Last Updated:

April 11, 2023

What is Grant Writing? The Ultimate 2023 Guide

What is Grant Writing? The Ultimate 2023 Guide

Are you hoping to answer the question of what is grant writing? Maybe you want some more information on how to write a grant or insight on key grant writing skills. Our ultimate guide to grant writing will help you learn about who may write grants, the dos and don’ts of grant writing, the difference between grant writing and fundraising, and more. We will also provide you with some helpful grant writing resources so that you can dig in deeper and learn more as needed.

We will break down the basics of grant writing to help those of you who may be new to grant writing and also hopefully provide a few new insights for those of you with a bit more experience.

What is Grant Writing? What to Know

What is Grant Writing

Grants are money given to your entity that does not have to be repaid from a funder who wants to see their dollars make a difference through your work. Typically a grant will come from a private foundation, corporation, or government entity whose priorities align with your mission. Most funders want to fund specific projects or programs, but some may also provide general operating funds.

Grants are typically available to nonprofits, faith-based organizations, government entities, or schools just to name a few. Who is eligible and what types of work are funded will depend on the priorities of the funder and can even change year to year for the same funder. Because different funders are interested in supporting different types of projects and their interests can change often, it is important to research funders to find a match for your organization and your work.

Instrumentl is a great resource for those responsible for grant writing as it can help you research funders, organize potential funders, keep track of deadlines, and manage grant-related information all in one place.

Grant writing is the process of submitting an application to a potential funder in hopes of receiving financial support for your organization. Because funders often want to support a particular project or program, grants are typically considered restricted funds.

Grant writing is storytelling and when you write a grant you want to present a compelling idea that demonstrates why your work deserves to be funded. To help make the idea compelling and show the funder that your organization is worth funding, you need to have a well-designed project or program.

The proposal narrative is the section of your grant application where you will tell the story of your organization and your project or program. The narrative will also include an explanation of how the funder can help you reach your goals and make a difference. It is important to describe your organization and work as if you are speaking to someone who has never heard of you. You also want to demonstrate the stability of your organization by including information on past successes and the quality of your staff. The funder will want to know that they are supporting an organization that has a strong track record and good potential to continue providing services well into the future.

Who Typically Does Grant Writing?

Who Typically Does Grant Writing

If you’re interested in learning about grant writing, you may be asking who typically writes grants. Depending on the size of your organization or entity, the executive director, development staff, or an actual grant writer may write the grants. In some cases, program staff writes the grants because they know your work well. Another option is to work with consultants or people outside of your regular staff who assist with grant writing. Some small organizations may also seek assistance from volunteers when working on grant writing.

One way that you may be able to get grant writing assistance is to work with a local university or community college. If they offer grant writing or nonprofit management courses,  they may have students that can get credit for helping local regional nonprofits. They may even seek partnerships with local organizations to provide internship opportunities for their students.

Whoever does write the grants may find that courses in nonprofit writing or even a grant writing certification can help them learn the necessary skills to become successful at grant writing. Beneficial skills include technical writing, storytelling, research, organizational skills, and more. Most of these can be learned, but if you already have a background in creative writing, English, communication, journalism, or a similar field, then grant writing may come more easily. We will talk more about the necessary in our FAQ section.

Grant Writing Basics: What to Do and What Not to Do

Grant Writing Basics

Do: Know your project.

Most funders request a fair amount of detail in the proposal so it is important to know exactly what you are seeking funding for. Depending on your organization, program staff may be a good resource for this information and may even help write portions of the proposal.

Do: Know funder priorities.

Each funder will have specific priorities that they will fund, so do your research ahead of time. You can find details on potential funders through their websites including previously funded projects. If you are applying to a private foundation, you should be able to find their 990 or tax return information and see who they have previously funded. Instrumentl is a great resource for finding potential funders as we organize this information all in one place.

Giving by NTEE Code

On Instrumentl, you can spot giving trends by NTEE code to quickly identify who may be a good fit funder for your nonprofit. Creating a 14-day account will let you get a personalized list of grant recommendations for your project.

Do: Review the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) or Request for Proposal (RFP).

Funders will provide specifics about what type of work they fund through their website. Most funding opportunities will have either a NOFO or RFP that outlines specific proposal requirements and additional documents that are required for your application. These documents are provided to help you as the applicant know exactly what the funder is looking for, so use them wisely and make sure you follow all directions. These documents also explain formatting guidelines and expectations.

RFP Overview

Instrumentl gives you all the RFP information in one place, along with detailed insights from digitized Form 990 reports.

Do: Follow all formatting guidelines provided by the funder.

Using correct formatting is easy to do and if you don’t follow the guidelines provided reviewers are likely to remove your application from the applicant pool. Becoming familiar with all application and proposal guidelines is a key part of the grant writing process and should be a first step in planning out your application. These guidelines may include everything from the length of application sections, to font size, to proposal section headers.

Many funders lay out this information on their website or within their application portal.  Information from past awardees can also be helpful in understanding formatting expectations. Funders may provide this on their website, or you may know someone who has previously been awarded a grant from the funder you are interested in.

Do: Review grant writing examples when available.

Some funders will provide examples or samples on their website or within a NOFO or RFP. You may also find these examples available through other sources simply by searching for proposal samples. If you happen to know someone else who has previously applied to the funder, then they can be an amazing resource for additional insights.

Do: Edit, edit, edit.

Make sure that your proposal reads well and that there are no grammatical errors. Reviewers will ready MANY applications and will appreciate a well-written proposal.

Don’t: Send in a cold grant application.

Relationships with funders will help make your proposal more successful. It can be hard to make these relationships depending on the size of the funding entity, but it is worth trying to at least make contact with someone ahead of time. Most funders list contact information on their website and these people expect to hear from interested applicants.

Even if you have a simple conversation with a program officer about who you are and what you do before applying, this will give you a leg up. Some funders will require a Letter of Inquiry before a full application to help make the process go more smoothly. Information about the specific process for each funder will be available on their website.

Don’t: Try to force your organization or work to fit funder priorities.

The funder will be able to tell if you are “stretching” to make a match and you will likely just be wasting time on a proposal that is not very competitive. Understand what you are seeking funding for and find an appropriate funder.

Don’t: Rely too heavily on grants as a part of your overall budget.

A good rule of thumb is to have grants be no more than 20% of your organization’s budget because they are never guaranteed. However, this could fluctuate year-to-year based on the focus of your organization. For example, if you are working to introduce multiple new projects, you may have a higher grant revenue in that time frame.

Don’t: Rush a grant.

Make sure you prepare well ahead of the deadline as it will be obvious to the reviewer if you rushed things and there are often many details and additional documents necessary to complete the proposal. A careful review of all information provided by the funder as well as details of the specific funding opportunity will help you create a plan that results in an organized and well-written application.

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FAQs on Grant Writing

FAQs on Grant Writing

What are Helpful Skills for Grant Writing?

Part of answering the question of what is grant writing is understanding key skills that will help you write grants. While many different types of people can write grants, there are a few skills that will be beneficial. These grant writing skills may include storytelling, passion for your work, writing skills, research skills, attention to detail, and organizational skills just to name a few.

Because much of grant writing is about storytelling, you must enjoy writing and know your project or program well. You also have to be able to research various funders and grant opportunities to find a good fit for your work.

Many grant applications will require a relatively lengthy proposal narrative and additional attachments, so you must pay attention to the detailed requirements outlined by the funder. Because you will likely need to submit multiple documents as part of your grant application, you will need to keep everything organized.

If you are new to grant writing you can find many resources to help you learn. For training related to grant writing and nonprofit writing, you can check out our blog.

How Difficult is Grant Writing?

Many consider grant writing to be rather difficult. It can also be stressful because you may put a lot of time into a proposal only to find out you were not awarded the grant.

One of the hard parts of grant writing is researching which grants to apply for. It is important to find funders whose priorities align with your work as this will increase your odds of success. A typical grant application will include a proposal or proposal narrative which will be several pages long and the funder may also ask for several additional attachments.

It is important to know your organization and project or program well so that you can find an appropriate funder to support your work. You also need to make sure that you understand all requirements from the funder and prepare all necessary documents that are requested. Another important aspect is being able to tell your story well to demonstrate why your work deserves to be funded.

If you know the work that you are seeking funding for and understand all funder requirements, then you can make a plan for how to complete the proposal and other requirements. Having a plan will help the grant writing seem less difficult and should increase your odds of success. Use your plan to help you convey a compelling idea in a way that will catch the attention of the funders.

You can also keep pre-written information such as organization background which can then be adjusted as needed for each proposal.  As long as you keep things organized, understand funder priorities and requirements, know what you are seeking funding for, and tell your story well, then grant writing will seem easier.

If you are new to grant writing or are looking for ways to become more successful at grant writing, you may want to consider a grant writing certification. The American Grant Writer’s Association offers a grant writing certification course that is quite popular. It is also key to keep in mind the importance of communicating well, telling a compelling story, and trying to be persuasive in your writing.

What is the Difference Between Grant Writing and Fundraising?

What is grant writing, what is fundraising, and what are the differences (and similarities) between the two?

Both fundraising and grant writing include research, pursuing leads, creating talking points, and evaluating opportunities. While fundraising and grant writing both consist of securing funds to support the work of your organization or entity, they are quite different. Some may consider grant writing a type of fundraising, depending on exactly how you define things.

Fundraising typically refers to relationship building with an individual donor (or family) while grant writing is the process of applying for funds from a corporation, government entity, or foundation. Fundraising usually involves face-to-face conversations with people who have an interest in your organization and your work. Individual donors often form a long-term relationship with your organization and may donate for many years because you have built this relationship with them. These are typically people whose beliefs align with the work of your organization.

Grant writing is a multi-step process where you submit an application and become part of a pool of many organizations that are seeking funding for their work. Funds are often one-time or at least require a new project or program for each application. Most funders receive far more applications than they can fund, so grants are typically pretty competitive.

Grant funds are typically restricted funds within your overall budget because they are given to fund a specific project or program. Funds raised from individual donors are more likely to be unrestricted unless the donor requests they be used for a specific purpose.

Both fundraising and grant writing can be time-consuming because of the preparation required. Fundraising takes time because you often have to speak and/or meet with a funder multiple times to receive a donation. Grant writing is time-consuming because you have to research funders and then make sure you write a compelling application. Because fundraising is more about direct conversations with people, it may be considered less formal than the process of grant writing.

Another critical aspect of fundraising is people skills because you are likely to interact directly with the donors. While it can be helpful to build a relationship with a funder in the process of applying for grants, much of the work is done in writing which may require slightly different skills than other types of fundraising.

Do Grant Writing and Fundraising Compliment One Another?

Grant writing and fundraising complement one another and should be used in tandem to meet the funding needs of your organization or entity. Depending on the size of your organization, it may seem difficult to have time to utilize both of these methods.

It is important to use time wisely and dedicate your efforts where you have the best odds for a return on your investment. Many feel that fundraising can be more lucrative because you can build a long-term relationship, but many individual donors like to see that your organization also applies for and receives grants. People want to be part of a winning team, and winning grants shows that other entities see the benefits of your work.

Another important reason why you should utilize multiple types of fundraising is that those who support your work want to see a diversity of funding sources. Private donors like knowing they are not the only ones supporting your organization. And foundations, corporations, and government funders want to also know that you don’t rely on grants for your entire budget. Diverse funding sources are seen as a sign of organization health.

What Are Some Helpful Grant Writing Resources for Nonprofits?

If you are looking for information on how to write a grant, you may find a grant writing certification to be useful. We have previously mentioned the American Grant Writers’ Association certification and they have other resources available for grant writers as well. There may also be nonprofit writing resources available through your local library, university, or community college. Many community colleges have a small business center which often offers nonprofit-related training as well.

If a nearby university has a nonprofit management certificate or degree program, you may be able to get assistance from students in that program or seek a certificate or degree for yourself.

Many states have one or more associations or groups for nonprofits. These are designed specifically to assist nonprofits in all aspects of operations and often provide free or low-cost training opportunities. These types of associations may also have resources for finding grant opportunities.

If you are looking for more information specific to grant writing and nonprofit writing, you can check out grant writing resources available on our blog.

Wrapping Things Up: What is Grant Writing?

Grant Writing

What is grant writing? It is the process of researching potential funders and submitting an application in hopes of receiving funds to support your organization and your work. It is important to understand that grant writing can be quite a bit of work so you want to budget your time well. Do your research to make sure your organization and your work align with the priorities of the funder. Make sure you meet all requirements outlined by the funder and always meet all deadlines, including reporting.

Another key takeaway is to make sure to write well and tell your story. Simple grammatical and formatting errors will make your proposal less competitive and are unprofessional.

Because grants should only make a small percentage of your overall budget (recommended 20% or less) and they can be very competitive, other fundraising methods and revenue streams will be necessary to keep your organization healthy and stable. You want to get the best return on your investment and get the funds that you need to support your work. You also want to make sure and do some research on resources for grant writing and nonprofit writing assistance as there are many available.

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