The vast majority of philanthropic funds raised by non-profits come from individuals. According to Giving USA, 73% ($212 billion) of charitable contributions in 2010 ($291 billion) were from individuals with 8% ($23 billion) from bequests, making 81% ($234 billion) of all contributions in 2010 from everyday people or their estates.
Fourteen percent ($41 billion) of the 2010 contributions were from foundations and 5% ($15 billion) from corporations. (Source: Giving USA 2011: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2010; Executive Summary)
What does all this mean?
It means the majority of any non-profit fundraiser’s time and effort should be spent building relationships with individuals. That’s where the majority of your support (time, talent, influence and money) will come from. That’s where the majority of your time should be spent.
It doesn’t mean you should only target individuals. On the contrary … all non-profit organizations – even small and start-up non-profits – need to develop a multi-channel fundraising plan that includes grant writing and event planning (at minimum).
An easy way to ease into grant writing for non-profit fundraising (and not spend an inordinate amount of time going after grants) is … submitting online grant proposals.
More and more foundations are moving toward accepting online grant proposals. They’re green, saving tons of paper and trees. They eliminate the need to send X number of copies. They are efficient and (generally) easy to write. And (this is my favorite), you can submit at the last minute.
Some foundations may use the online application instead of a letter of intent. They then invite non-profit organizations with programs that meet their funding needs to submit a full proposal. That saves everyone a lot of time.
Here are a few things to consider when writing online grant proposals …
Visit the funding source’s website well ahead of the submission deadline. That will give you time to register, if necessary. Look for examples of successful proposals that will help you write a stronger, better proposal. Print out the application form and guidelines, if applicable.
Use a Word Processing Program
Create your proposal in a word process program and then cut and paste when it’s time to submit the online proposal. The online grant proposal program may or may not have spell check (which is important!!). I use Microsoft Word and find its readability statistics invaluable with anything I write, especially grant proposals. It will also be a lot easier to edit your proposal in a word processing program.
Create the budget in a word processing program or program like Excel. The funding source may have their own budget formatting, but at least you’ll have all the figures and calculations ready for entry.
Use the 5C’s of Copywriting
My most-used formula for writing just about anything that has to do with non-profit fundraising is the 5 C’s formula: compelling, clear, concise, comprehensive, and credible. This formula works especially well with online grant proposals.
Compelling copy is persuasive copy. You are persuading the funding source to take an action (fund your grant request). Compelling copy is informative, engaging, and interesting to read.
Clear copy is the result of clear thinking. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, the grant reviewers won’t either. Know your organization inside and out and how it functions. And, most importantly, know what the foundation’s funding priorities are. Write a proposal that clearly tells your story relative to the funder’s priorities and concerns.
Concise tells the whole story in as few words as possible. It gets to the point as quickly as possible. It is not repetitious or rambling.
Comprehensive anticipates and answers every possible question the grant reviewer may have.
Credible copy develops trust. It demonstrates how the people managing and governing your organization are trustworthy, capable, and experienced.
Writing tight means telling your story as succinctly as possible but not sacrificing clarity for brevity. Writing tight means …
- Writing in an active voice (rather than passive voice).
- Eliminating adjectives and adverbs that mean the same as the noun or verb.
- Using short sentences and short paragraphs. This isn’t always possible, of course. Don’t agonize over the occasional long sentence or long paragraph. Just know that shorter sentences and paragraphs are more interesting, and that keeps the reader engaged and reading.
- Avoiding jargon. If it’s necessary to use jargon, explain in simple terms what the jargon means.
- Keeping acronyms to a minimum. Define an acronym the first time you use it. Enclose the acronym in parentheses immediately following the definition. Example: Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).
- Expecting to revise and edit your proposal at least three times.
- Having someone read your proposal for clarity and to suggest where you can cut out words. It can be difficult editing your own words. Let someone else be more objective.
Like all other funding sources, foundations that accept online grant proposals will specify what they want in the proposal. Plan ahead, create all your drafts in a word processing program, use the 5 C’s copywriting formula, write tight … and follow the funding source’s specifications to the letter. You’ll write a winning online grant proposal.