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.



Creative? No Problem! – Professional Writing, Creativity, & You

Source: Steve Petrucelli

Source: Steve Petrucelli, “Ghost Writer” Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

Close your eyes and envision yourself as a professional writer at work. What do you find yourself doing every day? Do you see the field of professional writing as boring, consisting of slaving away laying out phone books or writing dull instruction manuals no one will ever read? Are you under the impression that professional writing is selling out and abandoning your creativity for a paycheck?

If you have any of the misconceptions listed above, think again! Professional writing is a field where you can embrace your creative side, while earning a paycheck doing something you love. Contrary to popular belief, professional writing isn’t just laying out phone books or writing manuals. The field itself is incredibly diverse and there’s a niche for just about anyone, with plenty of opportunities to exercise your creativity.

Here are just a few of the more creative aspects you may encounter.


Think about the last time you encountered issues with a product. Maybe an app wasn’t running properly, or perhaps you just wanted to know how to use some of the product’s advanced features. Where did you go? I’m willing to bet that you went online and looked it up. Companies have caught on to the fact that people turn to the Internet to find information, advice, or instructions for products. One of the best ways for companies to utilize that fact is through blogging.

Corporate blogging is a way to connect with consumers and help them find the information they need. Since blogging is a very different style of writing than say, your traditional instruction manual, it’s an excellent way to exercise your creativity while working as a professional writer.

Useful Skills

It’s nice to have a working knowledge of HTML and CSS, but Content Management Systems like WordPress make it not so necessary anymore. The more customized you want your content the better it is to know how to code.

Videos, Podcasts, & Screencasts

Coming up with creative and informative ideas, writing scripts about them, and recording those ideas, is another opportunity to be creative. Since most people seek out information on the Internet, this gives organizations (and professional writers) a chance to show off their writing, editing, and/or animation skills.

Consumers love using audio and visual tools to learn how to use products or how to do something. It’s an approachable way to share content and information with others, and more companies are utilizing these tools to engage with their customers than ever before.

Useful Skills

Knowing how to use tools like Adobe’s Framemaker or Flash can be really helpful. So is having a basic knowledge of recording and editing video and audio.

Designing Documents & Websites

Content not only has to be well written, it has to look great too! Professional writers are responsible for not just creating the written word, but they’re also responsible for designing readable, informative, and visually oriented documents and websites.

Whether it’s coming up with visually engaging brochures, a beautiful looking website, an informative infographic, or anything else, really, if you know your way around a graphic design program and can create usable, visually stunning content, you’re going to be a huge asset to the organization you work for.

Useful Skills

Adobe Photoshop and InDesign (and the entire Adobe Creative Suite for that matter) have become industry standards. Knowing how to use these programs to create visually appealing documents and websites will be of benefit to you!

Don’t Check Your Creativity at the Door!


Source: Christy Sheffield, “Create” Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

These are only a few of the ways writers may be expected to show off their creative sides in the professional world. If your workplace doesn’t “do” any of the above, there may be other more creatively bent things you can do, or you can take the initiative to start up a blog, make videos/podcasts/screencasts, or become more active in document and website design.

Professional Writers: Redesigning the Landscape of Corporate Culture

graphic“Culture means rhetoric,” I wanted to scream as I read an insightful article on Forbes ( The article highlighted how approaching the workplace as a culture seems to be the latest trend. In fact, last year Merriam Webster cited the word culture as the most used word of 2014. Corporations are now seeking a means wherein they can do more than simply employ people. They must now address the totality of the needs of job seekers.

Engagement, work-life balance, retention, and professional development are all aspects of corporate culture. In sustaining such workplace culture, it then becomes necessary to have a form of discourse between employer and employee—one that silently communicates unspoken operational procedures. This is where professional writers come into play, because they’ve mastered the art of rhetoric. And, because they have such a firm handle on scribbling inside the confines of various social spaces, what better person to communicate the ins and outs of corporate culture, than a proven professional writer?

Fortunately for professional writers, there’s some great news on the horizon. First, we must consider that the unemployment rate (5.4% as of April) is the lowest it’s been since May 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Secondly, writing as a core competency in Corporate America is in high demand. In today’s numbers-driven society, it seems many learning institutions are emphasizing math and science courses to propel students ahead. And while this creates a deficit of writers, it makes the emerging need of writers in the workplace explosive. Though many of the jobs professional writers may not be formally titled as a writing job, the truth is, more and more jobs require significant amounts of writing.

Today, there are jobs being filled by writers that were almost nonexistent fifteen years ago. Consider the widespread number of jobs in the following fields:

• Project Management
• Social Media
• Digital Content Development

These positions are hotbeds for writers, not just because they’re becoming more widespread; rather, they are key in managing and leveraging culture within the workplace. Understanding rhetoric, I mean culture gives professional writers the platform to become indispensable. With culture being a buzzword in the professional world today, we must then provide a working definition for it. The online publication, Entrepreneur, defined corporate culture as:

“A blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time.”

Professional writers today are so in demand not only because of their innate abilities to pen strong content across many mediums, but also because they can apply the framework of rhetoric to the discourse of corporate culture. Also, as technology continues to expand the plane of the job market, it then becomes necessary to employ professional writers who possess a strong ability to persuade and influence using the digital tools that are becoming increasingly popular. Corporate culture, just like professional writing, can often be looked at as socially situated, and it deals with a constant interaction between employee and employer. What better person to constantly liaise these grounds than the professional writer who has proven their ability to create superior content, communicate effectively, translate complex information into clear messages, and meet the constantly evolving needs of a particular organization.

Pens up, writers, because of the ever-evolving needs of Corporate America, success, longevity, and continual achievements are all at our fingertips.

“All I’m Going to Do is Edit Telephone Books” and Other Lies About Technical Communication

Technical writing, otherwise known as technical communication, is often seen as a career where you need to be the smartest of the smart and only available to a few people. I hope to dispel this myth, as well as a few others. The most important part of being a technical writer is: being a good communicator.

Myth titles borrowed from Technical Writing Is Boring, and 5 Other Misconceptions About This $100K Career. Content is my own.

1. “Technical writers only write about highly technical, scientific, technological, medical, or systematic topics.”

  • Not always. Technical writing includes more than just writing about highly technical, involved, and complicated topics. At its simplest, in its essence, technical writing is breaking down and/or creating content to communicate ideas to your audience. That audience could be technical personnel (such as engineers) or could easily be non-technical (such as end-users or customers).

2. “Technical writing is boring and lacks creativity.”

  • Technical writing is more than just “writing,” it’s a profession often referred to now-a-days as technical “communication.” The professional organization for technical writers is even called the “Society for Technical Communication.” Individuals with the skills of a technical writer/communicator can also hold various other positions to include: content manager, information architect, instructional designer, usability specialist, corporate blogger and many others.
  • Technical writers also create content other than just highly technical written documents. This includes multimedia content such as videos/screencasts, podcasts, Web pages (using HTML, CSS), blogs, illustrations (ex. Visio diagrams, flash files, etc.), and e-Learning content, in addition to text based content such as aides, guides, and help documents. You can even have a combination! A blog that I’ve recently become a fan of is I’d Rather Be Writing by Tom Johnson, a technical writing by profession, currently focusing on developer documentation. In his free time, he manages his own blog/Web site, where he often uses podcasts to describe different facets or ideas in the technical writing profession. I eagerly encourage you to review his podcast (and accompanying presentation) for his Debunking the Boredom Myth of Technical Writing post.

3. “Technical writers are not paid well.”

  • Not only is technical writing a career where you can make a nice living, it is a career with growing opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, technical writers have median annual salary of $65,500. This is a great salary, especially considering the median pay for all professions is $34,750. Additionally, this occupation is expected to grow 15% between 2012 and 2022. A rate higher than the average growth rate for all occupations (11%).

4. “Technical writers need a technical background.”

  • As discussed in the first myth, your audience could be technical personnel (i.e. engineers) or non-technical (i.e. end-users or customers). Sometimes, with more technical audiences, you may need a technical background. However, the most important things are being good at audience analysis and information architecture, though it is rare you will need to have Ph.D. in rocket science. Just look at the description of a few technical writing positions on, they do not all require you to have a degree in some technical field.

The examples above are examples of different possibilities in the technical writing/communication field. In the off chance that you somehow (someway) end up editing telephone books or some other equally boring job, there are plenty of other things you can do. You can use your design skills in Web development, show off your presentation or discussion skills with a podcast, flex your creative muscles by creating illustrations, or combine everything to create e-Learning content. The possibilities are seemingly limitless!

Professional writing is not like academic writing (and that’s good!)

papereditingIn theory, my English major is enough education for a professional writing job.  After all, I’ve always been good with words, and I always got A’s on my soundly argued, logically constructed, and perfectly cited essays.  Oh, and I’m a creative writer!  Words are my craft!  Perfect, right?

Not quite… but not to worry!

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