Grant Proposal Writing – 7 Ways to Break the Writer’s Block

The scene is all to familiar (and may bring back bad memories for some readers): a deadline for an english paper is due…the deadline seems to be sitting on the horizon but quickly approaches while actual progress of the paper’s draft remains at a frozen stand-still.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. That deadline is coming whether we are ready, or not.

Writer’s Block is a real struggle that can spill over into the professional world of grant proposal writing.

I offer a few strategies I have used in my own writing  to navigate pass the block so that drafts and eventual final copies can be sent out the door.

1- Speak about the foundation and its giving history first

Most foundations have websites, brochures and other marketing materials to communicate their mission. This language can be quoted in applications as you describe the mission-match between the foundation and your organization.

This tip will show the foundation that you have done your homework as you prove that you are familiar with their mission.

In less strategic terms, this tip will allow you to put some words to paper.

2- Take the time to develop a case of support

A case of support is a document that describes why your organization should receive support for its mission. The case is typically a photo driven document that illustrates your mission, mission-based programs and describes outcomes realized by your programs.

This document is most valuable if it is completed before the grant proposal writing season. Language can be ripped from the document and customized to fit the specific appeals scheduled to leave your development department.

Further, if your grant proposal writer was part of the drafting of the case of support, she or he will be able to naturally draw upon the language to complete their grant proposal draft.

3-Take time to develop answers to a common application

A common application is most popular among major cities, such as Austin. Foundations in these major markets understand that nonprofits will complete several appeals to local foundations and help nonprofits by requesting attachments to a common grant proposal application that is eligible for submission to most foundations in the given market.

The document asks uniform questions most foundations request; foundations may then ask for additional attachments for their individual processes.

Common applications can get your team ready to quickly complete commonly asked questions (such as mission, vision, outcomes, etc) so you can quickly move forward with other appeals.

This tip is only helpful if the development department is willing to invest time in the upfront cost of writing the document.

A department that is reactive and writes uniquely to each foundation will lose the long-term efficiency gained when time and thought is invested in the common application draft which can be used as a “word or thought bank” for future application drafts.

4-Use language from previous years with updated info

This is a very intuitive tip that most of us use.

A hazard of this tip is two-fold:

1- be sure to update figures that may lurk between the lines and

2- be sure to honor the preferred communication style of your current leadership.

Facts and figures not updated, especially when submitted to foundations on an annual basis, can make your nonprofit appear to be lazy and careless.

Further, language that does not reflect the tone of your current executive director or the latest language of your agency can hamper your long-term communication strategy. An example: I worked at an agency where the prior director loved to throw data and stats at the foundation. I then worked for a new director who preferred to highlight the personal stories of our mission. Be sure to adjust the communication style of your leadership so that you maintain and build trust within your agency in your ability to accurately represent internal leadership and their voice.

5-Schedule a meeting with foundation staff or president to talk about how your organization could be a good fit for the grant opportunity

This tip can save your agency and the foundation time. It may not be the right season for an appeal.  Also, the foundation could be going through a change of giving priorities. If your board or agency leadership can confirm that the ground is ready for sowing, then that allows the development department to assure that their time is well-spent on the opportunities that are most likely to yield partnerships.

6-Know your deadlines

It is sometimes easier to write when you know that you must write.

7-Dont be afraid to write in a team; drafts and drafts and drafts

Work hard to develop a culture of draft writing. This means that your writers need to feel comfortable making “copies” of drafts. But more importantly, it means that writers need to not have their egos attached to their copies as they must know that each copy is designed to get the agency closer to the final award-winning draft; edits are simply healthy hygiene of any grant proposal writing program.


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