#NailedIt: How to make your grant proposal stand out

There are so many moving parts to a grant proposal. SO MANY. It's hard to keep track of all of the pieces you need to pull together to get that proposal out the door. And when you're in the thick of it, it's easy to overlook some of the most important things you can do to impress your reviewers.

So once you've worked on all the required parts of the proposal, how do you actually make it good?

Well. Let me help you with that.

Here are the three things you need to do to make sure your grant proposal stands out: make it easy, make it clear, and make it strong.

AAAAAAnnnnd: make sure you check out the handy cheat sheet I made to help you remember all the ways you can make it easy, clear, and strong. Just enter your email address right below and it's all yours.

Make It Easy

One of the best things you can do as a grant writer is to think about your reader. We've talked about this one before. It's REALLY important in grant writing. It's a way to do some of the work for them. There are two parts to this: don't annoy your reader, and do some of the thinking for them.

So how do you do that? Remember that the people reading your proposal are human beings with lives and stresses and possibly dozens of other proposals to read. People are busy and tired. It takes WORK to read a grant proposal. So make it easy for them by not pissing them off, and by taking some of the work out of their hands. These four tips are a good start:


1. Use blank space between paragraphs to keep it easy on the eyes

Nobody wants to read a wall of text. NOBODY. Especially people who have to read possibly a dozen proposals that might all look like walls of text. So make it easier for them by giving their eyes a break. Resist the urge to fill up ALL the space you're given in your proposal. It'll be more work to make your writing more concise, but giving your reader's eyes a break will pay off. At the very least, you won't irritate the crap out of them.

2. Use bold text and headings to pass the 'skim test'

Let's be honest: sometimes people don't read carefully. And sometimes people want to re-read quickly as a reminder of what they read on the first pass. When someone's reading your proposal quickly, you want to make sure it passes the skim test. How do you do this? Use that blank space to your advantage, and add in some headings and some bolded text to draw the eye to some key points. This means that you have to get really clear on what those main points are and what needs highlighting. It's another way you're doing the work for the reader. 

3. Use language from the call for proposals

Using language from the call for proposals shows that you're paying attention to what the funder wants. Your reader will be familiar with that language by being part of the funding organization or at least by being familiar with the call for proposals. It'll make it easier.

4. Anticipate questions and make connections

Anticipating questions and making connections is another way for you to do the work up-front for the reviewers. You're imagining where they might get confused or tripped up, and you're making those connections for them so that they don't have to do the mental work of figuring it out for themselves. You're making it easy.


Make it Clear

Clarity is about effective communication and internal consistency. In other words, you want to make sure that you've described your project in enough detail and you've made sure that all the parts of the proposal line up. So how do you do that?


1. Paint a detailed picture of your project

It's easy to forget that people can't read your mind. It's easy to forget that what's in your head doesn't necessarily get translated to paper. You need to make sure that the project you're proposing can be easily "seen" by your reader. Think of the Who, What, When, Where, and How of your project: do you have enough detail?

2. Assess whether an outsider could describe your project

After you've painted a picture, it's time to figure out whether an outsider could describe your project. The best way to do this is to actually ask someone. Get them to read your proposal and then describe what it is you're planning to do. That's one of the best ways to know whether you've nailed your description. And if you didn't get it right? Ask your reviewer what was missing, or what they didn't understand.

3. Eliminate redundant paragraphs/sentences/ words

Clear away all the underbrush to help you get right to the point. Read this post for a review of how to do it.

4. Use the active voice and plain language

Write in plain language. There's a fine line to walk between describing your project in simple terms and oversimplifying your message. Do your best to walk it. Remember: Keep it Simple, Smartypants.


Make it Strong

A strong proposal tells a story. The goal of that story is to persuade the reader. How do you do that?

1. Describe the stakes

Why are you proposing to execute this project? Why does it matter? To make a compelling case for funding, you need to explain what's at stake. You need to tell a story that describes the scope of the problem you're trying to tackle, and why it's important to tackle now. The scope doesn't have to be large, you just need to explain why it matters.

And it really REALLY helps if you can tie those stakes to the mission of the funding organization.

2. Look into the future

What happens if you don't execute the project you're proposing? In other words, what happens if things continue without an intervention? What do you anticipate will happen if the project does get implemented? What kind of changes do you expect? This is about the potential of your proposal to instigate change.

3. Provide evidence

When you're describing the stakes and the potential outcomes, you need to back it up. You need evidence. This might be more obvious in a research proposal, but it's necessary for pretty much any proposal you submit. Make sure you know what kind of evidence the funding organization expects.

4. Address objections

Your proposal is a story. It's also an argument—about why your project deserves to be funded. So think about where and how people might disagree with your argument. Is there a different way to answer the question you're asking? Is there a better intervention to solve the problem in your community? Make sure you let your readers know that you've thought about the alternatives and explain why you're proposing to do it your way.


Made it right to the end? How 'bout that cheat sheet? Enter your email address below to get your hands on it.


Which one of these tips is the most helpful to you? Tell me in the comments!