What Not to Say in a Grant Application

By Diane H. Leonard, GPC

Sometimes, it is just as important to know what NOT to say, as it is to know what TO say. This isn’t only true in real life scenarios, but also in grant applications.
Instead of talking about what to say in your grant applications (that is what we focus on in Grant Writing 101), we thought what if instead we focus on what NOT to say in a grant application?

Grant Application
Here are the 3 things you should NOT say or use in grant applications:

1. “We are not sure how we will continue the program after your grant funding ends.”

The reality is, you are seeking grant funding, so clearly you don’t have all your resource needs met or a major donor with an unlimited checkbook to support your work. You truly might not be sure which of the pending proposals will piece together to support the program in the upcoming fiscal years, but you DO have a plan for who you are asking for support from and when, *right?* You should share that plan. Outline the other types of revenue you use to support your programs to highlight how your organization is not grant dependent. Outline the long-term funding relationships you have in place.

2. “We hope to be able to…”

It doesn’t matter how that sentence ends. As the Rockstar organization that you are, you can’t, in fact, you don’t just hope to do anything. In a grant funded world you will do something. You don’t hope to create impact, but rather you will create impact. You don’t hope to increase knowledge, but rather you will increase knowledge. You don’t hope to change behaviors, you will change behaviors. You DON’T simply hope. Your organization to is good at what you do to simply hope.

3. Buzz words, phrases, or industry jargon

Including buzz words or industry jargon in your proposal makes it more difficult for the reviewer to understand. Words like unique, collaborative and impactful are all overused words in narratives. Reviewers begin to discount what those words mean as they have become such overused buzz words. Select impactful language that the rest of your narrative supports.
Acronyms annoy and confuse the reviewers. A fellow grant reviewer sitting on a panel with me once said point blank that acronyms actually made them angry and they would stop reading as a result. Unless you are desperate for space in a character counted situation, look at your response and consider how to eliminate, or at least reduce, your use of acronyms for the sake of the reader.

What other things do you have that are “no-no” items for including in the text of your grant application or the story you are creating for a grant application? Share them with us in the comments section of the website or via social media.

About The Author

Diane H. Leonard, GPC, President of DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is an experienced and highly respected grant professional who provides grant development counsel to nonprofit organizations of varying size and scope. Diane founded DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC in 2006 and has secured millions of dollars in competitive grant funds for clients from the federal, state and local governments, and private foundations.

Corporate Social Responsibility: How to Secure Corporate Support

Corporate Social Responsibility: How to Secure Corporate Support

By: Heather Stombaugh, GPC

Corporations invest in social responsibility programs and activities to support their triple bottom line: people, profits, and planet. Companies are smart to be concerned about corporate social responsibility (CSR), both because CSR is a driver among consumer groups and because some labels— think “organic,” “recycled,” “smaller carbon footprint”— are generally more costly for companies to attain, thereby reducing shareholder profitability. A corporation’s long-term success is based on its ability to balance the vision against the interests of key stakeholder groups.

As a for-profit company, my company–JustWrite Solutions–considers these questions all the time. We have a formal CSR program based on our shared philosophy, vision, and values. This is critical: it’s how corporate leadership thinks about their giving. Consider how you can use the following information to your advantage if you are seeking a donation or sponsorship from my corporation.

  • Philosophy — “It’s not what you gather but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived.” – Helen Walton
  • Vision — By building stronger nonprofits, we build stronger communities around the world.
  • Values — Accountability, Creativity, Excellence, Integrity, Learning, Partnership, Service, and Ethics

Reflection on these elements of our business practice gives us a clear idea of how we should invest philanthropically. We created a number of Social Justice Scholarship programs, the first of which was implemented at Carey High School in Ohio, where six members of the JWS (myself included) graduated. We recently created three new Social Justice Scholarships to support students pursuing careers in the service sector, from the military to social work, service to people with intellectual/development disabilities, suicide prevention, and work with LGBTQI youth.

These decisions are based on needs in the nonprofit sector and our philanthropic investment ideals. Our CSR discussions over the last five years led to the creation of a new national nonprofit to provide technical assistance to help small nonprofits improve their readiness for fundraising and grant seeking. CSR for JustWrite Solutions is and always will be evolving. Sound familiar in your experience with corporate partners?

The transition of how we invest our time, talent, and treasure into the community always reminds me of the best, most appropriate ways for nonprofit professionals to approach corporate partners. Before you open that corporate door, carefully and purposefully determine if your nonprofit is actually aligned with potential corporate partners. Examine the corporation’s:

  • Vision statement
  • Values statement
  • Corporate social responsibility and stewardship pages
  • Most recent CSR and annual reports
  • Recent press (google news)

Then, stay focused. Write an alignment plan. Find a connection in the company (friend of a board member, gatekeeper, door opener). Be brief in your request for partnership—remember it’s not entirely about money here.

Purposeful alignment takes time and thoughtful examination. This planning can save your nonprofit from spending resources unnecessarily and better prepare you for sustainable success.

What are your “battle stories” from working with corporate partners?

About The Author

Heather Stombaugh is a nonprofit expert with more than 16 years of experience in leadership, programs, and fundraising. She is the founder of JustWrite Solutions, a national nonprofit consulting firm. She serves as an expert for CharityHowTo, CharityChannel, and Thompson Interactive. Heather is an officer of local and national boards (Grant Professionals Foundation, Baskets of Care, AFP Northwest Ohio, JWS Partners for Charitable Support) and an active member of the Grant Professionals Association (GPA Weekly Grant News Editor and Approved Trainer). She is one of fewer than 50 people in the world who holds both the GPC and CFRE. Heather lives and breathes nonprofits!

Leave No Rock Unturned in Your Grant Research

Finding a needle in a haystack.

Finding a diamond in the rough.

Leaving no rock unturned.

Casting a wider net.

Once in a blue moon.

Looking for a polar bear in a snow storm.

Ignore fool’s gold.

They are all excellent idioms you can use to describe your grant research process when you are focused on expanding the list of grantmakers that you have funding relationships with.

They imply that you are looking for a rare opportunity. They acknowledge that finding the right fit for a potential new grant funding relationship between a grantmaker and your grant seeking organization are not a foregone conclusion simply because your keywords for your mission statements are aligned.

To be successful in your grant research efforts, you need to be prepared to go the extra mile to research and learn the ropes of a potential new grantmaker relationship after trusting your knee jerk reaction and gut feeling that this funder might be your diamond in the rough.

Grant research is a serious business. It is a critical first step in grant seeking best practices to ensure that the applications and proposals you are going to spend countless hours writing will be well received by the correct funders so that you are as competitive as possible in the process. However, I believe that acknowledging the scarcity of a great fit, not just a *good* fit, and how special new grantmaker relationships are helps to keep us grounded in our work as grant professionals. The purpose of using idioms to describe grant research? That is to help our colleagues understand the nature of what we as grant professionals are looking for when we are researching funding opportunities and to remind *us* as the professionals that we are looking for something very special and unique.

Are you struggling with how to make your grant research work more effective and successful at identifying high priority, best-suited matches for your organization?

Then please join us for the live premium webinar of How to Find a Needle in a Haystack: How to Successfully Research Grants on October 5th or October 13th. Can’t make the live event? The recording and all of our bonus materials will still be delivered to your inbox along with Diane’s promise to answer any questions you have! Register here.


Walk a Mile In Your Grant Reviewer’s Shoes

Have you ever received a rejection letter from a grantmaker and wondered what you could have done differently?

Have you ever wondered, as you clicked submit for a significant government grant via online application, how your proposal will be received by reviewers?

You aren’t alone!

Grant writing is more of an art than a science if you consider how to customize your application and your organization’s story to meet the needs of each unique set of grant reviewers for each grantmaker.

The best way to successfully achieve this art? Walk a mile in your grant reviewer’s shoes.

Step back and look at your proposal as if YOU were the reviewer. Here are 5 key questions to ask yourself as you try to think like your grant reviewer.

5 Key Question to Help You Think Like a Grant Reviewer

1. What is the scoring criteria used by the grantmaker?

2. Where might you miss points?

3. Is your story consistent across all elements of the application?

4. What is unique about your work and proposal that would make a reviewer advocate for your application?

5. What do you know about your reviewers? Do they focus on evaluation plans? Do they want to see more comparative statistics in the need statement?


Thinking about these questions as you review and edit your grant applications will get you started to thinking like a grant reviewer…but there is so much more to consider! I go into great detail about How to Knock Your Reviewer’s Socks Off  with tactical suggestions for you to implement including:

  • How to grab your grantmaker’s attention in all aspects of your grant application;
  • How to write a concise, compelling and competitive narrative grant application;
  • How to compel your grantmakers to advocate for your proposal through the common elements of narrative grant applications; and
  • How to create a mock review process in your organization as part of your editing process.

In the recorded webinar, oOur bonus materials, especially utilizing the mock review process , will absolutely make your grants more competitive in the review process! Check out more details about the recorded session and bonus materials here.

(Side note: This is our highest rated CharityHowTo grant writing webinar with a satisfaction rating of 100% excellent! What better way to learn how to impress your reviewers with an on-demand tutorial in the comfort of your own desk?)

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