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The “How To” of Writing and Winning Grants

Book cover of Winning Foundation Grants by Martin Teitel

Here’s a quick read that offers some solid tips for writing grants and building program officer relationships.

I’m a sucker for “how to” books. To overcome the monotony of walking the track at the gym, or to mentally escape when trapped in an airplane seat, I always have at hand someone’s advice on writing, organizing, healthful living or whatever.

During a few recent laps at the gym, I scanned “The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants” by Martin Teitel.  This book’s been around for a few years, but the advice is still solid for writers in all types of nonprofits and foundations.

Teitel understands both sides of the funding equation. For more than half of his career he was a grantmaker, but he also led nonprofits and knows first-hand the challenges of grantseekers.

May the Best Writer Win
So, to win the competition for grants, Teitel offers these tips:

  • Have a brilliant opener and summary.  When you’re writing your LOI, he recommends spending a quarter of your time on the two-sentence summary of how you will solve the problem and another quarter on your opening sentence.
  • Use facts and action verbs.  As he says, “Show, don’t tell.”  Be concrete and specific, especially regarding outcomes of your work. (But as you write from your head, show your passion from your heart, too.)
  • Cut the words and cut the jargon.  Ask for funds to build a “park,” not an “outdoor recreation facility.” Buzzwords add fuzziness, not clarity.
  • Be modest and be positive.  Blaming and finger-pointing tears down you, not others. And the program officer is smart enough to recognize overstatements and embellishments.
  • Skip the emotional manipulation. Guilt won’t make the funder open up his or her wallet.

Be Accurate and Neat, Not Flashy
As you can see, Teitel’s advice draws heavily on sound communications practices.  He says outright: Write like a journalist, think like a marketer.

And that brings me to a cardinal rule of journalism: Accuracy. Take time to proof, says Teitel, and while you’re at it, be timely. Last-minute submissions with errors send the wrong message to the grant reviewer — that your proposed project work will also be late and sloppy.

“Winning Foundation Grants”  has many more useful tips for grantseekers, like how to build effective relationships with foundation staff, what are red flags in proposals, and how to follow up and write reports.  Pick up the book yourself, or wait for highlights in a future post — after my next cross-country flight or 30 minutes on the treadmill.

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