6 Tips To Avoid Common Grant Application Mistakes

mistakes[Dalya's Note: This guest post was written by Diane H. Leonard, GPC. She a certified grant professional who has provided grant development counsel to nonprofit organizations of varying size and scope for more than a decade. ]

As grant professionals and fundraisers we are always working to improve our success ratio, write a stronger application, and build better relationships with our funders. While keeping you attention on best practices when completing your grant applications, it is still possible to overlook some small, yet common and easy-to-address mistakes.

I facilitated a panel at the Grant Professional Association’s conference in Baltimore last year with an experienced group of extremely successful grant professionals who discussed some such mistakes that they had made during their career.  The panel I assembled was a dynamic group of grant professionals with a wide range of experience and expertise that I admire tremendously and appreciate using as a sounding board on formal and informal collaborative projects: Rena Beyer of Grant Specialist USA, Margit Brazda Poirier of Grants 4 Good, Linda Butler of Butler Consulting, Jana Jane Hexter of Grants Champion, Jo Miller of JM Grants, and Heather Stombaugh of Just Write Solutions.  As a result of this engaging panel dialogue, I have outlined a summary of the remedies to key mistakes we identified for you to focus on avoiding in your grant application documents or grant application submission process.

While not a complete list of steps to take to avoid common mistakes, we agreed in our discussion that they were the most important to ensure are addressed during each application:

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NEW VIDEO: Top 6 Ways Grantwriters Are Strategic Leaders

KC_ laughingA few months ago, the Grant Professionals Association’s Heart of America chapter invited me to be the plenary speaker at their regional conference in Kansas City, MO. I was honored and pleased to present to such a respected group!

I spoke about the Top 6 Ways Grantwriters Are Strategic Leaders (whether they know it or not). The 6 are:


  1. You are passionate about your organization’s story and want to share it
  2. You plan ahead
  3. You “rally the troops” while staying calm, cool, and collected
  4. You ask the right questions and tell it like it is
  5. You see the big picture AND the devilish details and you polish them all
  6. You learn from rejection and know your limits

If you are a grant professional, you are perfectly positioned to help your organization plan strategically for its grantseeking future. You are the knowledgeable guide who can lead executive and program staff to design work that is attractive to grantmakers.

During my presentation, we discussed:

  • How to make sure everyone is on the same page (with the same purposes)
  • What questions to ask to get the information you need
  • Examples of strategizing with staff – before , during, or after the grant award

It was great to see people take notes, participate in group exercises, laugh at my jokes (!), and take away ideas they could really use.

Want to watch the 40-minute presentation (in a few segments)? You can do that right here:

By the way, if YOUR organization or association is looking for a customized presentation for an upcoming meeting (in person or online), please check out my work as a speaker HERE.



Top 10 Traits of a Good Grantwriter

traits of a grantwriter

Do you want, or need, to up your game as a grantwriter? Maybe you’re thinking about entering the field? If you have strong writing skills (even if you were not an English major), ask yourself if you have the other characteristics it takes to shine!


1. Content knowledge as a specialist or generalist in your field: Of course, you need to know at least a bit about the organization’s field of endeavor — or be willing to learn quickly!

2. Passion for the nonprofit’s work: You can only spread enthusiasm for supporting the organization if you have it yourself.

3. Training and on-the-job experience: Classes and books can help you get started. Coaching and mentoring before or during your on-the-job experience elevates you to a new level of understanding and skill.

4. Resourcefulness as a self-motivated, tenacious researcher: You can find out almost anything, given the right tools and contacts.

5. People skills: You have to be good at building relationships both within your organization and  with outside funders. This includes listening and interviewing skills to get the information you need, and the ability to lead/coordinate the team working on each grant proposal. Continue reading

Ask Dalya: Q & A about grantwriting

Dalya_Massachi_grey_suitYou’ve got questions? I’ve got answers! Here are just a few:

Q: If you’re applying to a foundation that supports operating costs as well as programs, should you build a relationship first by going for a program-related grant, and then follow up the next year with an operating cost grant, or can you go right for the operating costs? Which is more likely to get funded, in your opinion?

A: Most funders will want to start out with a program grant to test you out. But I would recommend contacting them, explaining that you are interested in both, and getting their suggestion. Each funder is very different, as I am sure you know.

Q: If a foundation has a grant range of $5K-$25K and an average grant size of $15K, what’s the best number to pick for your first grant request to them?

A: This is another great question to ask when you speak with the funder. Generally, a first grant is going to be on the lower end. With no other info, I would probably ask for $15K. A first grant will probably be less than the funder’s average grant size, but it is always good to ask for a bit more than you expect. Just make sure you ask for only a fraction of the total project budget.

Q: If you are pursuing other funding for a project but have not been approved for it yet, do you include that in a new proposal?

A: In the Request for Proposal or Grant Guidelines, you will often be asked about other pending funding and/or your financial sustainability strategy. These are great opportunities to talk about other grants you are pursuing.

Good news! These questions are exactly the kind we answer in the Grantwriter’s FastTrack Coaching Program. You will also get to practice a grantmaker-grantseeker conversation where you can ask these questions (and many more I suggest) during a role play, in preparation for the real thing.

PS: Want more Q & A? Just go HERE.

Writing Wednesdays Update: Back in October!

writing_wednesdays_jpegYou may have noticed that Writing Wednesdays took a summer break. Starting in October 2014, we’ll be back and the format will undergo a small change. Formerly a conference call series, it is now a full-fledged podcast that you can listen to during your commute, at the gym, etc. You can also choose to download the accompanying visuals online. New recordings will be released one Wednesday per month.

Writing Wednesdays will continue to cover a wide range of writing-related topics for the social sector. But the new format will offer higher audio quality and more flexibility. I will announce each new podcast on this website, but if you want notification the day it goes live, just sign up on the right-hand side of this page (set the pull-down menu to Writing Wednesdays).

Meanwhile, you can check out the archive of Writing Wednesdays since January 2013 right HERE.

Talk soon!