Want to Write a Better Grant Proposal? Tap into Your Inner Artist

In the first week of the New Year, I have been thinking about writing.  I love to write.  I love the creative process of putting words on a screen or paper.  I love the struggle of choosing the best way to say the right thing to say and the satisfaction of crafting a well-turned phrase.  I don’t claim to accomplish these things every time I write, but I love the challenge of trying to do so.

Grant writing presents us with some interesting opportunities to tap into our creative sides. Online applications challenge us to reduce complex ideas to short phrases.  The idea of trying to make a proposal or a letter of inquiry stand out from the crowd tells us that we must choose powerful and evocative words to engage a reader.  For the most part, standard business writing will not help us to do this.  Yes, we ultimately may have to provide dense and detailed content to our grantor (particularly when the investment being requested is large and the risk is deemed great for the donor).   But first we must engage the reader.

Two sources of inspiration:

Poetry:  Poets will tell us that the core of the art form is the discipline of space.  I attended a poetry reading at a café once and remember asking one of the artists what she paid most attention to when writing.  Her fast and simple response was: “Space.   How much space can I leave to give the reader’s imagination an opportunity to finish the rest.”   In most cases, the prospective grantor is already familiar with the challenges or opportunities addressed in our proposal.  By focusing on our particular situation, we leave space for the reader to build context and keep the focus where we want it — on our community or constituency.

Songwriting:  Powerful songwriting uses word craft intertwined with music.  I once had the opportunity to spend an hour with one of my favorite songwriters, Peter Mulvey, talking about the craft of songwriting.  He said: “The fewer words you use, the greater the chance that someone will actually remember them.”   One of the reasons I actually love the challenge of an online application  is that I get a chance to choose the best 50, 100 or 200 words that will capture a reader’s imagination and inspire them to want to be part of our solution.

So, read the great poets.  Listen to the great songwriters.  Be in touch with the simple and powerful ideas that inspire your mission, your work and your dreams.  Choose your words and use them to invite others on the journey.