Gathering information for a grant
What foundations need from you in order to make an informed grantmaking decision.
Gathering project information
Most foundation employees are constantly deluged with letters, calls and project proposals. One way to instantly separate yourself from the crowd is to prepare a complete and concise information packet that tells the donor everything he or she needs to know about your project. Most agencies will provide you with a list of what they need, but here's a sample round up of the information you should have at your fingertips:
- Brief history of the sponsoring organization and/or project committee
- Mission and/or vision statement
- List of organization directors, staff and/or project leaders
- Description of current programs (if applicable)
- List of partnering organizations
- Identification of the population served (e.g. socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, age, languages spoken, physically/mentally challenged, etc.)
- Description of the playground project and the community needs it will address
- Description of the evaluation process for the playground project
- Statistics: number of families the playground will serve, number of children served, number of volunteers involved in the design, planning and building of the playground
- Potential opportunities for naming the playground after a donor, if any
- Testimonials from parents and children
- Photographs of the current playground and future site
- Project timeline
- Location and ownership of the project site
- Project budget detailing how requested funds will be used
- List of current funding sources, including grants already received
- Past financial statements, if applicable (audited statements and sometimes a 990 tax return)
- Current year's operating budget for your organization, if applicable
- Proof of non-profit 501(c)3 status, if applicable
The foundations will thank you!
Sending an inquiry (if necessary)
Some foundations require applicants to send a formal letter of inquiry before submitting a full proposal. The letter of inquiry asks permission to apply and generally includes a brief description of the project. Although it's an extra step in an already long process, think of your inquiry letter as a dry run for the important cover letter you'll have to write for each of your proposals later. Come up with some good solid paragraphs now, and later on you'll have the groundwork done! Click here for our sample letter of inquiry.
Ready or not, it's time to start writing!
In this section of the Guide to Foundation Grants, we'll take you step by step through the writing of a complete grant application.
Creating a writing calendar
As you can well imagine, the actual writing is the easiest place to get stuck in the grant application process. It's daunting, we know! So before you sit down at your keyboard and pull up that blank document, set a personal writing calendar that you can realistically follow. Start with the application deadline and work backward, breaking the process into small, achievable pieces with clear deadlines. Write those dates on your calendar and stick to them.
Don't forget to allow time at the end for proofreading and second opinions, and don't plan to mail your application at the last minute! Being an early bird always makes a good impression, and the foundation staff may read your proposal and allow you to make suggested changes before the deadline.
And finally, before you start, find out if there's any sort of standard application form in your area. Some states and regions have adopted a common proposal format that allows applicants to prepare one document and submit it to several agencies, with only minor changes. This can save you a lot of time and energy!
Pieces of a proposal
Although foundation applications vary, a proposal generally has five basic parts:
- Executive summary or abstract (one page):This is a brief overview of the entire playspace project; a summary.
- Statement of need (two pages): This section should present a compelling case, based on hard data and personal testimonials, for the playspace project.
- Project description (three to five pages): Your description should include a detailed explanation of the project: its objectives, planning process, and evaluation procedures.
- Budget (one page): Your budget tells an agency how its money will be spent, and it's also a window into how your project will be implemented and managed. A detailed, professional-looking budget reflects a carefully thought-out project.
- Conclusion (one page): This should be a solid, memorable and heartwarming summary of the main points.
Breaking writer's block
Writer's block is tough, especially if you're not usually a writer! Here are some tips to get those creative juices flowing:
- Start with the piece that you're most passionate about. Remember why you got involved in this project, and try to put that into words.
- Brainstorm a list of descriptive, visual and emotional words related to children and playspaces. Then choose your favorites and build an argument around them.
- Pick an imaginary fight. Pretend you're speaking with someone who opposes the idea for a playground (it's too noisy, it's an eyesore, it'll just attract gangs) and you'll suddenly find yourself full of impassioned reasons why your community needs one. Just don't let your anger show in your actual proposal!
- Tell the story of one child, or one family. Make your reader see the world through that child's eyes, and show how that world would be changed by the playspace project.
- Record yourself talking casually about the project in your own words. Imagine that you just ran into a friend at the store and you're explaining the project basics. You'll find yourself telling your playspace story concisely, with the most important information up front – just what your proposal needs.
- Do what you can, when you can – you don't necessarily need to finish one piece in order to start another. Follow your ideas where they take you.
- Remind yourself that it's better to get it done than to get it perfect!
- When all else fails, force it. Sit down at the keyboard for half an hour, and just write something. It's easier to revise a draft, however bad, than to start from scratch.
- And if you're really stuck, bring in reinforcements. Delegate a portion of the writing to a team member, or brainstorm ideas in your next meeting. You're never alone!
Once your proposal is substantially complete, it's time to prepare a cover letter, or take the next step, to proofreading and getting feedback.
Preparing a cover letter
In this section of the Guide to Foundation Grants, we'll tell you how to top off your grant application with a great cover letter.
The cover letter that introduces your grant proposal is just as important as the proposal itself. It's the very first thing foundation staff will read, and it introduces your project, your committee or organization, and your commitment to playspaces. That's why we recommend saving it until last; once you've slogged your way through the grantwriting process, you'll have all your best ideas and arguments in front of you. Then all you have to do is let a few choice ones rise to the top.
Be sure to keep the cover letter brief and to the point – no more than one page. And stay focused on your audience. Remember that although foundation staff may personally love your project, it's their job to keep grants within the scope of the foundation's mission. Therefore, it's crucial that you make a strong connection between your goals and theirs, right off the bat.
Here are some additional elements to consider:
- Think networking. Is your project linked to the foundation in any way? Did you meet with a program officer? Do any foundation employees live in your community, or volunteer on your project? Is your proposal the result of a meeting or phone call with particular foundation staff?
- Explain why your project is a good match with the foundation's mission. We can't stress this enough!
- Summarize the project, but don't get bogged down in the details. All of that information is in the proposal – the cover letter's job is to highlight major points and spark the reader's interest.
- Mention exactly how the grant money will be used. For example, maybe their $1,500 will purchase a new set of four swings, including two for tots!
- Include a generous helping of enthusiasm and gratitude. Invite foundation staff to tour the playspace when it's finished, and keep them apprised of planning events along the way.
Click here to read our sample cover letter, or take the next step, to proofreading and getting feedback. You're in the home stretch!
Proofreading and getting feedback
In this section of the Guide to Foundation Grants, you'll learn the importance of reviewing your draft proposal before it gets sent out. Better safe than sorry!
Proofreading is key! A polished, complete grant proposal with no spelling or grammatical errors will always stand out, making your organization appear professional and trustworthy.
If you are the grantwriter, make sure that at least one person other than you reads the application before it arrives on the foundation's desk. If time allows, recruit multiple proofreaders. Be sure to give them a copy of the complete packet, with all the information the granting agency requires.
Before you hand out copies of your work, be clear and specific about what kind of feedback you're looking for. You want proofreaders to catch spelling and grammar mistakes, for sure, but what else? Readers should also be checking to make sure that the application is complete, and that the agency's questions are all answered. You might also want feedback on the overall tone of the application: Does the project's mission and passion come across? Are any key supporting arguments left out? You might consider devising a list of questions for reviewers to answer.
Finally, tell proofreaders to pay special attention to the cover letter and executive summary, since these may be the only documents reviewed by the foundation's board of directors.
A word to the wise: depending on your timeline, you may want to limit your circle of proofreaders to those friends and committee members whose opinion you most value. Although additional input is helpful, writing by committee isn't always the way to go, and a host of conflicting opinions can stymie your forward movement.
Once your reviews are in, you're ready to seal the envelopes and take a big leap of faith. Then on to the final step, following up!
In this section of the Guide to Foundation Grants, we'll take you through the final step of applying for grant money: the all-important follow up. Don't let your hard work go to waste by neglecting your application once it's out the door!
The hard part is definitely over...your grant applications are in the foundations' hands. Doesn't it feel good? Congratulations! However, your work here is not quite done. You're in the nurturing phase now.
First, it's important to cultivate a good relationship with your foundation contacts. Send a thank-you to anyone who lent a helping hand. Keep your contacts up to date on your playspace progress, and check on the status of your applications from time to time. Even if this particular grant doesn't work out, you never know when you'll need a friend on the inside.
If you do receive a "no," try to find out why. Letters from funding sources are notoriously vague, since they often have a huge volume of submittals to process. Give them a call; after all, any information you can glean about your proposal's strengths and weaknesses will help you in the challenges ahead. You might be done with grants, but you'll still be making a similar funding pitch to businesses and individuals in your community. Learn from your mistakes!
Finally, if you do receive a grant, mind your manners. Thank them profusely, send pictures of what their money bought, invite them to every event and every celebration, and mention their name whenever and to whomever you can. Foundations may be busy saving the world, but they like to be included all the same.