Grants can be a critical part of funding a community organization or project, but, as anyone who has tried to prepare a grant proposal will tell you, writing one can be a difficult process that raises many questions.

The following are some tips to maximize your grant opportunities and make your proposal process more effective and efficient.

Find a grant. The first step in writing a grant proposal is finding a grant to apply for. For each grant opportunity, think critically and realistically about whether or not you should apply for it. Grants are available from many sources, including federal, state, and local governments, large organizations and endowments, private grant-giving foundations, corporations, and internationals groups, and it is important to consider how closely your project aligns with the goals of the funding organization before submitting a grant proposal.

Write an outline. For each grant you apply for, put together an outline of your project and how it aligns with the available grant. Being able to succinctly describe your work and why the funding agency should be interested in it is critical to justifying your request.

Make a list. When you are ready to respond to a grant solicitation, put together a checklist that includes all the requirements identified in the request for proposal (RFP). Use this list as you edit your proposal to ensure you have satisfied every requirement.

Know what you want. Some RFPs will identify the amount of money provided by the grant, but others will not. It's important to have a general idea of the size of awards made under the grant so you can try to align your request with that amount. Ideally, your requested amount of funding should be close to the amount the organization intends to award. If you ask for too much, you might be out of the running immediately; and if you don't ask for enough, the organization might feel they could make a bigger impact by funding a larger project. Always prepare a budget explaining how you would use the grant money and do your best to ensure it's consistent with the amount the funder is likely to provide.

Tell a good story. The requesting party will probably read dozens of grant applications and you want to make sure your proposal stands out. Put a personal touch on your proposal to help it stand out, mentioning the people you have helped, or will help, through the program is usually a good idea.

Be concise. Most RFPs have page limits, and it's important to keep within those limits if you hope to win the grant. As you write and review your proposal, ask yourself if what you are saying can be written with fewer words without losing meaning.

Be specific. Grant proposal reviewers are more likely to fund a project if they understand its impact. Be specific whenever you can, including how you will spend your grant money, the number of people your organization has helped, the number you will help if you receive the grant funding, and any research supporting your methodology. Also be sure to clearly explain your mission - what audiences you will be reaching, how your project will be run, and more.

Be original. Make sure that any proposal you send out is specifically tailored to the solicitation to which you are responding. Reviewers can tell if you have simply reworked an old proposal and they will not be interested in funding your request if it doesn't look like you have taken the time to submit an original response which fully meets their request.

Hopefully this gives you a solid start on your upcoming grant writing efforts. For much more information on the grant writing process, please join us at CoLab on Thursday, February 20, from 6-8 pm for "Grant Writing 101" with grant writing guru Heather Bryant. Heather holds a Master of Arts in Writing from Rhode Island College and she has years of experience writing grants for a variety of organizations throughout Rhode Island.

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