It’s All About Context, Part 2: “Frame” Your Story

Context works when you give the reader strong visuals to help make the information you are sharing — about problems and proposed solutions — both real and relevant.  In today’s post, I am going to share how I use the analogy of photographs to help frame your story in a way that may make your proposal memorable.

We know that the challenge of a grant proposal is to introduce a good deal of information in a very small space.  Painting an accurate and compelling picture about your community or constituency and helping the reader visualize success are key.  When I am coaching a grantwriter or working with program staff of a client to develop a proposal, I use the following construct to help guide our discussion.

  • “8 x 10”:  This is the photo you place prominently on a wall.  It’s eye-catching.  It can be the centerpiece of attention in a crowded room.  It usually makes a bold statement (my family, my friends or just me).  In this case, I apply the “8 x 10” model to mission:  define how your mission is relevant to current landscape.   For example, if you are a food bank and your community has been facing recessionary times, is your program just about food distribution or are you, in fact, addressing food poverty issues that are intensified by unemployment, underemployment or uncertainty.   Many foundations think of their own missions in this way, choosing the “8 x 10” they will use to frame their philanthropy during the coming year.  Your own photo must compliment their own.
  • “5 x 7”:  This is the photo you place on a mantle or a desktop.  Smaller, it invites a bit more intimacy.   Its usually viewed by a someone whom you have invited into your office or a living room.    In the case of a proposal, a “5 x 7” picture is an invitation to the reader to look more carefully and closely at what is happening in your own community of practice, not necessarily the broader field.  As a grantmaker once said: “if you want to interest me in what you do, tell me what you see when you go to work each day.  I know the stats, but I don’t know you.”    This approach works particularly well for direct-service organizations and its a technique I employ quite frequently in writing proposals for such groups. Examples of “5 x 7” data are your own studies and surveys, evaluation data from your own experience,  information compiled by a credible outside authority about your direct geographic service area.  
  • “Wallet-size”:   This is the photo that requires the viewer to enter your personal space.  In short, use outcomes and anecdotes to give the grantmaker a real sense of how your program makes an impact both great and small.  For direct service organization, this information can be easy to come by — case studies are a prime example of showing a grantmaker what your program can mean to an individual or a family.  For a larger organization with a much larger constituency  the “wallet-size” view allows you to put a human face on a bigger program.  Case: for a single-disease client organization serving more than 20,000 families nationwide, we demonstrated the impact of the disease by talking about the emotional, economic and physical toll on one case family which had to spend $17,000 in out-of-pocket, non-reimbursed expenses in one year to manage a health condition.
Each photo has a value to the reader.  Combining these differing views in a proposal can help you to craft a document that captures the attention and imagination of a reader — the first step toward winning a grant to support your good work.



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