How to Write a Grant in Seven Steps - Part 3 of 3

Uncategorized Oct 18, 2019

Become a grant writing unicorn! Learn the basics of grant writing in seven steps. People think grant writers have mystical super powers. Let’s add the skillset to your quiver! In this series of three we distill the grant writing process into seven easy to follow steps. 

This is the third post of three on the topic of grant writing. If you missed the first and second post, you can access them here and here.

Step 5. Write Your Narrative Fast and Furiously. A narrative is a written description about your project, the problem it solves, and why it should be funded. 

The exact nature of your narrative will vary depending on the requirements of each funding agency. Sometimes, a private foundation will ask for a letter of inquiry first. This is a summary of your organization and project. If the funder likes your letter, you will be invited to submit a full application. Other times, a grant narrative is going to be fifteen pages of single-spaced writing with other lengthy and technical attachments.  

Your grant narrative should always be written customized for the grant for which you are applying. Needless to say, do not reuse past grants without customizing them exactly to the funding agency’s requirements. You can certainly recycle text from previous applications, but it must be intentionally reworked.

  • Write your first draft as fast as possible. I want your first complete draft of the narrative in no more than ten business days from when you started.  

It’s tempting to leave your narrative to track down information. At all costs, avoid doing this! Often the information you seek gets deleted in later drafts anyway, and it costs you too much time and energy to refocus.  

If I write about beneficiaries of a project, it is tempting to stop mid-sentence and look up supporting data. Instead I’ll write a sentence like this: “XX% of the project beneficiaries are low to moderate income,” and look up the exact statistic later.  

  • Stay accountable to writing deadlines by collaborating with someone else. Identify who this person will be during the grant kick-off meeting. Ideally, someone within your organization can help you edit. If you don’t have anyone in-house, ask a friend or other professional. Your “accountability buddy” does not need to read your earliest, messiest versions of the narrative, but by having them accept your work, it keeps you accountable to writing deadlines. 

When I was just starting my business, I hired my sister to edit my grant narratives. She named her price by putting something she wanted in my Amazon cart, and I was happy to pay for it because of the mistakes that she caught. When we spend a lot of time working on a narrative, we become blind to silly mistakes. 

  • Edit, edit, and edit some more. After you complete your first draft of the narrative, I want at least four more versions. Save a new version after every major edit, because sometimes you will have deleted something that you want to resurrect. Great writing is concise and clear. The only way you get to that level of brevity and impact is to continually iterate. On complex grants, I’ll have as many as 15 different narrative drafts! 

Step 6. Manage Your Attention and Focus. The key to successful grant writing is setting yourself up with the right conditions to focus. 

  • Download files from your email inbox to a project folder immediately. Nothing compromises your productivity like looking for information you can't find or getting sidetracked mid-search. 

Touch an email once. If you receive an attachment or email with useful information in it, download it immediately and put it in your project folder. This way, you can access that information without getting distracted. 

  • Schedule your narrative writing for the morning. If your workplace has morning meetings, consider asking for them to be moved to the afternoon so you can use your most focused hours of the day for this vital project, but without saying this, or your boss won’t want to move the meetings for fear no one will be useful! 

I try to not check my email until I have completed the most important priority from my day. When I'm grant writing, that means writing some substantial portion of the narrative first.  

  • Set a timer for completing bite size pieces of your application. People do well under pressure are stimulated by procrastination. I don’t want you to actually procrastinate, but we can recreate that sense of urgency by having several mini deadlines. 

I strive to work in 90-minute blocks with a full hour of rest in between. In that hour, I take a walk, stretch, eat healthy food, catch up with friends, take a nap, etc. Whatever you do, leave your computer and stop thinking about the grant. It is imperative to keep your energy and creativity high, so you can do your best work. 

A lot of times, if I'm struggling to make progress, I'll break those blocks down into even smaller chunks. I’ll set a timer for 20 – 40 minutes, which is short enough I can pledge to be distraction free. 

  • If you cannot drive into deep work in your office, find somewhere else to go. The average office employee is distracted or interrupted every ten minutes. It can take 25 minutes to refocus! There is no way to be an effective grant writer with that level of distraction. 

Consider going to your public library, a co-working office, or even a friend’s house. Don’t assume there's no way your boss will let you work somewhere else. Most people understand the challenge of staying focused and distraction free and are willing to accommodate.  

  • Use Post-Its to capture random to-do thoughts. We’re human and we don’t like to suffer, but muscling through your narrative can feel painful! Your brain is going to try to sabotage your progress by attacking you with thoughts of all of the things you need to do. 

To gain control of your mind, write down each of these tasks on a Post-It. Then place each Post-It on a calendar next to your desk to establish what day you will take care of it. I try to stack a bunch of small tasks into my “loose ends day,” which I’ll save for an afternoon when I can take care of all these smaller tasks in bulk. Other tasks may require you to block out as much as a full day.  

By writing down each random task that pops into your mind, you allow yourself to forget about it and move on with your narrative without fearing you will forget it. It also helps you be practical about managing your time. Chances are, it isn’t something that actually needs to be dealt with right now. Don’t let your narrative get pushed to the back burner! 

Step 7. Have an Independent Review of Your Entire Application. Part of what makes grants so intimidating is the number of moving parts. You have the narrative, several attachments, the application submittal process, and more. Even if you are impeccably well organized, it can be easy to make a mistake. 

To prevent this, plan to have someone provide an independent review of your entire application. This person needs to be different from whoever helped you with editing the narrative. They need to bring a completely fresh set of eyes to the application. 

Turn in your application at least one day early, but preferably two. I don’t know why everyone works until the last possible minute on their applications. Don’t do it! It’s better to have your pens down than try to change something last minute and make a mistake. 

You now know the seven steps to writing a grant! It is now time to apply what you learned to a real application. You can do this! Just focus on learning to manage your time, attention, and energy, and you will be an unstoppable force. Follow the directions in the funding guidelines to a tee, and be the best project manager you can be. That’s all it takes to be a successful grant writer!

If you want more information on grant writing, check out our book on How to Write a Grant, or take our online project planning and grant writing courses. Use discount code BLOG for 25% off the project planning course. 


If you don't already, be sure to follow us on Facebook for updates on blog posts, upcoming workshops, and success stories from other grant writers. 

Be sure to check out our FREE Mini Course with Tips and Tricks for Narrative Writing here

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