How I learned to write grants

When I worked for the U.S. Defense Department, each fall I helped build the defense budget for the next fiscal year. Me and thousands of others. The process we used was identical to writing and submitting grants.

It began with military organizations (like a nonprofit) identifying their unfunded needs. I summarized the unfundeds in issue papers, which had almost the same format as a grant request. I submitted the issue papers to the comptroller organization who considered funding the request (like a foundation would).

After many years, I learned to marry the unfunded needs with current politics and projected Defense Department requirements. In the issue papers, I put in key words the comptroller organization and politicians were looking for and addressed the new priorities of the administration. I altered the unfunded needs only enough to be acceptable to the comptroller organization. Yet, not enough to change the submitting organization’s ability to complete the mission. I use this process today.

The most important thing I learned in the Defense Department, which I apply to writing grants, is that the process is not about numbers and words. It is all about people and relationships. Whenever there is money involved, there are a lot of competition. The perfect issue paper or grant request may not be enough.

A nonprofit should communicate with a foundation with more than some pieces of paper. Like it was for me in the Defense Department, many times personal contact can determine success or not.

Let me know how you, as a grant writer, started your career or livelihood writing grants.

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