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The GRANTS Writing Formula To Secure Awards For Project Grants

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Having a framework is the magic wand to writing a successful grant proposal. Most people don’t write grants with this in mind. Most grant writers just start with long responses to grant applications, instead of first setting up their own plan. This 6-step GRANTS Writing Formula can help! 

The problem with not using the GRANTS Writing Formula is that the following will happen:

  • Mission drifting
  • Chasing the money 
  • Not scoring high on review
  • Writing grants that aren’t aligned with your priorities
  • And of course… not getting the grants awarded 

The 6-Step GRANTS Writing Formula framework to write a winning grant proposal will help you avoid the above issues and get clearer on your programs.

Step #1) G – Get the FOA/RFP/NOFA

The first step in developing a grant template with the GRANTS formula is to Get the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) or Request of Proposal (RFP) or NOFA (Notice of Funding Availability): i.e. the grant instructions.

This is the easiest way forward as you will have an immediate template for your grant project. What you want to do is copy and paste the specific questions into a Word document and respond thoroughly to each question.

These will automatically be your headers in the document, and you will bold these headers.

Why do this? Because as a federal grant reviewer for a decade, I can tell you that this is the easiest way to ensure that you remember to respond to all items, and it’s the easiest format for funding sources to find your answers. 

If you just start writing in long-form and don’t use (their) headers, then it is harder for grant reviewers to score your grant because they just might not be able to easily find certain words or concepts. Or you might start to use different vocabulary that might not translate easily for the key words and concepts that reviewers need to have to score points in certain sections of your grant submission.

Additionally, make sure to read through the FOA/RFP/NOFA and include:

  • A response to how your project aligns with the funding sources’ priorities. 
  • Ensure that any unallowable budget items are NOT in your budget.
  • Create a checklist of all required documents that need to be submitted in addition to the project narrative and budget (i.e., a copy of your IRS 501(c)3 Incorporation Letter, any resumes/job descriptions, letters of support needed, SF-424 forms, etc.).

Note: Steps #2 – #6 are all very common questions asked in any FOA/RFP/NOFA. The most commonly asked questions are explained below in detail, so you know how to respond accurately and score the highest on a grant proposal.

Step #2) R – Research the needs

Having appropriate Research in the needs section is critical to scoring high on a grant proposal. The reason is that research anchors and validates the entire reason for your project. 

In the needs section of a grant, you need to do three things to score high on a grant proposal:

  1. Eliminate flowery language,
  2. Include sources and citations, and
  3. Include a clear Problem Statement.

What I see the most often in this section is that grant writers include a flowery narrative with a lot of information about problems. While flowery and emotive language can be extremely useful for fundraisers, social media graphics, and other types of marketing, it isn’t quite appropriate for grant proposals.

You need to get clear data and statistics on the need for your project and cause area, and include the sources and citations. Without this, your entire project will fall short. This is a must.  

So instead of just talking about the wide needs as if it’s a fact, include:

  • testimonials, 
  • statistics,
  • reports, 
  • articles, 
  • interviews, etc. 

and cite them in your grant. 

This will give more validity for your program and show that you’ve done the research. 

A grant proposal utilizes research to demonstrate emotion and not poetic language. You can, however, include a very humanistic and ethical picture by using research versus flowery language or jargon. 

Here are two examples to show the contrast between flowery, non-cited needs and grant-appropriated cited needs. 

Example #1) Flowery wording in grants that doesn’t get awarded.

We have a huge need in our community as Mother Earth is no longer able to cry tears because the rivers are drying up. As the rivers disappear, we mourn; agriculture is suffering. We cannot go on in this dire situation and need your support.

While this would be a great article to submit to a newspaper, script for a video at a fundraiser, etc., it’s just not appropriate for grant writing because it can’t be ‘scored.’

Example #2) Grant appropriate language in the need’s section that gets grants awarded.

Over the last five years, County X has seen a rapid decline of 25 percent of our river waters, and thus our agricultural fields are producing 45 percent less food (SOURCE NAME, DATE). 1,900 of community members surveyed (6 percent of community) have reported negative effects on the overall environment due to this prolonged drought that is a result of climate change (SOURCE NAME, DATE). 

Now the next step in needs is to include a main Problem Statement. 

This is what anchors all your research and is the main problem that is to be solved by your project.

For example, a problem statement could be: “Due to the ongoing droughts as a result of climate change, agriculture in Community NAME is only at 45 percent capacity.”

Now you have a problem statement, you have to anchor your entire program, and the beautiful thing is that you can flip it around to have a goal that will solve the problem.

Step #3) A – Articulate the goal(s) of a grant

An Articulate goal is the main aim that will result because of your program and will solve your problem statement.

Now that you have a problem statement that is anchored in research, you will just flip it around so that it becomes the goal of your grant.

An articulate goal example: “Project X will increase agriculture in the community from 45 percent to 55 percent over a three-year period by creating sustainable solutions to the ongoing droughts via a multi-level approach.”

Therefore, this goal directly meets the need of the problem statement and guides the entire grant project, and your objectives. 

Step #4) N – Narrow your objectives

Now that you have a goal articulated, you will need specific activities to ensure that the goal is achieved. These are Narrowed objectives. The number of objectives depends upon how big your goal is and how big your budget is. To be safe, have no more than three objectives per goal.

Objectives need to be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timebound

For this project, you would easily have at least three objectives. Below, we show one objective example.

Objective One Example: Project Name will work with 50 farmers to provide sustainable and innovative irrigation practices that will increase irrigation by 25 percent each year for three years.”

Specific: It is specific because it includes the target demographic (50 farmers), and with sustainable innovative irrigation practices.

Measurable: It is measurable because it will serve 50 farmers and will increase irrigation by 25 percent each year for three years.

Achievable: It will be achievable because it relates to the problem statement (your budget, resumes, etc. will also reinforce more achievability).

Relevant: It is relevant to reach the goal and solve the problem.

Timebound: It will be completed by the end of year three.

Now that you have your objectives(s), you can identify a task work plan to ensure your objectives are met.

Step #5) T – Timeline the activities

Your Timeline Work Plan of Activities will clearly demonstrate how you will execute your objectives.

Include the task description, role responsible, start date, completion date, evaluation that the activity is completed.

You can include as many tasks as are needed to reach your objective.

Timeline Work Plan Activities Example:

Objective One Example:Project Name will work with 50 farmers to provide sustainable and innovative irrigation practices that will increase irrigation by 25 percent each year for three years.”
Activities Description Role Responsible Start Date Completion Date Evaluation
Hire Project Manager Executive Director Month 1 Month 3 Contract signed
Create a recruitment plan for farmers Project Manager Month 4 Month 6 Recruitment plan created
Recruit 50 farmers to work with Project Manager Month 6 Month 9 50 farmers recruited and enrolled in the program
Purchase supplies and equipment for irrigation Project Manager Month 9 Throughout Supplies purchased
Subject matter experts lead irrigation technique training Project Manager Month 9 Monthly  Models are developed


These are just several examples to get your mind flowing. You can see that this is your time to be very detailed because it answers that ‘achievability’ question. 

By having a thorough Timeline Work Plan of Activities, you will give your project:

  • Every single detail to be included,
  • A roadmap for any staff hired for the program,
  • Objectives to be reached,
  • A guarantee that nothing is left out of your budget,
  • And so much more.

Now that you have a Timeline Work Plan developed, you need to ensure you have a budget to complete these tasks.

Step #6) S – Strategic budget

Look at your Timeline Work Plan of Activities to develop a Strategic budget. For objective one in our example, we see that the following are needed at a minimum to reach this objective.

  • Project Manager
  • Executive Director
  • Irrigation equipment and supplies
  • 50 farmer incentives
  • Subject Matter Experts

Other items you will want to consider in your final budget include any fringe benefits, indirect costs, and any other costs from other objectives.

You will need to speak to your Human Resource division to know what your nonprofit’s fringe benefits are and the salaries of positions. Additionally, if you need any equipment, it’s best practices to have at least three quotations. When in doubt, check your financial policies and procedures, the FOA/RFP/NOFA, or the federal budgetary guidelines.

Draft Strategic Budget Example

Description Computation Description Year One Total
Project Manager $40/hour at 2080 hours $83,200
Executive Director $60/hour at 208 hours (10% of FTE) $12,480
Irrigation Equipment $200,000 for Irrigation Equipment (see attached quotations) $200,000
Irrigation Supplies $25,000 for supplies to include shovels, drainage pipes, etc.  $25,000
Farmer incentives A stipend of $2500 per year will be given to 50 farmers for 40 hours of their time per year. $125,000
Subject-Matter Experts (consultants) 2 Subject Matter Experts will teach 40 hours per year on irrigation techniques and how to install the new equipment and get $15,000 each. $30,000
Draft Total for Objective One   $475,680


This step will make it clear as to whether you have enough of a grant budget to meet your objectives. If you don’t, you may need to update your objectives (ex: maybe not include as many farmers and then your goal may need to be reduced). 

GRANTS writing formula summary

The GRANTS Writing Formula will give you the magic wand to write a successful grant proposal. Remember, by utilizing this approach, you will:

  • Stop mission drifting,
  • Stop chasing the money,
  • Score higher by reviewers,
  • Writing grants that are aligned with your priorities, and
  • Get more grants awarded!

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