Proposal Writing Insights

Hand with string tied on index finger

A version of this post first appeared in Philanthropy Front and Center Washington D.C.

Earlier this month at Foundation Center Washington D.C., Miyesha Perry, Manager of Grants and Administration at the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, led a special program on the Washington Regional Association of Grantmaker’s common grant application. Miyesha not only provided tips for improving common grant submissions, but shared a lot of great insights for proposal writing in general – insights too great not to share here!

  • Know the landscape in which you work and what organizations might be doing similar work in your community. Keep abreast of things that might affect your work, like politics and policy changes.
  • If you have a deficit, don’t ignore it. It is better to acknowledge and explain, rather than to simply avoid.
  • Give the funder as much information as you can, including letters of support if you have them.
  • Keep your results and outcomes reasonable. Understand the difference between goals, objectives, and outcomes, and know how to write SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or Attainable), Realistic, and Timebound) ones. 
  • If you don’t have an attachment the funder has asked for (such as an audit), let them know. Otherwise, the grantmaker may assume your application is incomplete and put it in the "Reject" pile since many of them do not have time to follow up with you.
  • A funder needs to see how you are going to fund your project. That includes sharing income that you have received (or plan to receive) from other sources.
  • Notify your funders about significant changes at your organization, like mergers, major staff changes, etc. Your funders shouldn’t be the last ones to know. Tell them yourself before they read it in the newspaper.

A note about common grant applications: More funders are using them, and they usually come with lots of advice on how to fill them out. Some even come with samples. To find these forms, find the regional grantmaker association for your state, then search its website for "common grant application". If your foundation prospect uses common grant applications and has a website, you can probably find it there, too.

Develop your proposal writing powers further with Foundation Center classes, offered in a variety of:

  • formats (in-person or online, live or recorded, instructor-led or self-paced)
  • levels (introductory or in-depth)
  • durations (one hour to three days)
  • price points (free or fee)

-- Jeanette Norton
Regional Training Specialist
Foundation Center Washington D.C.