How to Write a Grant in 10 Days

Molly Fisch-Friedman '16
Molly Fisch-Friedman ’16

Molly Fisch-Friedman ’16 is originally from Princeton Junction, New Jersey. She majored in Politics, studying the American media and American public opinion toward Israel. While at Princeton, she was involved with Koleinu (the Jewish a cappella group), Naacho (the Indian dance group), and was an RCA in Butler College. She is a Grant Writing Associate for Elevated Effect and shares some of her learnings in this blog post.  

My Princeton Project 55 Fellowship placement is at Elevate, a consulting firm that collaboratively manages and develops the grant programs of nonprofits across the country in a wide variety of sectors. When I began, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  I had never written a grant before, but I figured I needed to pick it up quickly – after all, my title is Grant Writer.  So my first day, I walked in the door, laptop and notebook in tow, and hoped for the best.

The staff team at Elevate
The staff team at Elevate

In the seven months since I started, I have had amazing opportunities to learn about grant-writing and to get to know the work of a wide variety of nonprofits.  As a company, Elevate is currently working with around 80 clients.  I am working on five teams: two education nonprofits in Northern Virginia, two Jewish social service agencies, and Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County.  I have written grants to small family foundations, corporate giving programs, and even government agencies at the county and state level.  So far, I’ve helped to win over $950,000 for my clients – money that funds programs, staff, supplies, and critical services for those in need.

So what makes a good grant? Below I’ve listed the top three things that I’ve learned about how to write a successful, winning grant.

1) Know what the funder wants.

It doesn’t matter how good your programs are, how many people you reach, or what your success rate is if the funder’s interests don’t align with your organization’s mission.  Even if your interests align, funders often want to see that you are working with particular populations or toward specific goals.  This usually means making clear that your mission aims to achieve the outcomes that the funder desires.  But sometimes it means stressing a side of your organization you don’t often discuss.  One of my clients recently merged with another organization; the organization is now a program within the larger nonprofit.  Depending on the funder, I have framed the program as either a “small, grassroots program that maintains a close-knit staff and volunteer base” or a “program that utilizes the resources of a well-established community institution.”  While both of those statements are true, they emphasize different aspects of the program.  It depends on what the funder wants to hear.

2) Make the need for your organization clear.

Many nonprofits are doing really important work.  However, if you can’t articulate why what you’re doing fills a need that no one else is addressing, a funder probably isn’t going to give your proposal a second look.  Every single grant has to have a “need statement” – a clearly-defined reason for your organization’s mission.  It can include statistics about the lack of services in a geographic region or a promising story of the potential for growth in a particular field.  Either way, it needs to clearly show that something in the community is missing and that your organization can offer solutions.

3) Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes.

Your program might seem really exciting and innovative, but funders are probably only going to want to give you money if they know that it’ll work.  What percentage of your target population will report increased knowledge?  How many students will graduate on-time from high school?  How many low-income families will you place in affordable housing?

It’s reasonable to argue that your past success indicates that you will see the same (or maybe even better) results in the future, especially with the support of the foundation.

Grant writing is a critical aspect of nonprofit sustainability and function.  Having never written a grant before this fellowship, I didn’t realize just how much thought and planning went into the process of grant writing.  Seven months in, I still have a lot to learn about the intricacies of funder research, program design, and best practices in structuring a grant.  But I’ve been able to accomplish so much, and working at Elevate has been an incredible professional experience.  I can’t wait to see how much more I’ll be able to do in the next few months of my fellowship!

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