By Dr. Eliza Sanders, Consultant, Grants for Growth
At my first development job after leaving a career in teaching literature, I developed a personal motto for my grant writing: There’s always a place for rhythm and grace.
When we learn how to write grant proposals, we focus on what content to include, where to include it, and how to fit all those facts into 2,000 characters. If our understanding of grant writing stops there, however, we start thinking of a proposal as a series of holes into which we’re fitting the same pegs that we’ve put into every other proposal. Fill in the right answers, place the right pegs in the holes, and the grant will be yours.
We all know, however, that’s not true. Your grant proposal will be read by a human rather than a robot, and as much as humans enjoy data, they also love a story well-told.
Obviously, you must have strong, persuasive content in order to be considered for a grant. However, it’s a virtual guarantee that proposals with strong content will vastly outnumber the grants available. How can you stand out?
Style. Skillful, fluid, polished style.
By style, I don’t mean using more buzzwords or attempting a superficial “cool” factor. I mean the kind of style that makes English teachers sigh with contentment. The kind of style Jane Austen used. Style that makes reading effortless.
How do you edit your work for style, though, going beyond editing for inaccurate content, spelling errors, and incorrect comma use? Here are a few simple ways to edit for style:
- Avoid repetition of words. Certain terms can easily appear in every sentence of a grant proposal. “Clients.” “Community.” “Collaborate.” Find ways to mix it up.
- Vary your sentence structure. A mixture of sentence lengths and rhythms (formed by how you use punctuation to create pauses) will help your writing feel conversational yet professional and well-crafted.
- Be intentional with the order of your paragraphs within longer responses. Remember, you’re not fitting pegs into holes, you are telling a story…a story in which your nonprofit – and your clients – are the heroes.
- Use transitional sentences. These bridges will not only guide the reader more smoothly through your proposal, but will also make it obvious when your paragraphs need reordering.
I’m sure these recommendations are familiar. But you could be asking: how can good style possibly matter when funders are increasingly looking for impact, logic models, and metrics in their decision-making?
I can think of at least three ways:
- Good style makes your organization look like a good investment. A nonprofit that can afford the time and talent to create a well-written proposal tailored to a specific foundation, the reader can assume, can also manage its resources well.
- Good style shows a level of respect for the funder.
- Good style simply makes reading a grant proposal more enjoyable. After reading hundreds of pages describing worthy causes in dull and stilted language, a foundation’s program officer will notice and value the proposal that allows him or her to read its prose as smoothly as if they were reading a published book or article.
Working to make our writing style better, pristine, even impeccable does not make you snobby, frivolous, or self-important, nor does it distance you from the mission of your organization. It recognizes the humanity of the people on the other side of the process.
When many organizations have good stories, it’s the “well-told” ones that will win the day.
Want to talk about your grantwriting style? Reach out to us at (314) 716-2496 or LetsBuildHope@lbh-stl.com. Or, if you’d like to learn more about the art of grantwriting, please join us at Grants Boot Camp.
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