When I started Proposals, Etc. in 2002, the field of proposal writing was starting a subtle change that has snowballed in the past ten years. Technology has changed how we approach and apply to foundations and the government alike.
Funder research is a lot easier. In the 1990’s, we were still subscribing to and scouring the Federal Register for federal grant notices. We looked up foundation tax forms on microfiche (if you are younger than 30, ask your parents) in libraries. Now most funders have precise instructions and information available on websites everyone can access from their own computer or smart phone.
Online all the time
There are few paper submissions anymore. Most funders require online applications. While proposals are easier to produce and submit, it is harder to stand out from your competition, since they all are formatted the same. The five million budget agency ask appears the same as the $50,000 nonprofit ask.
Without nice letterhead or logos to signal your agency is financially sound and savvy to branding/marketing, non-profits need to rely on words alone – clear prose – to make their case for funding and organizational capacity. Simple, right? Apparently not so much. Foundation staff still report that they receive numerous proposals that have not clarified what their grant would be used for.
Don’t let reviewers assume! Be sure that you clearly express the purpose of your request, such as:
“Bleeker College seeks to develop, implement and evaluate a new program, Fresh Start, to facilitate the school-to-college transition and provide proactive academic and life skills support for at-risk students.”
Short and Sweet
Most notably, the length of asks has gotten dramatically shorter for both government and private funders alike. Most online applications have strict character limits, so you need to distill your ask into the shortest amount of words possible. Start striking unnecessary adjectives. Tighten up those sentences.
The change to Letters of Intent (LOI) or Concept Papers versus full proposals saves everyone time and money. In 2014, Proposals, Etc. produced 67 LOIs/Concept Papers versus 27 Proposals.
It’s not you, it’s me, and him, and her….
Did I mention how much more competitive it is to receive a grant these days? We consultants have done a good job educating nonprofit staff; now they are engaged, but finding it very competitive. More agencies are asking, more nonprofits are being created, but the number of funders is not growing at the same rate.
Many have not (or cannot, legally), but lots of funders have narrowed the focus of their funding interests, to cut down on asks that won’t have a chance. Thank you, funders.
How can you improve your odds?
Fresh eyes are needed if you have been doing it a long time. Change it up and don’t bother making requests of funders whose priorities are not directly aligned with your request. If you are bored reading your materials, you can bet reviewers are as well.
Hyper focus on objectives and outcomes – be clear what you are asking for is measurable. If not, rethink your ask to something that is. For example, for a sample objective “Two hundred [note number that you can measure] Bleeker Freshman [target audience] will be educated on the threat of STDs and how to prevent infection [activity that can be done to change behavior],” your outcome would be:
“Bleeker College students are less likely to become infected with STDs.”
Doing a great job with your proposal writing will make the reporting of your grant a snap! Good luck, and keep editing. Happy summer.