Grant proposals are similar to business plans, include many of the same elements and have the same purpose: to get that money.
Most grants fall into three categories: federal, private, and corporate grants. There are no federal grants specifically for women, but there are private grants for women from foundations, private organizations, and businesses.
Grantmakers usually distribute funds through Request for Proposals (RFP), concept papers or grant announcements and bidding processes. Committees read, score and make recommendations for funding. But what are they look for when allocating funds? Decisions are based on the applicant's ability to fit their idea or proposal into the grantmaker's area of interest. If your goals are not in line with the grant's goals, it is unlikely that they will fund your program or idea.
So just as a cover letter should be tailored to the job for which you're applying, your grant application needs to be as specific as possible. Writing a competitive grant proposal takes time as well as a thorough understanding of your mission. When we're talking "free" money it's going to take a chunk of your free time.
Here are 5 steps to ensuring you're in the running.
1. BE MORE SPECIFIC
We can't overstate this: Your grant proposal should be finely tailored to the organization offering the grant. For example, the Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program is in its 13th year and support leadership programs for women and girls, women-owned businesses and local communities. It is a grant program offering aid to women in business that are beyond the start-up phase and ready to expand their business, their potential for positive social and environmental impact. The program has very specific eligibility requirements. For example, the business must be in operation a minimum of three years, at the time of application. But is also has more nebulous requirements. Here is where you pull ahead of the pack. There are plenty of female-owned business that have been in operation three plus years. But how many of those align with the Eileen Fisher company mission and leadership practices? Nail this.
Many grant proposals are scanned first so you need to be very clear and have sentences that stand out. Don't be over-flowery and don't try to "sound smart." Jargon is your enemy in this case.
2. DO YOU HAVE TO START ON PAGE ONE?
No. This isn't the SAT. You can start in the middle and jump around. Or start with your strengths and work from the inside out. If there is a section of the proposal you know you can nail, begin there because it will give you the confidence to move into sections you find more intimidating.
Some applicants like to start with the executive summary (always used in business plans) or introduction. It's the highlight reel that will help you develop an outline for the remainder of your proposal. Others like to start with the budget because numbers are easier to crunch (and more concrete) than ideas.
Ask yourself: What are my strengths? What are my priorities? What problem am I solving? Why am I the person to solve it?
3. THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY IS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION
If the cover letter is the hello hook, the executive summary is what draws the reader in and commits them to reading the rest of your proposal. It is one of the most crucial pieces of writing and it is your chance to make a powerful first impression and identify yourself clearly. So what do you need to include?
1. The business idea and mission, proposed title, the problem it solves, and why it's needed in the marketplace.
2. Describe not only the need but objectives and deliverables as well.
3. An overview of the key points that match the funder's interest. (Refer to earlier point about the Eileen Fisher grant.)
4. How much the total project will cost.
5. Keep it at one page.
6. Make sure to thank the funder for consideration.
The committees that read grant proposals for a living know when details have been thought out and when they haven't.
4. MAKE YOUR OBJECTIVES SMART
Use the acronym SMART when developing your key objectives to make sure you're on-track.
S - Specific
M - measurable
A - Action oriented
R - Realistic
T - Time oriented
5. REACH OUT TO A FORMER AWARDEE
If you're really stuck most grant programs make former winners public. If you want advice reach out to a company that received funding and ask for guidance. They may be willing to offer it to you, they may not. But if you ask for a 30 minute coffee or phone call and the request is granted, well, you're one step closer to writing a killer proposal.
Remember: this is a complicated and long process. These suggestions are the tip of the iceberg. One of the most important things you can do is give yourself ample time to complete the proposal. As well as give someone you trust ample time to review it.
It can be a game-changer to have someone validate your work, but there's no such thing as easy money.
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