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To bot or not to bot: Using generative AI in grantwriting

A man on a laptop with a robotic hand writing next to him.

Amid all the talk about generative AI, fundraisers, especially grantwriters, may be asking themselves: Am I out of a job?  Will I be replaced by ChatGPT? Perhaps the question we should be asking instead is: How can we use these tools to create efficiencies and enhance our work?   

The two of us—combining our experience as a grantwriter, researcher, and grant instructor for 30-plus years and as an instructional designer who regularly uses generative AI, respectively—will discuss the basics: what generative AI is, how it can be useful in a grantwriting context, and how to use the content it generates with caution.     

What is generative AI? 

Generative AI is a type of artificial intelligence that creates new content, such as text, images, or other media by learning from and combining pieces of existing data. Through machine learning, it uses pattern recognition to interpret user prompts and generate content matching these prompts.  
So rather than using a search engine to find data or content and assembling it, you can have generative AI do some of that assembly work for you. It can also perform tasks that previously required a human, such as editing for length, helping with word choice, making style consistent, and avoiding repetition.  

How can generative AI help grantwriters?

The use of generative AI in your grantwriting involves two main principles:  

1. What you put in: Be deliberate in crafting the prompts you use with generative AI tools. Be very clear and intentional with word choice. For example, you will generate quite a different set of responses if you ask for information on “education” rather than “STEM education.” Very general and vague words can generate very vague responses and language.  

2. What you get out: Always validate content generated by AI at every level. Is it grammatically correct? Is it accurate? Is it statistically sound? Is it up to date? It is your duty to interpret what’s generated and to make sure that it meets your needs and standards.  

In addition, these tools do not always know to avoid terms that are considered outdated or offensive. In fact, generative AI has been known to be trained on biased information. You are responsible for ensuring that the terms used in your writing are sensitive and appropriate. 

Here is just one example using common AI applications such as ChatGPT and Bard that shows the range of capabilities these tools offer as well as what to watch out for.   

Generating content: Suppose you’re writing a grant proposal for an arts organization and want to explain why the arts are essential for youth development. Giving ChatGPT the prompt “Tell me why arts are important for youth development” generates two pages of text. Adding “in a short paragraph” to the prompt yields the following: 

Engaging in the arts is crucial for youth development as it fosters creativity, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence. Through artistic expression, young individuals can communicate and understand their emotions, building confidence and self-esteem. Participation in the arts also develops essential life skills such as communication, teamwork, and discipline. Exposure to diverse cultural perspectives promotes tolerance and broadens their outlook, contributing to a well-rounded and resilient foundation for personal and intellectual growth. In addition to providing a therapeutic outlet, the arts instill a lifelong love for learning, shaping individuals who are not only academically capable but also creatively and emotionally resilient. 

This is a good start, but to be usable in a grant proposal, it needs to cite sources.  

Adding sources: You can prompt the tool to enhance its own work. Add “Please redo this paragraph with citations,” to the prompt and you get:   

Engaging in the arts is crucial for youth development as evidenced by numerous studies. Research has shown that artistic expression fosters creativity, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence (Winner, 2014; Hetland et al., 2007). Participation in the arts has been linked to the development of confidence and self-esteem, with successful creative endeavors contributing to a positive self-image (Burton et al., 2013)…. 

…and so on. This makes for a stronger, better-supported argument. But suppose the funder wants to know who Winner and Burton are, or why you’re citing a 17-year-old study by Hetland et al? It’s your job to ensure that any statistics or sources you cite are reliable and up to date.  

Reducing word count: If there is a word count limit of, say, 100 words, add a prompt to shorten the paragraph:  
Engaging in the arts is vital for youth development, supported by research. Studies demonstrate that artistic expression cultivates creativity, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence (Winner, 2014; Hetland et al., 2007). Participation in the arts enhances confidence, self-esteem, and crucial life skills like communication and teamwork (Burton et al., 2013; Upitis et al., 2018). Exposure to diverse cultural perspectives fosters tolerance (Catterall et al., 2012), and artistic engagement serves as a therapeutic outlet, contributing to stress relief and well-being (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010). In summary, the arts play a well-documented role in shaping resilient and well-rounded individuals during their formative years. 

But now we’re missing an “as” before “supported by research” in the first sentence. We can keep it at 100 words by changing “serves as” to “provides.” Make sure you edit the AI-generated content meticulously. You want it to enhance your writing, not to do the thinking for you! 

How can I learn more? 

To gain a foundational understanding of generative AI and its capabilities, consider taking an online course. LinkedIn is another good resource for connecting with professionals and groups dedicated to finding ways to leverage the powers of generative AI. You can also learn about how Candid plans to leverage AI to enhance data organization, streamline search processes, and facilitate intelligent funding connections. Read more about AI on Candid insights here


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  • Stewart Bromberg says:

    March 1, 2024 9:35 am

    Very interested in this concept and receiving recommendation regarding the best way to use and evaluate the information.

  • Robert Adams says:

    February 29, 2024 8:07 pm

    What he said :-) Great idea, Ed!

  • Ed Miller says:

    February 29, 2024 6:19 pm

    I would really enjoy and benefit from a Candid on-line seminar on AI.

  • M SARABOON says:

    February 29, 2024 9:30 am