10 Tips for Effective Grant Writing


Grants remain the most used resource for financial sustainability among nonprofit news organizations, according to a study featured in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. GuideStar provides 10 grant writing tips that are applicable to many causes.

By Maddie Bro

In response to cutbacks seen in traditional journalism, many news outlets have turned to a nonprofit model to ensure the financial wellbeing of the truth seeking tradition.

A study published by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation found nonprofit news organizations most often seek out grants for financial sustainability compared to other funding resources.

Twenty nonprofit news outlets saw an average of $518,000 in revenue in 2013, an increase of seven percent from the 2012. Among these sites, 58 percent relied on grants for revenue. Sites started in 2009 or later received 75 percent of their revenue from grant makers.

The Pew Research Center finds that between 1987 and 2012, 172 digital nonprofit outlets were launched around the nation, covering hyperlocal to international stories and government, education, environment, health, and general interest editorial emphases. Iowa City’s very own nonprofit news organization, Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, reports on national stories with an investigative approach.

While the Knight Foundation study focused on nonprofit news organizations, grants are helpful resources for nonprofits of many purposes. Refer to GuideStar’s “Grant Writing 102: Tips from Successful Grantwriters” to take advantage of grant writing opportunities for your nonprofit organization.

  1. Do your research. Request relevant information like guidelines and annual reports from the foundation before sending a grant proposal. Check the organization’s website for this information as well.
  2. Stay local.  Stay local when looking for funding sources unless your organization has a national focus. GuideStar says, “National foundations are more likely to fund capital expenses of programs that can be replicated nationally.”
  3. “It’s who you know…” If the foundation is local, show the names of the trustees and foundation staff to your board. One phone call can bring your grant proposal to the top of the stack.
  4. Accuracy. Work with program staff to ensure your information is up to date. Search for anecdotes and client testimonies with your team as well.
  5. Be proactive. Try not to procrastinate when preparing grants. GuideStar urges not to use Express Mail to send an application. It signals to the grantmaker that your organization is a “poor steward of funds.”
  6. Be purposeful. Don’t send what GuideStar calls “fluff attachments.” Many grantmakers will specify what to send, so don’t submit more than requested.
  7. Keep in touch with funding sources. If awarded a grant, send progress reports to the foundation, whether they are requested or not.
  8. Follow specifications. Just like a professor’s formatting requirements, be sure to follow page length, page margins, and typeface guidelines. This may make or break your application.
  9. Double check contact information. Before submitting your proposal, call the foundation to be sure you have its current mailing address and other contact information.
  10. The “Common Grant Application.” This program was developed by groups of grant makers to ensure applicant information consistency. Check individual foundations to see if they use this tool.

Whether for innovative news outlets or traditional charity organizations, grants are a smart resource for maintaining your nonprofit’s financial stability and reaching long-term cause driven success.

About the blogger – Maddie Bro is a third-year undergraduate student studying journalism and gender/women’s studies at the University of Iowa. Following graduation, she aspires to attend law school to pursue her interest in studying civil rights law, free speech issues, and equal opportunity policy. Maddie enjoys swimming, running, reading, and catching up on CBS’ The Good Wife in her free time.


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