Written by Sarah Smith
Imagine – you are on the board of a foundation and you have a stack of 100 grant proposals in front of you. How do you decide which is the winning grant application? What will make one proposal stand out in the crowd? Let me tell you a secret – it isn’t the one (entirely) written by ChatGPT. I asked ChatGPT to write this post for me and quickly decided that you all would take a nap while reading it. So I used it as a template and then used my own human brain to make edits and improve it. I encourage you all to use your brains too, to make sure your proposals stand out from all the rest.
For nonprofits large and small, winning grant funding can be a critical piece of your budget. While there are many parts to a grant application, there are three parts of the application that deserve special attention. In this three part blog post series, we will talk about the three most critical pieces of the grant application:
Today we will talk about the narrative. The narrative tells a compelling and persuasive story about your organization. It is often the most important piece in convincing funders that your project is worthy of their support. We are going to focus on a few things that will make your narrative stand out in that big stack of grants. We have a few trade secrets, but we don’t want them to be a secret because we want your nonprofit to be as successful as possible! That’s why we’re here! If we can empower you to do your best work, we have done our job here at Partner for Better.
Here are our tips for winning grant narratives.
1. Understand the funder’s mission and goals and use their language in the narrative.
Before you begin writing your grant narrative, thoroughly research the funder’s mission, goals, and priorities. You can often find this information in the “about” section of their website. Your project must be aligned with the values and objectives of the funding organization in order for it to be a good fit. Beware of mission drift! If the funder’s goals aren’t aligned with the goals of your program, don’t try to make it fit just for the funding opportunity.
Once you determine if it is a fit for your organization, examine their mission more deeply. Note how they talk about their mission and goals and learn to speak their language in your narrative by using similar terms. Look for their action words and talk about the effect of your program using their terms. By demonstrating a clear understanding of their mission, you’ll show that you’re a good fit for their funding and increase your chances of success. By incorporating their mission language into your narrative, you will take it to the next level by showing them you are deeply invested in the same process.
2. Clearly define your project’s purpose and goals.
A well-defined project is more likely to receive funding. Begin your narrative by clearly stating the purpose of your project and its specific, measurable goals. Be concise and use language that is easy to understand. Avoid jargon or technical terms that may confuse the reader. Describe how your project addresses a specific problem or need and the positive impact it will have on your target audience or community. When talking about the program, use actual numbers or percentages within the narrative to describe how your program is effective. When talking about the need in the community, find local or state data that shows real need for your program. A funder should be able to see exactly how your program works within the first few sentences. They should also see that it is a clear need in your community and put those pieces together to see that their funding will make a measurable impact if they give it to you.
3. Tell a Compelling Story.
Your grant narrative should read like a compelling story. Use narrative techniques to engage the reader and make your project come to life. Share anecdotes, testimonials, and real-life examples that illustrate the importance and potential success of your project. Combine these stories with actual outcome data to show both the qualitative and the quantitative successes of your program. Make the reader emotionally invested in your cause by highlighting the human element and the difference your project will make, then back up those stories with real numbers showing that your program is effective.
4. Demonstrate Sustainability and Impact:
Grantors are not just interested in funding short-term projects; they want to see long-term impact and sustainability. In your narrative, explain how you plan to sustain your project beyond the grant period. This could involve outlining your fundraising strategy, partnership opportunities, or revenue-generating activities. Additionally, provide a clear plan for measuring and evaluating the impact of your project. Evaluation could include something as simple as a survey that is given to all participants or be a more complex, multi-step evaluation. Letting funders know that they are giving to an organization that will be around in the long term and one that measures its own success are both key elements to a good narrative.
5. But what about the other pieces of the grant?
The narrative is just one portion of grant applications. Applications will also often include budget spreadsheets and budget narratives; goals, objectives and outcomes portions; descriptions of key staff and board members; program evaluation methods; demographics served; logic models; and many other pieces! These pieces should all complement and enhance the statements in the narrative to create a complete, effective request. In the next two parts of this series we will discuss how to craft a strong budget and evaluation section in your grant proposal.
Crafting a compelling grant narrative is a crucial step in securing funding for your project or organization. By understanding the grantor’s mission, defining your project’s purpose, telling a compelling story, and demonstrating sustainability and impact, you can create a persuasive narrative that stands out and increases your chances of success. Remember that each grant application is unique, so tailor your narrative to fit the specific requirements and priorities of the funding organization. With diligence and creativity, you can make your grant narrative a powerful tool for securing the resources you need to make a positive impact on your community or cause.
(Parts 2 & 3 coming soon!)