Cinch that Grant Award by Making a Good Impression

To understand how funders perceive your grant submissions, let’s take a look at the submission process from the recipients’ points of view.

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Today’s article deals specifically with starting out on the right foot and maintain a positive relationship with a foundation. For a more complete discussion of what funder’s look at when evaluating proposals, listen to my free online training How to Get Funded: An Ex-Grants Reviewer Reveals Her Secrets at

Pre-Submission Contact

There’s only one chance to make a good first impression. The pre-submission contact is the first indication of the level of professionalism and credibility your organization brings to the partnership. If Make sure that impression is positive and memorable.

I highly recommend starting a relationship with a funder after you have done your research and before you write the grant, if they allow pre-submission contact. Often they do. Funders are not interested in wasting their time reading a multitude of weak proposals. They have a mission to carry out. They want a strong partnership with their grantees. They want their grantees to succeed. As such, it is in their best interest to be available for questions.

Questions they will ask themselves in assessing what type of relationship they want with you are:

  • Are you prepared? Did you look at their 990 and other pieces of public information? Did you take the time to know them?
  • Did you call for clarification? How thorough are you? What is your attention to detail?
  • Are you genuine and transparent? Do you answer all their questions of you? What will dealing with you in the future be like?
  • Do you respect them enough to not try to make a square peg into a round hole? Will you abide by their guidance when you present your application?

The impression you leave will start filling in many of their answers. 

Receiving the Application

When a reviewer receives your application, is it addressed to right person with the right title at the right address with all the names spelled correctly? If not, that doesn’t start you off on the best foot.

Does your request stand out in their pile of mail? I always use manilla versus white envelopes, just so my correspondence doesn’t get lost in a sea of other white envelopes. I also prefer a typewritten or computer-generated address on the envelope.

Once they open your envelope, they will look to make sure that you have included everything they requested. Some funders will tell you when you haven’t, if you’ve given them enough time to review your submission, reach out to you, and have you send a corrected submission before the review session. Some funders receive so many applications that they never reach out to potential grantees. Then you’re out of luck.

 Reading the Proposal

So, they’re reading your proposal. Does it look pleasing to the eye? Is it typewritten or handwritten (yes folks, this happens)? Are there erasures or handwritten corrections? Are sentences and margins crowded or is there plenty of white space? Is it easy for them to read, written at the appropriate reading level? Is it easy to follow, without the alphabet soup or vague concepts so prevalent in nonprofit-speak? Are they distracted by misspellings, grammatical errors, or math errors? Do everything in your power to make sure your proposal physically looks good and can be easily read.

Evaluating the Request

After reading your proposal, they will evaluate it in light of all the other proposals they’ve read. How will yours stack up? You want to be at the top of the pile. To get there, be concerned for their need, not yours. They have missions to meet too. Make sure your mission and goals align with theirs. If it doesn’t, you won’t get funded.

And write a proposal that is consistent within itself. Present a request that builds on itself with each section supporting the last and next sections. This is your chance to show that you will use their resources in pursuit of one thing: meeting mission. Don’t veer from your core message with unneeded facts. Don’t just fill space to meet a page or word limit. Write enough to be thorough and no more. The best proposals I’ve reviewed, and allocated funding too, have been short. And they are always succinct maand concise.   

Make sure your narrative and budget tell the same story. You don’t want them to be confused about what you’re asking for.

You also want to make sure that what you say about you is the same as what they know about you. Which means being consistent in word and deed so that your agency’s reputation supports your proposal’s statements. What kind of social proof do you include in your narratives that backs up your statements about your nonprofit?

Post-Award Follow up

So they made their decisions and notified those who applied for funding. Your work is still not done yet. That’s because you are building a relationship over time with repeated transactions. Yes may mean yes and no may mean no this time, but it says nothing about next time. And that’s what you want – a next time.

If you get the award, thank the funder or the funder’s liaison immediately. And with more than a perfunctory letter. Make it personal. Mention any interaction you had pre-submission. Acknowledge that giving away money is difficult and tell them how you are going to live up to their expectations of your agency being one of the few worthy of funding. And then do what you say. Spend the money like you said you would. Get your reports in on time. If there is a change of scope to your project, let them know, whether the change will perceived as positive or negative. You don’t want to surprise them at the end of the grant period. They need time to adjust so that they can meet their legal obligations too.

If you’re declined, immediately thank them for taking the time and effort to read and evaluate your request. If they allow if, ask for feedback. Ask how you can strengthen your request for next time. And ask if there is a possibility of a next time. You want to make sure that you are not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Then implement their guidance. And, if the fit is still good, apply again.

Wrapping It Up

As a grant writer, you have no control over other people actions. You can, however, influence their opinions about you and your nonprofit by making a positive, strong, long-lasting impression. Do what you can to influence the outcome and get the funding. See things from the funder’s perspective and write to that. And you will be successful a good part of the time.

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