Date: January 26, 2017

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What’s Your Deal?: Grant Writing Just Got Sexy

You’ve voted. You’ve read your feed. You’ve called your members of Congress. You’ve donated all you can – a few dollars after indulgent self-care and preparing for the apocalypse – but it’s doesn’t seem enough. So why clear out your couch cushions when you could be earning free money for the causes you support?

After the federal government changed hands last week, early indications were that discretionary funding – the main source of grants and guaranteed loans for public projects – will dry up. But the money has to go somewhere, and President Trump will most likely focus on maintaining the highest corporate profits in modern history. This makes corporations and other private entities prime targets for grant proposals.

Sorry, radicals. It’s just that simple. Grant writing may only boast a 15% success rate in funding new programs – down by half since 2002 – but it remains one of the best ways of getting wealth down to the marginal parts of the economy before it evaporates up into taxes or corporate profits.  Expert grant writers can expect success rates between 25% and 50% – sometimes as high as 80%.

Effective grant writing is the perfect response to the ascendancy of the “art of the deal.” No special skills or certifications are required to write a successful grant proposal, and – ironically – the metrics that often plague the promotion of projects to the government or other entities may be taking a back seat to ideology and impulse for a few years. Find the issue you want to address and make your deal.

Grant writing courses are available at most universities and online education providers, although a simple familiarity with the recognized format and process of grant proposals can be enough to get started.


1)   Trust your instincts.

If you think there is a need for a new program, social protection, or public work, you are most likely right. The next question becomes, “Who has tried what to get it done?” Search the issue’s parameters on Google. Give your local government or nongovernmental organization a call. If there is nothing in the works, you are right where you need to be. If there is, maybe you can help other activists hone their ideas and create an effective program.


2)   Make your plan.

You will always need numbers – what the situation is now, what you expect to change once your project is funded, and where the situation will be later. Choose your metrics wisely: they are how funders and stakeholders will view your progress – by your own rules. Think “outside-in” to narrow down the best way for people outside your project to see it’s doing its job.


3)   Be patient.

Grant writers may take more than a year and hundreds of proposals to become confident with the tools of grant writing (and project management, its nerdier cousin) and see their success rate rise. There is nothing wrong or out of the ordinary about this. The trick is to outlast any doubt – especially as the post-election burn wears off and people become less engaged – so you remain in the field to claim a larger share of the funds going to projects of your type. In addition, try submitting grants in multiple fields so you learn the different benchmarks and deliverables of different types of projects.


Feeling like you can’t do anything helpful? If you’re reading this sentence, you can. Contact advocacy organizations, providers of public services, and government officials at all levels and jurisdictions to find out what issues need your brain and writing skills behind them.

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