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Avoiding Grant Jargon

Fundraising has numerous abbreviations and phrases that don’t really make sense to those outside our profession, such as LYBNT, SYBNT, prospects, major gifts, case statement. Grant writing is the same. While we have limited space to make our case to funding institutions, we need to make sure we’re not using insider language in our narratives.


When submitting for a grant, we may not know who will read our grant application or proposal. Many community foundations and even corporate funders invite community volunteers to review grant applications. This means your narratives must make sense to those with no prior knowledge about your work or your nonprofit.


Here are some rules or checkpoints to keep in mind as you craft your next grant proposal:

Avoid vague or confusing language, in other words, jargon.  This happens  when we want to sound important, complex, urgent. The use of jargon can make the narrative confusing to those reviewing the application.


Acronyms are the insider of the insider lingo, so you want to help your reader. Spell out the abbreviation the first time the acronym is being used. Consider spelling out the acronym out again in a new section to remind the reader.

Here’s an example of what not to do:

CDBGs want the AGI in order to provide AFDC.

Be clear about who you are and what you do.

If your agency is a food pantry do not call yourself a food bank. Continuing with the food analogy, talk about the meals provided and the people served, not the number of pounds of food distributed. Use consistent language throughout the application.

Adjectives are the first to go.

We need descriptive language to tell our story, but do not use three words when one will do. The same applies to choice of words, do not use “superlative” when “high quality” or “good” will communicate the same thing.


When you are trying to not exceed the word or character count on a grant application, cut the adjectives and prepositional phrases first.


Do not assume the reader knows who you are and what you do.

Ask yourself, would my ________ (fill in the blank: mother, grandmother, neighbor) understand what I have written? The best exercise in grant writing is to create a succinct sentence that summarizes the program or project.


The best way to avoid jargon, acronyms, and fancy three syllable words is to have an outsider read your grant proposal to see if this makes sense to them, then you have clearly written your narratives.



Michelle Crim, CFRE


Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching, grant writing, and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in small to mid-size organizations because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.



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