or, second best, call them.

If the director of the foundation or someone working in the day-to-day operation will give you an audience, go for it. Here's how:

Introduce yourself. Be brief. Give a concise overview of your organization. Provide a printed piece of literature about your organization. Then ask this question: "I'm new at doing something like this. Would you please give me some direction in preparing a proposal for your foundation?"

You may be surprised at the response. In most cases, he will hand you printed guidelines and an application, but because you are there in person, you'll receive additional help on how to prepare your grant request. Express your appreciation for his help. When you get back to your office write a personal thank-you note and mail it the next day. Then begin the preparation of your proposal.

One spring day, years ago, I made a "cold call" on a foundation in the Midwest. The director agreed to see me. His first question was, "What do you want, sonny?" I told him. He gave me a legal pad and a pencil and told me to write out my request and leave it with him. A check for $10,000 followed a week later.

A good friend once said, "If there is everything to be gained by trying and nothing to lose, by all means, try." Good advice! Do your homework, prepare your proposal, and try. By all means, try!

Dr. A.A. Baker can be reached at (864) 244-5711. 

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