Storytelling in Grant Writing

Tips to turn your forgettable proposal into an unforgettable story

By Kayla McCormley

The past two years have been a whirlwind for charitable giving and fundraising. As federal funding cuts to education, agriculture, and the arts looms and social issues continue to be at the forefront of the news cycle, grant funding has changed dramatically. While social programs continue to face an onslaught of cuts, other organizations such as the ACLU are benefiting from a significant increase in charitable giving.

All of this makes for fierce competition for grant funding. Potential funders need to invest wisely. They need the facts and the figures and the data and the graphs to support their decisions, but in my mind the most crucial piece of a proposal is the narrative and statement of need. Anyone can demonstrate need with facts and figures, but can you tell a compelling story?

In professional writing and grant writing, storytelling is just as important as it is in creative writing. A study at Princeton University by Uri Hasson found powerful storytelling can sync brain activity. It crosses language barriers

As writer you need to reach across the page or screen and attempt to do that. At a recent presentation for a grant I applied for, I found out that there were 15 applications to the small foundation I had chosen as a best match. This may sound small, but for them it was unprecedented and I found my small group competing for funding against United Way.

As a writer, how can you craft a proposal that tells a story? Read the following tips to help weave stories into your own proposals.

  • Talk to the people on the ground.

Nonprofit Hub suggests using every opportunity to connect with individuals who have benefited from a nonprofit, but also the people who make things happen. By having employees and beneficiaries sign a release form, you are able to use their stories to convince a potential funder that your organization is making a difference.

  • Give statistics a face.

It is easy to rattle of the statistics of child hunger and equally easy to skim over that paragraph. Pairing statistical data with a story that validates the it creates a compelling argument. In this case, finding a child whose life had been positively impacted by a nutrition outreach program adds a human element to the statistics.

  • Know your audience.

Are you appealing to a local or national organization? It will make a difference in how you tell your story. A local funder has a more intimate understanding of your area and needs. A organization that is not based in your area may need a more detailed account of what your needs are and why.

  • Let the funder be the hero.

As you write, it is easy to get caught up in all the ways you and/or the organization will be making a difference. After all, aren’t you the ones who will implementing the program? Yes, that is true, but you need to remember that without the funder, you wouldn’t be doing any of the above.

Part of professional writing is the ability to use all the tools and techniques available to you to produce your best work. In grant writing, storytelling can be difference between your application being on the top or the bottom of the pile.



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