Writing for funders is unlike any other type of writing. For one thing, the stakes are generally much higher; you can persuade a customer to buy a product or service, but impressing a funder may mean paying for a whole project or a full year of operations. For another, competition for funding has never been stiffer, which makes it essential to present yourself in the best possible light.
Even the most worthy organizations have trouble finding funding for their efforts if they’re unable to convey their value effectively. Following are five tips for getting your message across to private and government funders in a way that will boost your chances of success.
Tip #1: Use their language
Every field has its own language. If you and your target funder share both outlook and terminology you’re lucky, but generally even the most compatible organizations differ at least slightly in how they discuss their work. If you describe what you do in terms that are foreign to a funder, they may not see your work as relevant to their mission.
It’s a good strategy to scan the funder’s website and other materials to see how they talk about their work and adapt your language accordingly. If they say “community engagement,” use that term rather than “volunteering.”
This is not to say that you should shoehorn their language in where it’s inappropriate; if what you do differs from their normal mode of business, say so and explain why it’s still relevant.
Tip #2: Discuss not just what you do but also why it matters
A common mistake in writing for funders is assuming that they understand the value of your work. In making this assumption, organizations frequently describe their initiatives and activities in isolation, without linking them to the problem they’re trying to solve.
But unless your proposed funding will go entirely toward straightforward actions—for example, building houses for low-income families—a list of tasks won’t stir someone to write a check. Calling them accomplishments won’t help.
First address the need you’ve identified and why it’s important, then show how your work is essential for meeting that need. If you’re applying for a grant, be sure to specify needs that will be addressed directly by the grant-funded project.
Tip #3: Focus on results, not processes
A similar mistake is to focus solely on the processes used to meet a need rather than on the results obtained.
If your objective is to alleviate hunger, it’s great to be able to say that you run three food pantries and two soup kitchens. It’s much better, though, to add that you serve 10,000 individuals a year who would otherwise have gone hungry.
Of course, this means that you need to have a way to measure impact. Not everything is as easy to measure as meals served, but if you’re not tracking your results you’ll have a hard time convincing funders that their money will be well spent with you.
Tip #4: Pay attention to grant requirements
If you’re writing a grant proposal, a key step is to read the RFP and any accompanying materials thoroughly and follow the instructions scrupulously—whether it’s length requirements or directions for organizing the proposed work. If possible, find examples of prior successful proposals to give you more insight into what the funder wants.
It’s important to provide specifics about what you expect to accomplish, how you plan to accomplish it, and how you plan to measure and report on results. Follow budget guidelines carefully; too many organizations fail to show a direct link between the budget and the proposed work.
A common mistake is to leave out requested information the organization doesn’t track or that doesn’t seem relevant. It’s always best to make an attempt to gather the information. If you have a compelling reason not to, be sure to explain it.
Tip #5: Be professional
Above all, approach the task professionally. Things like sloppy formatting, typos, and poor grammar will make your organization look unreliable.
Cut-and-paste errors are a particular irritant. They not only look bad but also tell the funder that you couldn’t be bothered to prepare material specifically for them.
Keep the writing clear and focused. Funders are unlikely to be impressed with pages of jargon or technical detail, particularly if it looks as if it’s been copied from another document. If you don’t have time to do a decent job, it may be best to wait until the next funding cycle.