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4 (Really) Simple Ways to Improve Your
Chances of Landing That Grant

by Melissa Carter

Think great grant writing is just about sharing your goals, objectives, and activities? Think again. While a multitude of factors affect a grantor's decision--your organization's track record, the strength of your programs, not to mention a grantor's current causes and existing relationships--there are a few simple things you can do to improve your grant's chances of making it past the round file.

  1. Proofread, proofread, proofread.

    Seems obvious, doesn't it? But it's amazing how many grant applications find their way to funders sans dotted i's and crossed t's. And the act of proofreading entails more than just tidying up wayward commas. Thorough proofreading not only ensures that your application includes everything the grantor has requested but that facts about your organization and its programs are correct and consistent.

    Slacker proofreading can have tragic consequences. Many years ago a local nonprofit (which will remain unnamed to protect the oh-so-embarrassed) sent a gorgeous grant application to a very generous foundation. Unfortunately, the nonprofit made a few wee punctuation errors. Was the foundation able to ignore the minor slip-up? Nope. Competition was so stiff for funds that year that the foundation viewed the errors as merely a way to winnow down the competition. The nonprofit couldn't apply for funding for another year. The moral of the story? Proofread, proofread, proofread.

    Tip: Read the application from end to beginning at least twice to catch every error. Third time's a charm.

  2. Follow directions.

    You're swamped. You have three grants due on Monday, a walk-a-thon in three weeks, fifty donor acknowledgement letters to mail merge and sign today, not to mention tonight's board meeting. It would be so much easier to crank out that application using your computer's current settings. You can fix the formatting later, right? Stop right there! Relying on the "I'll fix it later" mantra is just plain crazy. What if you get so busy that you (gasp) forget? Do it now. Follow font, margin, order, table of contents, heading, even color instructions to the letter. Now. Today.

    Tip: Make adjusting document formatting per the grantor's instructions the first step of your application process.

  3. "Thank you" never gets old.

    Manners are the name of the game in development. Fundraising is about both cultivating and preserving relationships. So write a thank you note whether or not you get the grant. You may not get the grant this year or next year, but your thank you note may inspire the grantor to refer your cause to another funder. Or consider your organization for a grant in coming years. (Thank you notes really do work. We know someone who beat out other equally qualified, stellar fundraising candidates for a coveted development job because she was the only one who wrote a thank you note after the interview. The power of the "thank you" is vast.)

    Tip: Write or type a note on a tasteful notecard. Use a stamp. Yes, a real stamp.

  4. Think positively

    It might sound a little woo-woo, but if you're happy, positive, and a little bit gleeful while writing the application, it shines through. At the very least, a positive attitude keeps you going during the darker times (like when your printer runs out of ink the very day the application is due).

    Tip: Post a positive affirmation or a mantra, if not out for everyone to see, at least where you'll read it frequently. We're partial to Winston Churchill's "Never, never, never give up."

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    About the Author:

    Melissa Carter is co-founder of Mindcoast, a software company devoted to providing grant management and writing software--GrantWave--to nonprofits ( She has an extensive background in nonprofit fundraising, management, and corporate sponsorship and has worked with numerous nonprofits on campaigns, events, direct mail, grant writing and management, and fundraising software training.

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