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What Grant Reviewers Wish Grant Writers Knew

I have been fortunate to serve as a grant writer, grant reviewer and grant trainer. Along with my own thoughts, I’ve collected feedback from several other grant reviewers as a way to help the grant process.

This is the best grant proposal ever written! Why wasn’t it funded?!

Does this sound (or feel) familiar? With the help of my friends and my own lessons learned, I’ve put together some tips and reminders to help your grant writing success.

1. This is the number one rule: Read the directions and follow the directions.

Help the reviewer by submitting a grant that aligns with the funder’s priorities and succinctly answers the questions.

2. Don’t bury the lead, have a strong opening sentence and paragraph. Clearly state the need and your solution.

I often directly answer the question back in the first sentence of the narrative. Make it easy for the reviewer to understand your grant application.

3. Answer the questions and give them what they are requesting.

I have been guilty of answering a grant question and then realizing on a later review, that I had misread the question and therefore, not really answered the questions

4. Know your character/word counts.

This isn’t Wheel of Fortune, “funder, can I buy a few characters, please?” Plan your response around any character or word count limitations. If you don’t need all the characters, you don’t have to keep writing to use up the space.

5. Beware of the “one-long paragraph;” use formatting when possible. Make it easy to read and to score.

  • Use at least a 12-point font

  • Make your margins at least one-inch wide

  • Leave space between paragraphs

  • Use punctuation correctly

  • Yse the correct syntax

  • Do not depend only on spell check to catch your spelling errors

  • Watch out for homophones; “there” and “their” can be spelled correctly but sabotage your sentence.

6. Edit your proposal to eliminate as much as possible jargon, acronyms, abbreviations and other “Ph.D. language”.

We are often not aware of how often we use this type of language. Ask someone not associated with your organization to read your proposal. Does it make sense to them? Is it clear to the reader what you are asking for and for what purpose?

7. Funders will rank your proposal against others on impact. Emphasize the impact of your program and organization. What makes your program effective? What is unique about your organization? Why is it the best or the only or the biggest? Remember stories are important (see next point) but data shows your impact.

8. Client stories illustrate the impact of your organization.

Keep in the mind your audience for the grant. Grant reviewers are often dedicated community volunteers who are reading numerous applications. Including a story can help reinforce your mission.

9. Be sure to attach the correct documents. Are you sending the most current versions?

Always review each attachment before uploading. Label your documents clearly.

10. Do not wait until the day before the due date to write your grant proposal or complete the online application. Reviewers can tell if your application was completed in a rush. You must have time for editing and a final review before submitting. Also, grant portals have firm deadlines. I’ve seen too many examples of trying to submit a grant one minute before the deadline and the system crashes or your Internet goes down.

Bonus Tip

When editing, be careful with FIND and REPLACE options. If you are writing your grant in Word and then pasting into an online grant portal, be sure to have at least one other person read the entire grant.

True story: a colleague shared the unfortunate example of a grant application for the Ryan White Foundation. After drafting the grant, the nonprofit dedicated to use the word Caucasian instead of White in their narratives. Someone used FIND and REPLACE option for the entire grant which unfortunately also changed the name of the funder to the Ryan Caucasian Foundation and the grant was submitted.

Grant reviewers are an important part of the funding process for foundations. By following the instructions, and allowing time for a thorough review, you are improving your odds.

Good luck!


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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