How to Be a Better Grantwriter, Part 2: Fuel

I had a teenager in the house who had a truck with a broken gas gauge.  Seems like he didn’t keep tabs on the mileage or anything. He just kept driving with no regard to the consequences. And what happens when a truck runs out of gas?  It stops running.

Gas Gage Illuminated Empty

A necessity for driving his truck was gas and having gas required re-filling every now and then or else it wouldn’t work anymore.

Something similar happens to grantwriters.  They work hard.  They work VERY hard.  And they may be willing to work very long hours when it is crunch time.  But without the second F, FUEL, the proposals are not going to be competitive.

There are various types of fuel grantwriters need and we’ll look at three of them today:  biological, factual, and knowledge of the craft.

Biological Fuel

Sometimes hardworking grantwriters keep going without eating a proper lunch, or even a nutritious dinner.  They put off sleeping and when they do try, their brains are whirling at hurricane velocities, making a good night’s sleep only a dream.

Then what happens?  They become just like that teenager’s truck—they stop working.  The brain crashes, the body rebels.  And they stop, even if the deadline is just hours away.  Bodies need the fuel of adequate fluids, food and forty (or more!) winks.

Longer term, quality of food is important.  An unhealthy body is going to lead to more illness, more time off, and an inability to bounce back from the stress of a grantwriter’s life.

Just as you can’t make a truck run on air, you can’t make yourself transcend the need for good fuel at the biological level.

So the basics of life such as clean water healthy food and adequate sleep are the foundation for becoming a better grantwriter.  This is truly the good FUEL that you need to be a better grantwriter.  The good news here is that you can make this happen for yourself—you don’t need anyone else’s permission.

Factual Fuel

Another type of fuel grantwriters need are facts.  Competitive grant proposals don’t just come out of thin air, or the writer’s opinions.  My students are often surprised by the amount of evidence they need to put into their grants—what’s the need and how bad is it?  What’s the solution and why do you think so?

A proposal without facts can’t breathe, grow, or be successful.

It can take a great amount of time to track down “the one” fact that brings client need to light, or shows an impressive way forward in supporting your proposed solution.  Can one fact make the difference between receiving funding or not?  Maybe not but if you’re willing to stop short in one area, you may be willing to leave out other information as well.

Far better is to plan your proposal so that you know what the needed facts are from the beginning than to haphazardly search as time (and your chances) slip by.

Even when you plan carefully, however, you will learn new things as you write and come up with better ideas.  So what seemed adequate at the beginning now seems less than complete.  Be sure to building some “learning” time into your timetable so you can track down the information that might make the difference between being funded and being a failure!

Other times the problem is not you at all—the information just has never been collected or is otherwise unavailable.  In this case, find a substitute, a workaround or a way to disregard that gap.

Making sure you have enough factual fuel is generally under your control, but there may be times when you have to give up your search for one particular fact or other. In that case, move on with the rest of the proposal as much and as quickly as you can.

Grantwriting Craftsmanship Fuel

This is the type of fuel that most people first think of:  I have to know what I’m doing.

And that is absolutely right.  The days of rank amateurs striking gold with their first proposal are drawing to a close.

After you’ve been a grantwriter for a year or two, it’s easy to forget just how much you’ve learned and how far you’ve come.  Just think of the vocabulary you’ve come across and the abbreviations that make complete sense now:  process evaluation, outcome evaluation, logic model, ACH, RFP, FOA, NIJ, IRB, etc.

For most people, this is the easiest fuel to start with and fill up on.  After all, there are scads of books and trainings for new grantwriters.  Everything seems geared to help more people start nonprofits and writing grants.

But it’s much harder for the experienced beginners to move to another level.  Results from a survey I did indicate the problem.  Just 4% of respondents agreed that available training was at too high a level for them; 63% indicated that available training was at too low a level for them.

If you’re a grantwriter who has learned some of the ropes but could feel a need for additional support, you may need some additional fuel in this area.

Sources of this fuel, as noted by survey respondents, include finding a mentor where you work, local grantwriters’ groups, participating in LinkedIn discussions, and tuning in to funding institutions’ websites and updates.

Another approach is to hire a coach, someone who can provide you with an experienced but outsider’s view of your work.  I have a couple of slots open for this type of support if you’re looking for it.  Just send me an email at and we’ll arrange a time to chat to see if it’s a good match.

Thanks for all you do to promote nonprofit excellence!


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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