Who'll Read Your Grant Proposal?

Every writer has heard the tired but true caution, “write to your reader.” But because grantseekers seldom know who’ll be evaluating their proposals, it’s hard to know how to best convey the message. With such a huge range of possible readers, your grant proposal needs to communicate well to a diverse audience.

Consider these types of readers, then develop your proposal to ring as many bells as possible and to side-step the major potholes.

Data vs. Story. Some readers want the facts and nothing but the facts—hard data backed up with citations. For them, hard data tells the story. Other readers want to learn about the problem through the voices of people who are affected. They’re more interested in soft data and without a riveting and authentic story, you’ll lose them. Balance hard and soft data.

Theory vs. Practice. Some readers want to understand the current theory upon which your program plan is based. They need confidence that you’ve explored the journals and academic websites and understand where your approach fits and why it should work. Other readers need confidence that the plan is based on boots-on-the ground experience in your own community and with your specific target population. They care much less about theory than hands-on organizational knowledge. Be clear about the theory that supports your program plan while also demonstrating your first-hand, in-the-trenches experience with the approach. 

Expert vs. Interest. Some readers are experts in the field and could tell you a thing or two about the issue you’re confronting. You’d better be sure to speak the right language and know where the cutting edge is located. Other readers have interest in the issue, but no expertise. They’ll need a level of education and explanation that experts will find tiresome. Balance the information for both kinds of readers.

Grammar Obsessed vs Not. Some readers react poorly to grammar mistakes and typographical errors–they’re offended. After encountering a few bloopers in your proposal, they’re likely to toss it into the wastebasket. For other readers, mistakes would have to be constant before they’d let that static drown out the message you’re trying to deliver. Don’t equivocate here. Write for the grammar obsessed.

Number Crunching vs. Bottom Line. Some readers dissect the calculations for every line item in a budget, question the validity of every dollar, and take issue with any cost that isn’t justified to the bone. Other readers look over line item calculations, but concentrate on the bottom-line, questioning whether the overall program cost is worth the outcomes you expect to achieve. Present an accurate and reasonable budget, show how line items are calculated, and provide a thorough justification. And be sure the proposal narrative explains why the expected outcomes are worth the requested investment of grant dollars.

The most successful grantseekers make sure their proposals speak to all types of readers and cover all the bases, resulting in an interesting proposal that’s supported by appropriate data. Ensuring the proposal speaks to a diverse audience is a balancing act that will pay off when writing your grant proposal.

About the Author

Barbara Floersch

Barbara Floersch, Chief of Training & Curriculum for The Grantsmanship Center, has more than 35 years of experience in nonprofit management, grant proposal writing, grants administration, and nonprofit consulting. She has secured tens of millions of dollars in federal, state, and foundation grants; taught hundreds of seminars and classes at conferences, at colleges, and for nonprofit organizations; testified before the United States Congress on the reauthorization of the National Endowment for the Arts; published numerous articles on grant proposal writing and other, related topics; and served as an expert reviewer in many federal grant competitions for the Department of Education, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Family and Youth Services Bureau Barbara is author of Grantsmanship: Program Planning & Proposal Writing, the updated version of Norton Kiritz's seminal work which has guided grantseekers for nearly 50 years. She is also a regular contributor to The Nonprofit Times. Barbara has been a senior trainer for The Grantsmanship Center since 2000 and has delivered training programs throughout the United States and internationally.

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