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7 Strategies for writing successful grants

Throughout my journey as a grant writer, reviewer, and mentor to aspiring grant writers, I have had multiple opportunities to read grant proposals that received funding—and many more that did not. One question I often get from novice grant writers is: “How do I get my proposal funded?” To address this question, it is helpful to examine strategies that successful grant writers have in common. Here, I highlight seven basic strategies that I consider “musts” when it comes to preparing grant proposals.

1) Use a Logic Model

A logic model is a visual representation of your project’s inputs (program investments), outputs (project activities and participation in such activities), and outcomes (short-, medium-, and long-term changes to be achieved). Its purpose is to allow you and your stakeholders to examine each of the project’s components and their inter-relationships during the planning, execution, and evaluation phases of the project.

A good source of information on logic models cited by the U.S. Federal Government and many institutions of higher education is the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s Logic Model Development Guide.

2) Follow the Grantor’s Guidelines to the Letter

Without exception, all successful grant proposals I have read followed the Request for Applications (RFA) or Request for Proposals (RFP) to the letter. Many also addressed the “may do’s” embedded in the guidelines, which can help hedge your bet toward greater success.

If you are not a detail-oriented individual (many of us are not), get someone to help you examine the proposal against the RFA or RFP to make sure you have followed the guidelines faithfully. Following the guidelines may seem like a given to many, but you would be surprised at how often proposals do not adhere to this principle.

3) Describe Your Project’s Uniqueness

Successful grant writers do a good job of explaining the distinctive attributes of their projects. During the planning stage of your proposal, examine your logic model, identify its distinctive features, capitalize on them, and as you write, reiterate these features throughout your narrative.

4) Use Signposts to Guide Your Reader

Grant reviewers appreciate reading proposals that integrate signposts (the combination of bold font, underlined text, and italics) into the narrative. These signposts highlight key sections of the narrative for the reader. For example, headings and subheadings can use bold text, while project goals can use text that is bold and italicized.

5) Discuss Potential Issues

Successful grant writers acknowledge the possibility of shortcomings. They know what the main issues with their projects could be and when issues may occur. They then disclose this information along with a detailed plan describing how they will address them.

6) Do Not Overlook Basic Proposal Submission Etiquette

Most of us will get one or more proposals rejected before we get one funded. When rejection happens, consider your rejected proposal a draft of your next submission and integrate reviewers’ feedback into this draft. Never submit a rejected proposal to a different grantor unless you have customized it to fit the new RFA or RFP. Also, never ever submit a rejected proposal to the same funder a second time.

7) Do Not Give Up!

Grant writing is an art one learns by doing. As we go through peaks and valleys, perhaps the constant through this ever-spiraling process is the potential to refine our skills as we go – one proposal at a time.

Claudia Sánchez is Professor of Bilingual and ESL Education, Department of Teacher Education, at Texas Woman’s University. She has secured grants in the amount of over $4 million dollars and has served as grant reviewer for the U.S. Department of Education. Claudia is a member of the editorial board of the TESOL Journal and a member of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association’s Council.