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How to Become a Grant Writer
by Kathleen Ewing

When you are new to grant-writing, the best place for you to find a group in need of a writer is to visit your local United Way. They should be able to provide you with a list of non-profit organizations in your immediate community. It's a safe bet that several of them have projects in need of grants. Art museums seeking operational funds, providers of care for the disabled in search of funds for medical equipment, bicycle clubs planning to create a new trail or improve an existing one are just a few examples. Call and make these grant seekers aware of your availability.

Start small. My first grant was $20,000 for CPR manikins and peripheral equipment, funded by Del Webb, an Arizona foundation which funds medical equipment and facilities.

Matching grant seekers to grantors can be a long, tedious process. To find foundations that grant funding for projects like yours, visit online at foundationcenter.org and check out their Philanthropy News Digest. The PND has a search feature where you can enter the topic of your grant and find out which organizations have a request for proposal (RFP) currently open. Or check with your local library for the Foundation Directory. When you've written a few successful grants, you will want to subscribe to the Foundation Center's online directory.

Don't overlook Google when looking for funding. My search string "grant funding +horses +Arizona" reveals some remarkable opportunities for seeking funds—including the Diamondbacks baseball team. (Professional sports teams often fund a wide range of projects in their community and state.)

Create a list of prospective grantors. Be selective. You wouldn’t ask an animal rights group to help construct your shelter for delinquent adolescents or to fund construction of your bike path. But they might be willing to help you develop safe horseback riding trails, a shelter for abandoned pets or a free medical clinic for pet owners unable to pay for veterinary care.

It is the grantor’s business to fund worthy projects. They welcome your telephone call to their contact person for guidelines. Take advantage of this opportunity. The contact person can tell you if your project is something her foundation might be willing to consider for funding, when the next grant cycle deadline is for them and how to slant your proposal to attract the most favorable attention during the review process.

The Secret:

Think of grant-writing as finding out who has your money in their pocket. The trick is to ask the right funder in the proper manner if he has it.

The key to writing a successful grant is to give the granting organization what they want, the way they want it. Some grantors will ask for a simple, informal letter outlining the proposed project while others have their own standardized proposal forms. Yet another might reject your proposal because your page margins exceed specifications or your font is too large or too small. Don’t presume that you know better than they do what it is they want. Give grantors precisely what they ask for, neither more nor less. If they decide they want more information, they will ask for it.

The Ask:

Right up front, outline who you are and what you are requesting from the grantor. Do not itemize or embellish at this stage. Provide a total amount, what you plan to do with the funds and where you plan to do it.  If Fun Trails Horse Club needs $10,000 to build holding pens at four campsites along their new trail, just blurt it right out. No innuendo. No clever phrases. No bashfulness.

The Compelling Need:

Grantors want to know that there is more to your request than just the simple statement that members of your group want to do something of value with the money. You must establish a compelling need. Personalize your request. Make the grantor care about your cause, but stick to the facts and, again, don’t embellish the truth. Describe a couple of brief but dramatic examples of what has happened to someone as a result of not having whatever you plan to provide. Perhaps a horse got loose from the tether line, ran through camp and broke young Buzz Dooley’s leg.

Let the grantor know about your group and the broad base of community support it has generated. They want to know that there is support for what you are attempting to accomplish.

The How:

Now you can go into more detail about the project, what type of materials will you use, the scope of your planning and who will do the work, including any special expertise you have recruited. You can also expect to provide a detailed budget for your project. Provide quality photographs, if possible.

The Future:

Your grantor will want to know how you propose to sustain your project in the future. Has local government agreed to budget it for the future? Has a group of business owners, the Chamber of Commerce or your group agreed to sponsor annual funding events? Or is your group financially able to fund the project once they establish it?

The Metrics:

Finally, you must inform your grantor how you will measure the success of your project. Outline your method for reporting that success. Provide the grantor with a single contact they can call for information, clarification, and progress reports on the project.

You can apply for funding at more than one source. Many foundations will specifically ask if you are also applying elsewhere. If they choose not to fund the entire project, they may be willing to partner with another funder.

The Wait:

Patience is vital when you are seeking funds for a major project. Private foundations and governmental agencies won’t recognize your timeframe. Some may contact you when they receive your proposal. You may never hear from others. Or a check may suddenly appear with a letter of congratulations on the success of your grant proposal.

Grant etiquette demands that you always send a note of thanks to the grantor. And if you receive a second check from another source, be sure to contact that source and ask if they would allow you to use the funding for optional upgrades to your project. Once they write a check, funders are not likely to ask for a refund. But they will expect a detailed account of how your group is planning to spend the money.

Writing a successful grant is doubly rewarding for a writer. Not only does it allow you to help a worthy project acquire funding, but it also transfers some of the other fellow’s money into your own pocket.

© Copyright 2009, Kathleen Ewing

Kathleen Ewing is an award-winning freelance writer headquartered in Central Arizonas high country. Among her credits are feature articles for Art Calendar, American Falconry, Bend of the River, TrailBlazer and Hobby Farms magazines. Visit her blog at www.rodeowriter.blogspot.com

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