There’s more to nonprofit grant writing than just “writing.” A lot more.
At its core, grant writing has three steps that I call the 3 Rs: research, writing, and review.
In a previous post, I shared the importance of doing your research before starting to write a grant.
This post will offer tips on reviewing what you write, before you submit your proposal to a foundation.
Why do I need to review what I’ve written?
You’ve heard this phrase? “You only get one chance to make a good first impression.”
In the grant writing world, you only get one grant to make a good first impression.
So, the purpose of a proposal review is two-fold:
- To find and fix avoidable mistakes, and
- To make your proposal the very best that it can be.
I did a spell check. Isn’t that enough?
Remember that proofreading is more than just a spell check. Your word processor’s spell check program doesn’t always catch things like
- typographical errors,
- grammatical mistakes, and
- punctuation problems.
There are online writing tools that will help like Grammarly, the Hemingway app, and others.
Even so, these tools won’t correct mathematical formulas in your budget or make sure that the numbers in your Excel spreadsheet match the numbers you’ve written in your narrative.
That’s why proofreading is the first step in your proposal review. You want to find and fix any errors or inconsistencies in your proposal.
Okay, once I fix the obvious problems like typos, what else can I do?
As part of your review process, you should read your proposal for things like:
- general readability
- overall clarity, consistency, tone, and flow
- jargon and concepts that may not be familiar outside your organization
How do I know if my proposal is readable?
One thing you can do is read your proposal out loud, then answer questions like these:
- Can I read each sentence without taking a breath?
When the answer is no, the sentence is probably too long or the words are too complex.
- Are the words simple and easy to understand?
“We’ve created a pedagogically-sound curriculum that helps at-risk youth with their self-efficacy.” Enough said.
- Do the words clearly express your message or did you use them to impress your reviewer?
Use plain English and common words when writing a proposal for a foundation.
Remember, foundation staff and trustees are regular people. They typically aren’t specialists in your field of work. That means a proposal from an advocacy group doesn’t need to read like a legal brief. If you’re a health center, your proposal shouldn’t sound like an article from a medical journal.
Respect the mental energy of the person who will be reading your proposal. If your proposal is easy for you to read aloud, it will be easy for the reviewer to read as well.
When I’m editing my proposal, how can I improve my writing?
Your goal should be to write a proposal that is easy to read – and easy to understand.
Not only does clear, simple language make it easier for the grant reviewer to understand what you’re saying, it makes it harder for the reviewer to misunderstand.
Here are a few grant “writing” rules of thumb:
1. Use short, simple sentences. Readability experts recommend
- 2 to 30 words per sentence (15 to 20 is optimal)
- 2 to 3 sentences per paragraph
2. Purge big words. If a word has three or more syllables, consider a shorter alternative. For instance, you might want to replace “utilize” with “use.”
3. Avoid jargon. Jargon may include technical language, acronyms, insider language used by your organization, or vague words like “senior.” (Is that an 18-year-old high school student or a 65-year-old retiree?)
4. Avoid clichés and empty words and phrases. Make a difference, have an impact.
5. Turn on your word processor’s readability statistics. That way, whenever you do run your spell check, you’ll also get a readability summary. This includes the number of words per sentence and the number of sentences per paragraph.
The bottom line: Reviewing (and editing) your work is an important part of the writing process.
When I’m reviewing and editing the grant proposals that my clients write, yes, I’m proofreading. But I’m doing so much more. I’m looking for solid writing and a strong case for support. I’m making sure the proposal is clear, consistent, and correct. I’m reading the proposal as if I were the target audience – the foundation staff or trustees.
I encourage you to take the same approach.
After you write your next grant proposal, go beyond spell check and basic proofreading. Do a critical review of your writing, and take steps to make your proposal is the very best that it can be.
Like these writing tips? Click here and we’ll be happy to send you a PDF of “20 Quick and Easy Ways to Improve Your Grant Writing.”