Writing Grant Applications


This is something that student executives only do once or twice a year, but it’s the kind of thing that needs to be done right. Submitting to the Arts Endowment Fund or the Arts Student Union isn’t the same as the submissions you might be sending to SSHRC or OGS if you’re grad school bound, but there are a lot of similarities. Today I’m going to offer some brief tips on grant writing to help you along.

I assume things like checking and double-checking spelling, structure, and grammar go without saying. You know that you want a grant proposal to be your cleanest and best writing. A two page text message would need to be pretty innovative to get funded. My goal here is to give useful advice, rather than obvious advice.

Know What You’re Going to Do

fountain penI promised no obvious advice, but know precisely what you plan to do. Prepare a budget, do your homework on potential costs, and make sure you have a defined scope. As a student executive, you’re mostly getting grants for events, so be sure to articulate the value of your event, who your target audience is, and how it makes their lives more awesome, whether through education or entertainment. The more focused and  tightly planned your event is, the more people are going to want to fund it. Write it in a way that paints a picture of what you’re going to do that even the most cynical reader would endorse. Use the active voice, and don’t let the seriousness of the granting process keep your excitement from bleeding onto the page.

Pitch to Scale it Up

If you can, avoid having an event that requires the funding of a grant to happen. People want to invest in things that are growing, and in people who are doggedly determined to make things happen. Plan your event in such a way that in can happen no matter what, and explain how the grant money will make it so much better. Maybe you’re using it to subsidize costs for students to make it more accessible, to guarantee access to a special exhibit, or just to buy a killer piñata. What people need to hear is “This is our project, and we’re going to do it, but your contribution will make it incredible.” Grants are for turning the dial up to 11. Writing it this way is also a great way to demonstrate your enthusiasm, because it lets you show how the project will look without the grant, and then show how much farther it will go with additional funding.

Not Too Much and Not Too Little

Saying “Don’t write too much” is useless. If you knew what too much is, you wouldn’t need the advice. Instead, look carefully at the granting agency’s requirements, and write to those. If they want two pages, give them two pages. If they want 500 words, give them that. Be as concise as possible, because the more information and emotion they can get out of your text, the better off you’ll be. At the same time, don’t write too little. If they want a ten page proposal (no one wants a ten page proposal), give it to them. Fill every available space with the delicious punch that is your vision. Call them to drink deeply of the kool-aid of your enthusiasm, and to throw money in your direction. Don’t assume that they know things about students, the university, or anything else. Give them everything they need in the proposal. The best way to make sure you’ve got it is to hand it off to someone who doesn’t know anything about the event and get them to read it. Ask them what it leaves them wondering, and whether they would fund it, and use their questions to shape your answers. Do this with three people, and you’ll get a much sharper proposal.

Some grants require you to actually show up and pitch in person. Given that the number one fear of humanity (number 2 behind Chuck Norris) is public speaking, here are some quick tips.

  • Don’t prepare a script. You’ll spend time wondering where you are in your script, and if someone asks a question, it’ll throw you off topic. Come with a list of talking points, and make sure you get all of those out. 
  • Practice. Practice practice practice practice practice. Even if you’re a good public speaker, run through it to make sure you don’t forget anything, to ensure that your transitions are smooth, and to watch your posture and hand positioning.
  • Look at your audience:  shift your gaze from person to person slowly and confidently. Whenever you make a point, look at someone and nod, to get them to affirm it.
  • Relax: it’s the hardest thing to do, but if you’re at ease, your audience will be at ease too. Think less Martin Luther King Jr., more Steve Jobs.

So grants. I hope that helps. Writing grant proposals can be really challenging, but also really rewarding. It exemplifies the kind of communication skills you’ll need to take with you through the rest of your life, and the time to money ratio is perhaps the best you’ll ever see, because even ten hours on a grant proposal can net you thousands of dollars in money to fund your project. Best of luck!

Jim Tigwell is brief without being cold or terse. Just look at his Twitter.






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