How to Write a Grant in Seven Steps - Part 1 of 3

Who doesn’t want to become a grant writing unicorn?  People think grant writers have mystical super powers. Let’s add the skill-set to your quiver! In this three-part series we distill the grant writing process into seven easy to follow steps. 

Step 1. Follow Your North Star (the Funding Guidelines). Funding guidelines are instructions from the funder on how to apply. They usually include information on the grant program, eligibility, narrative requirements, necessary attachments, etc. 

You can download the funding guidelines from the funding agency website. Once downloaded, print them so you have a hard copy to mark up. You will catch nuances in the guidelines that, for some reason, are difficult to catch when reading on a computer. 

Read the funding guidelines from beginning to end and then take a break. Go work on something else, stretch, pet your dog- whatever you do to maintain your energy. When you’re done, come back to the guidelines and reread them carefully. Highlight keywords that are used repeatedly and specific instructions like font size. 

Be sure to locate the sections on what information the funder wants in your grant narrative and the scoring criteria. 

Can’t find the scoring criteria? That’s okay. Not all applications tell you how the application will be evaluated and scored. If this is the case, pay extra attention to wording in the guidelines and the organization’s website so you can align your narrative responses with those priorities. 

Step 2. Prepare Your Narrative Skeleton. Nothing is more intimidating than a blank page. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, we always prepare a ‘narrative skeleton’. The skeleton outlines each section of the narrative and the scoring criteria. 

Type each narrative prompt into a blank document and, if applicable, the scoring criteria. By doing this, you are preparing the exact headers and sub-headers that the funding agency wants in your narrative. 

Below is an example of a question pulled from a funding guideline that we then typed into a grant narrative skeleton:  

Rating Factor 1: Capacity of the Applicant

Subfactor 1.1.a Managerial and Technical Staff. You must describe the project specific roles and responsibilities and knowledge/experience of the project director and all individual key staff in planning, managing, and implementing projects for which funding is requested. Experience pertaining to specific activities should be relevant, recent (in the last five years), and demonstrate that past projects were completed on or ahead of schedule. 

Scoring Criteria: You describe the roles/responsibilities and the knowledge/experience of the project director and all individual key staff in planning, managing and implementing projects for which funding is being requested. Experience of all individual key staff is relevant, recent and successful.

It may feel like a waste of time to be rewriting the application guidelines into your own text editor. The reason I encourage you to do this, however, is because it helps you start organizing your thoughts on how you are going to respond to each section. 

Once the narrative skeleton is complete, start adding in bullet points with ideas on how you want to respond to each question. 

Do not start writing complete sentences!  We just want bullet points for capturing ideas and questions, so you can see where you have gaps in information. 

Once you have a complete narrative skeleton with bullet points, you will have a robust understanding of what is needed to prepare the proposal. 

Even then, we still don’t start writing!  The next step is hosting an official grant kick-off meeting. 

Before we get there, however, you can watch our free mini course on narrative writing to help bring the points made in this blog post come to life. 

That concludes part one on writing grants in seven steps! You can read part two here and part three here.


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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