As a means of donor engagement, the grant proposal presents an interesting challenge for the fundraiser. It is a two-dimensional medium — words or graphics on paper — leaving much to the imagination of the reader. The choice of words and messages gain importance. Brevity is key given that most experienced grant readers skim, cut-to-the-chase and then reread for depth.
Framing — choosing the right words, vision, messaging — becomes much more important. Done well, framing helps you gain some distinct advantages with a grant reader.
Standing out from the crowd: Your work is important. The needs of your constituency and community are urgent. So are those of a lot of other organizations and chances are that many of them have a proposal sitting on the same desk at the same time. Finding your unique niche becomes key when the reader has to decide which programs and proposals will take priority for his/her foundation.
Defining your story: Many grantmakers openly say that they consider themselves educated about our challenges and issue before our proposal arrives on their desk. An important mission for your proposal is to define the distinct challenges your organization must address and the unique opportunities afforded to make a real difference. One of my clients, a youth service agency in New York City, has done a superb job of capturing the attention of grantmakers by demonstrating that their services are in high demand because they get results. Their grant proposals use results to frame an important message for funders — we have the ability to put your money to work now and get solid results.
Bringing the reader into your point of view: Elizabeth Costas of the Frances L. and Edwin L. Cummings Memorial Fund says: “A compelling proposal tells me what you see when you go to work each day and brings me into your point of view.” Providing the grantmaker with an engaging picture of your community can engage the reader and inspire them to learn more.
Defining your measures of success: Most grantmakers have defined missions and desired outcomes for their philanthropy — and the measures of success to go along with them. Sometimes those measures do not apply to our program. Your proposal is an opportunity to frame how you define success and, hopefully, the funder will agree. One of my clients approached a grantmaker heavily focused on college acceptance rates as a key measure of success. The client’s program graduated fewer students but focused on college retention — the number of program graduates remaining in college after one year. remaining in college. By leading with this number, the proposal communicated information that was interesting enough to engage the funder, leading to a conversation resulting in a grant.
Engagement is key and framing is a critical element. I have posited a few ideas as to why. What are your thoughts? How have you used framing to create success for proposal? Please add your comments and ideas.