Reader Mailbox: Grant-writing Tips
You’ve got a lot of great ideas for new ways you could serve your community, but with tight budgets and even tighter resources, it’s hard to imagine finding the funding to implement them. But even if you can’t stretch your library budget, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.
A considerable number of grant opportunities are out there just waiting for you to apply for them. If you’ve never written a grant before, or if you’re looking for ways to improve your proposals, read seasoned library expert Cathy Hakala-Ausperk’s answers to some common grant questions. For more tips, watch Cathy’s webinar Anyone Can Write a Grant.
Absolutely! I recently asked two experts who have made a career out of philanthropy and have worked with Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds for years to share their best tips with you, and here they are:
- Research the funders. Pay attention to the organization you’re sending your proposal to and make sure that what you’re proposing really matches what they say they want to fund. Don’t assume that you will be the exception to the rule and they will fund your program even though it isn’t one of the things they say they’re interested in. Make sure you research them carefully and that you’re a good match.
- The single most common mistake is that people don’t follow instructions. The second mistake is that they don’t proofread or they omit required information. You can ask if the funder will take a look at your first draft. A lot of times you can call them and ask questions for clarification. Several organizations will let you send them the whole proposal before it’s due, and they will tell you what’s missing. The third mistake people make is that they don’t understand the difference between goals, objectives and action steps. Write clear, concise proposals that follow the guidelines. Some wonderful programs have been denied because their proposals did not include all the components needed by the deadline. Quite often you’ll only get that feedback when you receive the rejection, which means you’ll have to wait for the next grant cycle before you can resubmit.
- Ask questions. Make sure that the project is tied to your mission. Funders want to see that it’s part of the natural mission of the organization asking for the money. And find partners — the more the better.
- Keep a calendar and meet deadlines. The last thing funders want to have to do is come after you to ask, “Where’s your report? Where’s your quarterly results statement?” Make sure someone is watching that calendar and making sure those deadlines are hit.
Most grant definitions include how much money is available, but often it’s a range. They might offer a grant up to $25,000. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re asking for too much of that amount — just make sure that your objectives match your budget. For example, if you want to open a children’s playroom that’s 20′ x 20′, and there will normally be 10–15 kids in there, don’t ask for 50 iPads®.
If you can make sure that your request and the prices you assign to them match what you plan on doing, don’t worry about going right up to the limit. It’s when it seems like it’s padded that you might run into a little bit of trouble.
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For 99% of all funders, they will tell you exactly how long it should be. Most funding authorities, whether they’re state government or state library foundations, have very specific grant guidelines. The most important thing to remember is to follow them. So if the guidelines say to provide an abstract that’s not more than one page, keep it to one page.
Just like in a job interview, you want to make sure you answer each question, provide the information asked for in a precise and compelling way, and don’t go over the requirements. Many grant applications have too much information or are too flowery, and it’s usually because the writer has gotten off task and off the question.
The first thing you do is thank the funding organization for considering it. Then you can ask them for some tips on improving it. Where did you fall short? What information could you have put in to make it a stronger proposal? Learn everything you can from every single funder with whom you interact, because everything you learn is going to make your next application that much stronger.
See if you can find a professional to review your proposal and give you and your team some constructive criticism. You might find such a person at your state library or even at a local philanthropic organization. Their feedback will help you improve for your next opportunity.
Then take those pieces you prepared and start again. Find another funder who is supportive of the topic you are trying to achieve and try another proposal. You might have to try and try until you finally get the right answer.
And when you get that “yes” answer, do the same things you did when the answer was no: thank them for considering you and ask them why you got it and what they liked about it. You’re developing the education for you and your grant team so that you can continue to do the right things. And then make sure that you keep your promises and meet the deadlines and obligations you’ve promised. Thank them at the very end by sharing stories that show the impact the project had and what a great success this grant was.
Then be sure to share your success with everyone else in your library and all the stakeholders involved, so that next time you decide to write a grant proposal, they will have seen how successful you were, and they will be more eager to jump on board and help.
Question: Should anecdotes be included in the actual grant application or just in the post-grant results?
That depends on the directions given, but the more human and compelling you can make your proposal, the more likely it is that you will be funded. It is especially helpful when the brief asks for an opening summary. Quick stories that relate to the reasons behind your proposal and that stay within the limits of the application can be particularly effective in bringing the project to life. Remember to keep the audience and the requirements in mind and stay on task.
Yes, and these efforts have been very successful and are very, very popular. Do some keyword searching in library literature to find some success stories; then contact those involved to get some advice. Communities love to see schools and libraries working together! Also, don’t forget to talk to your local PTA groups.