Storytellers wanted: Grant writers need not apply

“Nonprofit seeks captivating storyteller…” instead of “Nonprofit seeks grant writer…” is the kind of job posting our latest featured author, Cheryl Clarke, would highly approve of.

Clarke recently released the second edition of her popular book Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising. It’s chock full of useful techniques for nonprofit communications of any kind—from newsletters and appeals to annual reports and, of course, grants.

No one wants to read a horrible grant proposal. Why should anyone have to? More importantly, why would you want someone to? An amazing lack of energy and misdirected effort goes into unfunded grant proposals every year despite how worthy the cause may be. It’s quite simple: If you make the task of reading a grant proposal an enjoyable activity by incorporating storytelling, you’ll secure more grants.

Storytelling isn’t a fad. Storytelling’s been around since the dawn of time and will remain the preferred way we learn information. Why fight it? Instead, you can adopt Clarke’s recommendations and captivate your readers with a story about your cause.

Join me in reading Clarke’s answer to one of my interview questions about what’s missing in effective grant writing literature.

CausePlanet: Thank you for a terrific book, Cheryl. Can you tell us what prompted you to write Storytelling? What, in your view, was missing from the literature about effective grant writing?

Clarke: This is an excellent question. When I entered the fundraising field, which was 20-plus years ago, the area of grant writing seemed very technical to me. The grant-writing classes I took and the how-to books I read reinforced my opinion. In my opinion, grant writing didn’t seem at all creative. At the same time, I was writing short fiction for fun. I realized I was incorporating in my grant proposals several of the techniques I was using in my fiction writing, such as describing a location, introducing strong characters and building dramatic tension. And that realization triggered the idea that proposal writing is really about telling a compelling, persuasive story. It’s what grant funders advise applicants to do yet at the time, grant-writing workshops and books were not doing an effective job of showing how to tell a good story.

Have you successfully used storytelling techniques in any of your communication materials?

See also:

Storytelling for Grantseekers
Winning Foundation Grants
The Foundation
Mapping the World of American Philanthropy

3 responses to “Storytellers wanted: Grant writers need not apply”

  1. Natasha says:

    Hiring with this attitude is a much better way to get an engaged, visionary person in the job instead. Anyone working in resource development must be great at painting a beautiful picture instead of just going through the motions.

  2. I love it when the light bulb comes on and this approach gets put into action! There are so many things that drive you to thinking “technical” when communicating about your cause. One of my favorite “aha” moments is guiding an applicant to use the budget to tell a story. There’s not much that’s dryer or more technical than your budget, but when you can tell a story with it, you know you’re on the path to success!

  3. Hanna Cooper says:

    These are some great points – the ability to tell a compelling story is what cuts through the drivel! Human beings express our experience through story so it’s a great reminder to brush up on these skills as a development tool as well!

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