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.

3 Reasons to Build Relationships with Grant Makers

By Diane H. Leonard, GPC

What is all the talk about in grant seeking best practices about building relationships? Are relationships with grant makers really such an important part of the process?


As CharityHowTo colleague, and fellow GPC, Heather Stombaugh says, People Grant to People, Not to Proposals®. While not all grant makers have the capacity or preference to communicate with potential grantees prior to making a grant award, there are important reasons to keep in mind that relationship building is a key best practice in grant seeking.

We Build Relationships

Here are 3 reasons why you need to TRY to build relationships with grant makers before you start on your draft application:

  1. Confirming Potential Alignment

You should confirm that the reasons you think you are a good fit with a potential grant maker resonates with the grant maker as well. The grant maker does not want you spending time crafting a proposal, that regardless of how well it is written, will not be a good fit for the funder.

  1. Putting a Face to a Proposal

Before you submit a proposal as an unknown organization or name on a cover letter, reach out to personalize the process and let the grant maker know a bit about you before you work on an application for submission. Your conversation is the first impression for the proposal you plan to submit.

  1. Clarifying Questions

Having the opportunity to connect with a grant maker, whether via phone or email, will give you the opportunity to ask questions about their process or priorities that may sway your specific request or language choice in a proposal to increase your competitiveness.

Are you convinced that building relationships with grant makers is something you should start to do? Great! Now it is time to read on, and learn about 6 Tips to Improve Your Relationships with Grant Makers or register for our upcoming FREE webinar: Why Build Relationships with Grantmakers?

And then you can learn more tactical tips via our on-demand recording to learn about how to Establish and Maintain Excellent Grant Maker Relationships.

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.

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.


6 Tips to Improve Relationships with Grant Makers

As Valentine’s Day approaches, in addition to thinking about your personal relationships, take some time to think about your relationships with your current and potential grant makers for your organization. Here are my 6 tips to improve your grant funder relationships:

1 – Contact your potential funding source prior to applying (whether a new or existing relationship!). Follow their communication preference and capacity guidelines regarding communication. Bottom line, ALWAYS call or email to talk about if your proposal will be competitive if they will allow such a dialogue.

2 – Be sincere. Always. In all interactions. Enough said. Each interaction is building trust with the grant maker. Recognize and respect that.

3 – Always meet deadlines. No exceptions. Set false internal deadlines for yourself. Look over the Finance Department’s shoulder related to submitting grant billings. Look over the Program Department’s shoulder related to submitting midterm or final reports. Do not miss deadlines. Even when extensions are given or late submissions are still accepted, your funder will remember your tardiness, yet not the situations that brought about the missed deadline.

Read more

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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