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The Well-Organized Grant Writer

What Is in Your Files?


People tryng to round up papers flying all around.
Michael Blann/Getty Images

Have you just become the designated grant writer for your nonprofit? Wondering where to start?

Grant writing begins long before you actually have a grant to write. Your tools of the trade is information...organizational information. Even before you start looking for foundations that might want to fund your nonprofit, develop an in-depth understanding of its mission and activities and gather a trove of easy-to-tap organizational information.

Start your organizing by developing the following information and sources:

  • The history and mission of your nonprofit. No doubt the organization has gone through a lot of changes since it was first started. Make sure that you have the latest mission statement, vision statement, and a narrative of the history of the organization. Collect organizational charts, bios of the staff and board members, a list of previous grants, and a copy of the most recent strategic plan. All of this will help you articulate a description of the organization in your grant proposals.

  • Descriptions of your organization's current projects and programs. Who is the audience for those programs? What are the specific services provided? Talk to the program people and ask them what they do and how they do it. Find out how they measure results and evaluate their progress. Ask to shadow them while they do their jobs. Get out and mingle with the clients that are served. Develop a good sense of what your organization does, how it does it, and just how good it is at those activities.

  • Special resources that would make a project successful. These might be human resources such as staff with specialized expertise, an outstanding and well-trained volunteer force, partnerships with other community groups, or deep and long experience with particular populations and geographical locations.

  • Documentation of the special accomplishments of your organization. Has it won any awards? Received any special media coverage about its programs? Been commended by a professional association? Collect articles from newspapers and magazines, and professional journals. Look for letters of support from other organizations and testimonials from clients. Put together a "credibility" or "bragging" file and keep it up to date.

  • Examples of community involvement by your organization. How has your organization had a positive impact on your community? This might be directly through the programs your organization provides or cooperation it has provided to other community groups or government entities.

  • Copies of publications your organization has produced. Look for an annual report, newsletters, press releases, pore over the website for information, examine the organization's 990s, read committee reports, evaluations of any kind, surveys of clients or volunteers, and board minutes. Sit down with the budget and try to understand the flow of income and expenses. Ask the financial officer to help you understand the financial underpinnings of your organization.

  • Interviews with key staffers. Talk to the people who are on the front lines of your organization's activities, especially those who have been around for a while. Ask them to articulate what they think the strengths and weaknesses are of your organization, what the greatest needs are, and what they would love to do if money were available. Ask for their versions of the organization's history to gain a sense of how the mission has been refined over time.

  • Make sure you understand the concept of each proposal and how it fits with the mission. Document the specific details of the project, and how it will be executed; the timetable for the project; the expected outcomes, and how those will be evaluated; staffing and volunteer needs for the project; and a rough estimate of the expenses involved.

As a grant writer, your job will be easier if you understand your organization thoroughly and have all the key information at your fingertips. It will also make the job of getting started on a grant proposal ever so much easier. If you have a grant to write but must first gather all the pertinent information, it can be overwhelming. Gather information and organize it so you can hit the ground running.


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