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