If you don't have Marvin Teitel's book, Winning Foundation Grants: A Foundation CEO Reveals The Secrets You Need to Know (Emerson and Church, 2012), you'll want to give it a spot right on your desk when you are grappling with a grant proposal.
Teitel gives us the view from the other side of the desk as the ED of a foundation who has seen thousands of proposals over the years. He says that there are five common mistakes that proposal writers make:
1. Talking more about problems than solutions.
Emerson & Church
A proposal is not a pamphlet that educates and mobilizes the public. Your proposal must show that you are familiar with the issue you're dealing with, but must, first and foremost, focus on what your are going to do about the problem or need
2. Addressing specific problems with general solutions.A successful proposal provides a clear picture of what your organization will do to address the issue at hand. Don't just wax eloquent about the problem - provide specific details about the actions you will take to address the problem. Teitel says that a lack of concrete action might be because the writer is insufficiently aware of what's being done by her organization. Or, it could mean that the group needs to go back to their strategic planning before they try to raise funds.
3. Using buzzwords and jargon.Teitel says, "Some proposal writers confuse density with erudition." What one needs is simple prose that "tells a story or paints a picture." Avoid vague claims, trendy language, and obscure terms - they won't impress the funder and may actually cause him to dislike your proposal.
4. Budgets that don't make sense.
Teitel says that, surprisingly, quite a number of proposals arrive with math errors that undermine the organization's credibility. He points out that, "...the budget
should not only add up, it also has to support the logic of the proposal's narrative."
5. Repeating exact phrases from the funder's guidelines.
Just pasting phrases from the funder's guidelines into your proposal will not result in funding. All good proposals should fit the foundation's guidelines, but telling how and why they fit is what is important. Cutting and pasting just says that you've read the funder's website.
It is hard enough to write a good proposal. Don't undercut yourself by making these mistakes, that, with some care, can easily be avoided. Get Teitel's book before you start writing.