3 Tips to Write Winning Grant Applications

For our Author Visit Tips series, this month we have a guest post from our client Christina Soontornvat, an author and grant-writing teacher who has raised a large amount of funds through writing winning grant applications. Christina gives us 3 tips that you can use to write grant applications that will win funds for your school or organization.

Thank you, Christina…

Christina Soontornvat, Photo: Cathlin McCullough Photography
Christina Soontornvat

If you’re an educator, you will likely find yourself writing a grant at some point in your career. And if you’re like me, you may find yourself not knowing where or how to start. Before I became a published children’s author, I worked as a science museum educator. Grant writing wasn’t my primary job, but I quickly learned that if I wanted to do the projects I believed in, I would have to find ways to fund them.

I took workshops and classes on grant writing. But while those classes covered the basics, they didn’t teach me the art of writing a persuasive, compelling grant. The grants I wrote were dry and formulaic. They were boring to work on and probably just as boring to read.

Then I realized that the tools and techniques I employed as a fiction writer should also be used in my grant writing. When I started thinking of grant writing as storytelling, I started writing much stronger and more successful proposals. I also had more fun writing them!

I now write education-related grants as a consultant. Here are just a few of the fiction-writing techniques I use in my grant proposals.

1) KNOW HOW YOUR STORY ENDS

Many novelists (myself included!) won’t start drafting until they know what the final scene of the book will be. In that same vein, you shouldn’t start writing your grant until you’ve determined the ultimate goal of your project.

Funders want to change lives. They want to impact their communities. Your job when writing your proposal is to show how funding your project will help to create that positive change.

So before you start thinking about what you will do with the money if you get awarded, think about how your audience will be impacted. Impact statements are the beating heart of your grant proposal. They should be aligned with the funders’ priorities. Here are some examples:

  • Students will be better problem solvers.
  • Students will be more confident writers.
  • Students will have increased access to college and job opportunities.

Once you know how your story ends, or how your audience will be impacted, then you can plan your project around that intended impact:

  • We will equip our library with a Maker Space that will give students access to tools and build their skills to become better problem solvers.
  • We will conduct writing workshops with local authors that will give students the practice they need to build confidence as writers.
  • We will purchase laptops and Internet hotspot equipment to give students increased access to apply for college, financial aid, and job opportunities.

2) WRITE A KILLER OPENING LINE

Most authors agonize over the first sentence of their novel. The first line has to hook the reader, give them a taste of the book’s voice and tone, and leave them salivating for more. Talk about pressure!

Lucky for you, there’s no need to stress over the first line of your grant proposal. With a few exceptions, your first sentence should communicate 3 things:

  1. Who you are
  2. How much money you’re requesting
  3. What the funds will be used for

Many novices to grant writing dive right in to describing their project, which can be disorienting and confusing for the reviewer if they don’t know those three pieces of information. Here’s an example of a great first line:

The Oak Hill Library requests $30,000 to fund “OakFest”, a young adult literary festival that will excite teens in the community about reading.

The above sentence is succinct, to the point, and gives the reviewer the information they need to understand the rest of the proposal. Now the reviewer is ready to learn the rest of the story: the audience, the impact, and how the project will be executed.

If only writing the first line of a novel was so easy!

3) REVISE FOR STRONGER LANGUAGE

In the final stages of revision, authors will go through their manuscripts and look for places to tighten their prose and trim unnecessary words. This is also important in grant writing. Sloppy, verbose language is less persuasive. And if your proposal has a word or character limit, being concise is even more important. Consider the following phrase:

By having authors interact with our students, we believe students will come away feeling inspired to work on their own writing. We also think they will be more confident about the writing process.

There is nothing grammatically or technically incorrect about the above statement. But now take a look at the revision below:

Author visits inspire students and give them the confidence they need to persevere in their writing.

Notice that weak phrases like “we believe” and “we think” have been eliminated. Action verbs such as “inspire” and “persevere” have taken the place of passive verbs. Overall the statement is tighter, stronger, and makes a better case for funding author visits. And the word count has been cut in half!

Christina Soontornvat is the author of the middle-grade fantasy novel The Changlings and teaches about writing and science in author visits in schools and libraries. Christina also conducts workshops that help teachers, librarians, organizers, and others to write winning grants to fund their important projects. Read more about Christina on her speaker page.