6 Tips for Writing a Successful Grant

Lady writing grantOver the course of my career, I have been fortunate to receive several thousand dollars in grant funding. Shrinking budgets, rising costs and the need to renovate libraries with makerspaces and innovative furniture have all created fierce grant competition. The application process is often grueling, but it’s also well worth it if you take time to find the best source of grant dollars and do your homework to create a winning project.

One library media specialist who wrote to me recently asked about taking a grant writing course before joining the committee her school was forming. Personally, I have picked up most of my knowledge from people who have been grant reviewers, from looking at copies of successful grants and from lots of practice writing. This is not to say that taking a course wouldn’t be beneficial, but before paying for a course, I would suggest looking at the vast amount of information available online.

Funding Sources

Grant dollars are available from both government and corporate sponsors. Below are some resources to get you started. Although certainly not an exhaustive list, many helpful websites for finding funding are also listed at the end of this post.

  • Business Partners: When seeking to procure money from businesses, look around your own backyard and see what companies in your community have charitable foundations. For example, my own school has received grants from Dollar General, Lowe’s and Walmart.
  • State and Federal Resources: The premiere website in finding government funding is grants.gov. Federal grants are typically more competitive and require more detailed applications, but they offer higher dollar awards. Be aware that when searching grants.gov, the deadline listed on the results grid is not necessarily the first deadline you will need to meet when you submit an application. Many federal grants have a two-phase application process. In the first phase, applicants may need to submit a preliminary proposal that has an earlier deadline. Those applicants whose preliminary proposals are the most promising and best aligned with the focus of the grant will then be invited to submit full proposals in the second phase of the process.

Grant Writing Tips

1. Study Successful Grants and Establish Contacts
Once you identify the grant program that would best benefit your library, request copies of successful grants from previous winners. Read through them to find common threads and ideas you can adopt and adapt. Notice how the applications are formatted. If there is a winner in your local region, schedule a visit to tour their facility and discuss the grant program. From time to time, I have found a few organizations reluctant to reveal their “prize-winning secrets,” but for the most part, individuals have been willing to share. In some cases, dissemination of information is a requirement of the grant award.

Talk with personnel in the funding organization. Managers in companies that provide charitable assets are often privy to details not provided in the application instructions, such as “we give preference to projects that include community involvement” or “even though we accept applications up to $100,000, we usually don’t fund those that are submitted for more than $25,000.”

2. Address the Criteria
As a writing guide, use the selection criteria that reviewers will use to score the application. Speak to each item very specifically. If the format of the application is a narrative, consider titling each section with the particular criteria that will be addressed in that section.

After your text is complete, apply the scoring rubric to your writing and make sure a reader can easily see how you have attended to each element. Reviewers won’t be awarding points if they have to play a seek-and-find game with your submission to locate information about how the project is replicable, sustainable, or a host of other indicators. You may even wish to volunteer as a grant reader to gain greater insight into the scoring process.

3. Focus on People, Not “Stuff”
One good piece of advice that I received years ago was to avoid a narrative that focuses on the “stuff” you want. Instead, tell what impact the project will have on people (students, library patrons, community members.)

However, items for purchase in the budget section should not be a surprise to the grant reader. If you are planning on requesting 25 computers as part of the grant project, you will want to be sure to mention this technology before the budget page. The technology needs should be an intuitive part of a well-developed plan and should be defined by the outcome and benefits you expect them to bring to your students or community.

4. Support the Application With Research
Do your research and become an expert in the arena for which you are pursuing grant dollars. Clearly cite the evidence-based research and use it to justify your grant application in the following ways.

  • Demonstrate need with demographic data. Cite studies that show the impact of an idea that is similar to the one you wish to implement.
  • Display your knowledge with a thorough analysis of the current research and how it relates to your project.
  • Present yourself and the members of your organization as competent and capable of successfully executing the proposed plan.
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5. Additional Materials
In a field of applications that look similar, it is important to stand out from the crowd. If there is an opportunity to submit additional materials, capitalize on it. Using visual representations is a powerful way to accomplish this. Provide photos, insert tables or graphics into the text (remember to cite your sources) or attach a well-done PowerPoint or professional-looking video.

6. Follow the Rules
Following the rules to a perfect “T” should go without saying; however, this is often the reason applications never make it past a preliminary perusal. No matter how sparkling and worthy the project, if the directions are not followed in the application process, it is an indication of disregard on the part of the organization submitting the project. If you are unsure of the instructions, contact the granting establishment for clarification.


Mary Bangert

Mary Bangert

High School Library Media Specialist
Mary Bangert is a two-time recipient of the Bright Idea Award, given annually by the Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL), and has been a presenter at MASL state conferences. As a high school library media specialist in a small, rural school district, she wears many hats, including yearbook advisor and robotics team administrator. She is a successful grant writer for the school, bringing in over $50,000 in cash and prizes for the 2016–17 school year alone. She received her B.S. in Education from Southeast Missouri State University and a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Missouri in Columbia.