What Bloggers Can Teach Grant Writers about Writing, Competition, and Finding Success
This blog post was originally posted on Peak Proposals LLC in December 2016.
Many bloggers write about how to connect with online readers. It turns out that many of the bloggers’ views on what it takes to be a successful blogger apply equally well to grant writing.
Below are four common messages from the blogging world about how to find success and build an audience. Included in the list are suggestions of how each approach can be applied to grant writing.
Successful bloggers emphasize the importance of being true to who they are. They have large readerships because they write about topics from their viewpoint, which gives the writing an original perspective. They also share information on topics they are truly interested and invested in, and this enthusiasm shows in their writing. Successful bloggers illustrate the value of knowing themselves well—their unique combination of interests, skills, and strengths—and speaking from personal experience.
How does the principle of authenticity translate to the nonprofit world and grant writing? It translates in two ways: first by using an authentic voice and second by being true to organizational interests.
One of the pitfalls of grant writing is that you are often faced with a short turnaround time to create a proposal. Given this time constraint, it is very tempting, and sometimes it even feels like a necessity, to recycle language from other grant proposals or documents. The downside of doing this is that the content may be out of date and not reflect your organization as it is today. Additionally, if you mix language that you have used from another proposal with newly drafted language, the result will be a patchwork of styles unless you edit the proposal to create a uniform voice. Finally, if you cut-and-paste heavily from earlier documents, your proposal may come across as flat and lacking in energy. Something written even a few years ago can sound dated to a contemporary reader.
The second way being authentic applies to grant writing is in the search for funding. Organizations frequently apply to grants they are not a good fit for and have no chance of winning. An example is a nonprofit with a mission to work with homeless youth that applies for a grant to provide after-school services for low-income children. While the after-school project may benefit the community, and the organization may even have the staff to do the work, the project could pull the organization’s resources away from serving its target population and core mission.
No matter how much an organization needs money, applying for a grant that is not in alignment with its mission can be problematic. When you say “yes” to one project, you have to say “no” to other projects. Do you want your “yes” to be something that steers you away from your mission or something that helps you achieve it? Being authentic in this context means staying true to your mission and seeking opportunities that match your organizational strengths. If you do decide to go for a grant that will take your organization in a different direction, make the decision intentionally by re-evaluating the mission and deciding whether this new direction is where your organization wants and needs to go.
Successful bloggers post when they have something to say that they think meets the needs of their readers. They don’t just go through the motions of posting content. They publish a post when they have something to communicate and work hard at articulating their message so it can be understood.
The practice of communicating only when one has something to say counters the common advice that bloggers should commit to a posting schedule and post something—no matter how useful or useless—to maintain that schedule. While successful bloggers do post regularly, they also articulate the desire not to waste their readers’ time. They usually post often, but not mechanically. When they publish a post, it is because they sincerely believe the content can serve a need.
In the grant proposal context, communicating purposefully includes prioritizing clear writing over pedantic prose that may sound impressive but doesn’t say anything of value. Communicating with purpose during the grant process means writing persuasively, not excessively. The donor needs and wants to know about your organization’s capacity and intended approach to the proposed work. The donor does not need “filler” text that tells them what they already know (e.g., language copied from the RFA) or that fails to give them a true picture of your resources, ability to do the work, and manage grant funds. Your goal should be to write a responsive grant proposal that clearly and persuasively communicates to the donor how you can solve their problem. Reaching this goal could require using every single page you are allotted, but it may not.
Continue to Learn
Bloggers who have the largest and most engaged audiences are avid readers and lifelong learners. They read books related to, and outside of, their professional fields, and they take as many (or more) courses than they teach. In addition to taking online courses, they also regularly attend conferences to not only learn new ideas and skills, but to also network with others in their field. What they learn, they share—as their skills expand, their readers’ skills expand as well.
For grant writers, ongoing learning includes continuing to perfect your writing skills and knowledge of the grant-making process. It means expanding skills sets, such as learning Excel or a project management tool that can help you perform your job efficiently. It may also mean becoming a technical expert in an area that your organization works in so that you can complement your proposal skills with subject matter expertise.
New blogs are created every day. Successful bloggers know that to keep their readers, they need to deliver high-quality, original content. However, one of the interesting things about the blogging community is that many successful bloggers have embraced the idea of “better together.” In other words, they support one another. Instead of seeing someone who works in a similar online space (e.g., website design) as a competitor to be beaten, they acknowledge and even refer their readers to other bloggers who write about similar content. While it seems like the blogging community does this mostly out of altruistic purposes and a genuine desire to help fellow bloggers, doing so also helps to grow their readership. When one blogger refers readers to another blog, the blogger on the receiving end of the referral will most likely return the favor.
Outside of the blogging world, the idea of embracing the competition can encourage collaboration. For grant writers and nonprofits, acknowledging competition can take the form of being open to new partnership opportunities and accepting that another organization may be in a better position to lead a particular project. Approaching the grant process with the perspective that other organizations can be potential partners instead of threats reduces the competition mindset of “win/lose.”
A Final Lesson from Reading Blogs
Blogs also reinforce another idea relevant to grant writing, which is that looking outside of your area of work can lead to new ways of thinking about and approaching projects.
Reading books outside of your field or engaging in creative activities outside of work may help you approach your next grant proposal differently and with greater success. It’s possible that the one thing that will have the greatest impact on your grant writing in the next year will have nothing at all to do with grants, donors, or the kind of work you do.