Five green flags for funders in your grant proposal
Last year, we shared our crowdsourced list of red flags that funders look for in grant proposals—the things that immediately reveal the weak points in an application and raise questions about the organization’s credibility.
Not surprisingly, the question we got most in response to that article was: What are green flags for funders? A green flag is anything that would immediately signal to a funder that the nonprofit is a strong candidate for funding.
Funders are looking for credibility—in brief, reasons to trust that a nonprofit will do what they say in the way that they say in a grant proposal. They want to know that your program and organization are a smart investment.
These green flags—crowdsourced from Candid’s social media followers and staff—can help you demonstrate that credibility.
1. The goals of the funder’s RFP align with your grant proposal and organizational goals
Grantseeking is always about need, but as Candid’s educational programming manager Lori Guidry says, “it’s not about your organization’s need; it’s about the need of the people or cause you’re serving.” So, writing about what you need (e.g., staffing, money, specific items) is not what the funder wants to see in a grant proposal.
Funders want to understand that investing in your organization will directly help the cause—and the people—that you both care deeply about. You need to clarify how your organization’s priorities fit with the funder’s priorities.
Note that the funder may not use the same words as you do to describe similar ideas. Restate what you do to show the funder how your goals align. Here’s an example:
Funder: “We care about youth in need and their educational priorities.”
Organization: “We offer youth development and homework assistance programs.”
Restating to emphasize fit: “We offer educational development services to youth in need.”
2. Your proposal is tailored to the funder and clearly answers each question
You likely need to write a lot of grant applications, so it’s a good idea to reuse past proposals as a template. However, you can’t just copy and paste the entire thing for every funder. Make sure you tailor your request to each funder and to each specific question.
Make sure you understand the nuances of each question. For example, “Describe the population you serve” is different from “Describe how you reach underserved populations.” Reread both question and answer to see that they match up perfectly. Even better, get an outside reader to do it—they can see where you may have missed something subtle.
3. Your grant proposal is internally consistent
You may find it hard to believe, but grantmakers often read every word you write—many times! And they frequently study your project budget and look back at the narrative (the main written part of the grant proposal) and the executive summary (the short summary of the proposal and budget that comes first) to see that they are all aligned.
Inconsistencies, no matter how small, can be a red flag for funders. Something as simple as saying you’ll run three events in the project description but budgeting for four events can ruin your credibility. Grantmakers want to see all your project’s complicated details accurately reflected and matched throughout the budget, summary, and narrative in your proposal.
Make sure your grant proposal is also consistent with any previous proposals you’ve submitted to this grantmaker and aligns with your strategic plan. You want funders to see how everything fits together and feel that they can rely on you to follow through on your plan.
4. Your proposal is well written and concise
“Well written” means different things to different people, but funders need a brief, clear proposal that tells them the essentials right away. Here is some basic editing advice:
- Edit out repetition. Avoid saying the same thing in different ways.
- Remove unnecessary words to simplify your sentences. For example, you can edit “Creating this program is impossible without some kind of help” to “Creating this program is impossible without help.”
- Jargon and acronyms can help demonstrate knowledge, but they can also create confusion. Always explain a term or acronym if there’s the slightest chance the reader won’t be familiar with it.
- Use free tools like Hemingway App or Grammarly to check your writing for clarity.
- Always proofread your grant proposal multiple times and ask an outside reader for their feedback.
5. Your budget is well crafted and clearly defined
Funders tell us that the budget is one of the first sections they examine in a grant proposal. The budget should explain the critical components of the project, the expenses required to make it happen, and how much support you need (including any funds you’ve already secured).
Funders like to see that potential grantees have a diverse revenue stream. They want to see that the organization is financially sustainable; they want to see who else has invested in the program; and they want to offer support to an already viable and well-supported program.
Also, use budget narrative—brief explanations—to explain confusing items. For example, if you state that you are spending $5,000 for travel, add a footnote that describes the specific travel costs; or if you state a personnel cost, show the calculation (hourly wage x hours worked on the project for each employee) that leads to that number.
What green flags would you add to the list? Feel free to share them to the comments below.