No snoring allowed: Win grants with surprises and heroes

Did you know that 70 percent of what we learn is conveyed through stories? Why should it be any different when we’re trying to capture the hearts and minds of those who work in foundations?

For some reason, many of us who write grant proposals take on the project as if it promises all the anxiety of a tooth extraction.

Instead, we should be asking ourselves, “How can I build a story around my cause and draw in my reader so s/he feels involved?” If you’ve ever heard the saying, “Garbage in, garbage out,” then you know your approach to writing a grant will have everything to do with how it’s interpreted by a funder.

Storytelling for Grantseekers author, Cheryl Clarke, not only has been writing successful grants for more than 20 years, she relishes the job. We’re featuring her book at CausePlanet and hope you share our enthusiasm for this topic. Join me in learning what her readers are surprised about and the most important piece of the proposal.

CausePlanet: What advice in your book do you suspect your readers will find most surprising?

Clarke: Hmmm…another excellent question. I think many readers are surprised to even think a grant proposal can be thought of and constructed as a story. On a more micro level, I’ve heard from several readers that they are surprised by my use of section heads, which are analogous to chapter titles. I suggest grant writers consider using more descriptive and persuasive language when writing section headings. For example, while “History and Mission of the XZY Symphony” is certainly serviceable, it is much more compelling to say, “20 Years of Musical Excellence: XYZ Symphony’s History and Mission.” With this section heading, the writer is conveying both a key piece of information (the fact that the symphony has been around for 20 years) and also that the symphony delivers musical excellence (which helps establish the symphony’s credibility).

CausePlanet: What is the most important piece of the proposal in a grant and does it involve a story strategy?

Clarke: The most critical component in a proposal is the need or problem statement. A potential funder must understand what the need or problem is in order to entertain funding a nonprofit agency’s response to the need or problem. A grant writer cannot assume the funder knows the need. Therefore, it must be fully explained and documented through the use of data and statistics. The story strategy most certainly applies to this section of a proposal for it is here in the need or problem statement where the grant writer shows conflict and builds tension. Conflict is demonstrated and tension is built when the grant writer portrays how the world, environment or situation looks today with the need unmet and how a defined population is not being served. Hero agencies exist to address unmet needs.

Clarke’s storytelling techniques apply to all sorts of fundraising materials besides grant proposals. Consider Clarke’s first answer–How effective are you with section headers in your copy? Are they snoresville or do they capture the reader? In her second answer, she stresses building tension and conflict so you can demonstrate how your cause resolves it. What are some ways you can build tension and resolve it in your problem statement?

See also:

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

4 responses to “No snoring allowed: Win grants with surprises and heroes”

  1. Hanna Cooper says:

    I really appreciate this approach, and am glad you’re focusing on it!

  2. Natasha says:

    This type of approach to engaging your audience is fresh and exciting, keep up the great work!

  3. I love the encouragement to use tension and conflict in your narrative. Especially in the Need section – so often this is delivered as a dry catalogue of what’s wrong. It is much more engaging to think with a structure in mind to engage the reader and draw them breathless through your application. Go Cheryl!

  4. Thanks for the smart, concise reminder. Good stories inspire.

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