Six tips to boost your nonprofit's grant writing

Illustration by Zach Williams/ NYN Media

Grant writing can be a daunting process for many organizations. Keeping six simple tips in mind can help you boost your grant writing skills and lead to impactful gains in funding for your organization.


1) Refine your elevator pitch

Revisit the overall “elevator pitch” narrative for your organization as well as the narrative pitches for each program or project. To get started, find and read what has already been written. Then, to build on the narratives, speak with key staff in your organization – everyone from frontline workers to the CEO. Ask lots of who, what, where, when, why, and how questions to fill in what may be missing. For example:

  • Who does this organization or program serve? Who benefits from its services and what indirect impact does this have on the greater community?
  • What does the organization or program do? What would a client of the organization say we do? What makes us unique?
  • When is the community most likely to access the services provided?
  • Where should the program or organization expand to geographically or in terms of services provided – regardless of monetary considerations?
  • Why do people like the organization or program? Why should a grantor fund it?
  • How does the organization or program fill a need? How can the grantor find information that has been written about this program in the past?

When it’s time to sit down and write your narrative, bullet out the main points you want to get across and then expand from there. This will help make sure that you cover everything.

2) Compare

Determine how comparable organizations to yours are being funded, and review their funding sources. You can find this information by reviewing organization’s IRS Form 990s and press releases. This knowledge will help broaden your understanding of potential funding sources for your priority area(s) and, more importantly, can open up ideas for possible inter-organizational collaboration.

3) Subscribe to email lists and regularly check grant sites

Look for email alert lists that post city, state, federal, and private grant opportunities relevant to your priority areas. Amida Care, our nonprofit New York community health plan, receives alerts from New York City-based funders such as the New York City Council, New York state-run organizations such as the Department of Health, federal organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and private foundations such as the New York State Health Foundation. We received funding from New York City Councilmembers to support Amida Care’s “Live Your Life” wellness program where we hold free monthly events throughout the five boroughs.

Subscribing to email lists allows you to consistently stay in the loop in real time and not miss any important grant opportunities. The Foundation Center is a great place to start.

4) Network

New York City is full of events to meet people and make new connections. Attend events that are relevant to the priority areas you’re interested in and expand your network.

5) Get Writing

Once you find a grant opportunity that is a good fit, use your “elevator pitch” boilerplates as a foundation. Tailor your language to the specific grant opportunity and funding agency. If you neglect to tailor your proposal narrative to the specific grant opportunity and funding agency, you are much less likely to be considered for an award. Triple check your work.

The most successful grant proposals get key staff involved at every step of the process. Circulate drafts for a review by key individuals and subject matter experts as far in advance of the application deadline as possible and incorporate their feedback to make your proposal stronger.

Before you submit, review your proposal one final time. Ask yourself:

Did I answer all of the questions?

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to check that nothing fell between the cracks. Be sure to not only include answers to all of the direct questions asked within the grant opportunity posting, but also to provide answers to questions that you anticipate the review committee may have as they’re reading your proposal.

Did I follow the guidelines of the grant opportunity?

Check to be sure that you followed the directions exactly. Did you include all of the required supporting documents and signature pages – and did the right person authorize them? Did you adhere to the mandatory page limits, font type or font size? Are you submitting your proposal exactly as requested?

If I knew nothing about this organization or program, would this proposal make sense?

Asking yourself this question allows you to take a step back from your role and make sure that every detail of your proposal is explained so clearly that anyone can understand it and know why what you’re asking for is important and makes a difference. The people reviewing your proposal may have no prior knowledge of your organization or program.

If I were on the grant review committee, would I fund this program based on this proposal alone?

The true answer to this question will let you know if you’re ready to submit. If the answer is yes, you’re ready! If the answer is no, what’s missing? What can you add to the narrative to make your proposal stronger?

6) Keep Learning

Take a workshop or class to brush-up on your grant writing skills. The Foundation Center offers many affordable and informative trainings, both in person and via webinar.  You can access some of their workshops for free online.

Incorporating these simple tips into your daily grant writing activities can yield impactful results – and don’t forget to run your spell check!   


Ethan Fusaris, MPH, CHES is the director of grants management at the nonprofit Amida Care, the largest Medicaid special needs health plan (SNP) in New York specializing in providing comprehensive health coverage and coordinated care to New Yorkers with chronic conditions.