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How to get a corporate grant

How To Create A Proposal That A Foundation Or Corporation Will Fund
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Foundation and corporate-giving personnel, as we all know, are constantly
asked for something... usually money. But during a recent visit to a friend
who runs a major foundation, one of these grantors turned the tables. He asked
me to do something for him! "Why don't you write something about how to
produce a proposal that gets a person like me to take notice and act. Tell
people," he stressed, "exactly what should go in such a document... and what
to leave out."

Having made his request, he opened his arms wide, taking in the piles of
proposals that littered his cubicle office. "The truth is," he reported, "the
large majority of what's sent to us is a complete waste of time, money, and
someone's creative energy." Then he confessed that it all ends up in the
trash at the end of the year, an exercise in contemporary futility.  I
dedicate this article to my friend the frustrated grants officer... and to
the tens of thousands of fund seekers who have so far been wasting their time
developing documents that do nothing more than add to America's garbage.

What Is A Proposal?
Too many people in nonprofit America either don't remember... or never knew...
what a proposal is or what it's supposed to do. To them, a proposal is like
food stamps: something you present to the grant-making source and come away
with bucks. This, of course, is egregiously wrong.

No matter how important your organization, no matter how worthy its work, no
funding source has an obligation to provide for you, unless you're specif-
ically designated a beneficiary in its charter or trust.  Thus, the first
rule of creating a successful proposal is to strip away any feeling you may
have that a funding source must assist you and that you are somehow entitled
to its help. They don't have to help. You are entitled to nothing. Once
you realize this, you can approach the business of getting money with the
utmost clarity... as a marketing problem to be solved.

For that's precisely what we're talking about... creating a marketing
campaign and developing a document (your proposal) that will persuade, even
enthuse, your prospect to support you.

The whole business of proposalmanship (including the development of the
written proposal itself), properly understood, is just a subsection of
marketing. It's about:

. identifying the right person (your prospect);

. finding out what he wants to achieve and when he wants or needs to achieve

. approaching with a persuasive argument that indicates to him what you can
  help him accomplish, and

. clearly outlining how you intend to accomplish this objective and what you
  have available that ensures you can successfully reach your objective.

Even the most cursory look at these essential elements suggests what's wrong
with most proposals: they're focused on the fund-seeker, not the fund-grantor.
If you are to be successful in marketing (whatever you're marketing) the
emphasis must always be on the client. And the client in fund raising is
always the donor... not the ultimate beneficiary of the funds raised.  This
will come as a shock to many nonprofit personnel who never consider the donor
a prospect, a person who must be persuaded to take action. Instead, they
regard this funding prospect as a necessary evil, as someone to go over,
through, or around as quickly as possible... just so long as they get the
money. For too many in the nonprofit world, funders are perceived as
roadblocks, not as real people who have legitimate wants and needs that
must be attended to for their own good, as well as the good of the n
nonprofit organization itself.

This article seeks to rectify this intolerable situation and make it clear
that, if you want your proposal to succeed, you must regard the funding
prospect in the same way marketers regard any prospect: as a valuable
individual who's always right -- whatever he does -- and whose interests are
paramount. Chances are, this is not how you view corporate and foundation
funding personnel right now.

Understanding What The Funding Source Wants From You
The vast majority of proposals would be different if the writer wrote them
from the standpoint of the prospective funder, not from his own and that of
his organization. This is called client-centered marketing, and it is
essential for your success. Before writing any proposal, you must consider
what the prospective funding source wants to achieve. Obviously, in doing
this, it helps to know as much as possible about him. This information is not
always easy to obtain.

You'll find seminal information about prospective funding sources available
in annual reports, at grant libraries, in specialized publications, by
attending conferences where you can meet donors, or by asking your friends
from other organizations what the people who have funded them are interested
in. In other words, before you can write the successful client-centered
proposal, you've got to know as much as possible about the person you're
approaching. This is crucial marketing intelligence, and you forego it at
your peril.

What Your Research May Indicate
Granted that getting information about corporate and foundation donors
is an imperfect science, you should still be able to find information that
will help you position your proposal for maximum success. Here are some of
the things you should be trying to discover:

. Where does this funding source make grants? If the foundation says it only
  supports Cambridge organizations, and you're not a Cambridge organization,
  don't waste your resources applying.

. What kind of organization does it support? If the organization supports
  young scientists and you are serving meals to the elderly, don't waste your
  resources applying.

. What level of support do they give a first-time applicant? If you see the
  average grant is $1000, don't waste your resources asking for the top grant
  they made. That went to an organization with which they have a relationship.

. What kind of support do they want to give... capital, project (or program)
  or operating? If the organization never gives to capital, why do you think
  you can persuade them to support your capital request?

If more organizations followed just these rules and developed their proposals
accordingly, it would decidedly cut down the nuisance requests, as anyone at
any foundation or corporation will confirm.

Building Your Case
Once you know what the funding source wants from you, then you can set about
giving it to them. Remember, the easiest marketing takes place between
someone who knows what he wants and a marketer who gives it to him. This is
precisely the rule that most nonprofit fund seekers do not follow. Instead,
with astonishing arrogance, they say, in effect: "True, you have the money
and your own interests. But we're not interested in doing what you want to
do. We need the money for our own important work. And we're sure we can
persuade you to do things our way." Did these misguided ingenues never hear
that "The man who pays the piper calls the tune"?

Your job is to find out what the funding source wants to do... can do... and
then let him know that you both understand his objective... and can help him
achieve it. You achieve this result by building a persuasive case.

This case is predicated on your understanding a few very important things:
that all people who ask do not receive; that there are too few resources to
support every request; that the funders have to make increasingly hard
choices about who gets money... and who doesn't. There is, you see, no
inevitability about your getting the money. You must therefore be as
persuasive as possible. You must understand that unless something motivates
a prospective funder to give you the money, it has no place in your document.
In other words, everything either helps you get the money... or it should
ruthlessly be cut out.

Keeping this in mind, what should you put in your document and how should you
use it?

Proposal Essentials
In proposalmanship, as in marketing generally, first, last and always speak
to the prospect, in this case your prospective funder. This means you should:

. write in the second person, directly to your would-be funder;

. be direct, candid, personal. This is not the place for a disembodied
  academic approach to your subject.

. write as little as possible to get your point across and as much as it
  takes to be persuasive. The best proposals, like the best writing generally,
  are not about facts; they're about persuasion. And, these days, short
  documents tend to be more persuasive than long ones. My rule of thumb is
  that if you've had previous dealings with a funding source, your proposal
  should be no longer than 3 to 4 pages. On the other hand, if this funding
  source hasn't heard from you before and knows nothing about you, you need
  to give him more information; your proposal might then be twice as long.

What To Put In Your Proposal
The winning proposal contains these sections:

. information on why you're approaching this particular funding source.
  Funding sources, whatever you may think, are all different. And more
  to the point, they all want to be treated as individuals, not as just
  a nameless target in your mass marketing campaign. That's why you must
  tell the funding source why you're approaching him. Think this through.
  The more consideration you both give and show you have given to this
  source, the more likely you will get consideration in return.

. the facts about why you exist. Too many nonprofit personnel are in a rut.
  They forget that their organization exists because  vigilant, engaged
  individuals were sufficiently concerned about a problem to take collective
  action to solve it. You need to remind yourself... you need to tell your
  prospective funder... about why you exist.

. the severity of the problem you deal with. By the same token, you need to
  indicate to the prospective funder just how bad the problem is you're in
  business to solve. You had better realize that all problems are not equal.
  If you fail to convince the funding source of the widespread seriousness of
  your problem, he is right not to fund you. Remember, you are in a
  competition for scarce resources. You've got to make the best case for
  yourself that you can: letting the funding prospect know just how bad
  (with all relevant facts, figures and statistics) your problem is can only
  help your case.

. why the problem must be solved now. It is not enough to indicate that your
  problem is severe. You must indicate why it needs to be solved now. In
  marketing, "now" is the only time that matters. There are lots of problems
  in the world... but why is it so necessary that yours be solved right
  away?  You must say. Saying it must be solved immediately because you say
  so or because you organization exists and needs the money isn't nearly good
  enough, either. You must indicate that the problem needs to be solved
  now because not solving it leaves real people hurting... or for some other
  motivating reason. And don't be afraid to point out what will happen if you
  can't get the support you need to solve the problem. Failure to raise money
  has consequences. Motivate your prospective funder by bringing these to
  his attention.

More Of What The Winning Proposal Contains
In addition to these important sections, the winning proposal also contains:

. facts about the people who are involved in your project. Funders don't give
  money to organizations; they give money to people whom they feel can
  achieve success, reach the objective. Don't just tell who's involved with
  your project... provide reasons why they will get the job done.

. a specific plan for exactly how you will achieve what you say you want.
  The sad fact is that most proposals are ill thought out, and funders
  quickly learn how to discover that. Don't just ask for money. Ask for
  money to achieve a specific objective. And know exactly what you need to
  do to reach this goal. Too, be realistic about what you can achieve. "Don't
  tell me you can reform the world for $5,000," one foundation officer said
  in a recent speech. I'll know you don't know what you're doing." Be

c. Know what you need. And be prepared to say exactly what you'll do to
   reach the objective.

. an indication that others are involved in reaching the objective. While it
  is certainly true that some foundations and corporations want to be the
  sole funding source -- and derive full credit -- for a particular project,
  most corporations and foundations want to participate in a project that
  gathers general support. Thus, indicate who else is interested in what
  you're doing; who else has supported it, and where else you're going for
  support. Make no pretense about this. Projects that are worth supporting
  generate widespread support. Let your prospective donor know you have this
  kind of support... or what you're doing to get it.

Tips To Help Get Your Proposal Funded
. Give your proposal a headline that's about what you're trying to achieve...
  not about your organization. That is, say, "How The ABC Trust Can Help Feed
  20 Elderly Men in Cambridge Working With Good Will House." Remember, people
  give money to achieve results. So, let the funding source know right away
  what exciting results you can bring about... if only they join you.

. Write your proposal like a feature story... not an academic paper. If people
  are bored -- yes, even funding sources -- they're not going to give your
  proposal the attention it deserves. Your proposal should be written by your
  strongest writer. It should feature short sentences, active verbs, lots of
  bullets and emphasizing devices. In short, it should interest the reader.

. Either double space your proposal or write it in short block paragraph
  style. Don't cram too much into your paragraphs, either. Remember, the
  objective of each word, each line, each paragraph is to motivate your
  reader to keep reading. A mass of type, no matter how pivital the subject
  matter, looks forbidding and gets put off.

One Last Piece Of Advice: Remember That Every Proposal Invites Your
Prospect's Counter Proposal!

Too many people in the nonprofit world seeking funds are not good negotiators.
In effect, they throw their proposal at funding prospects and say, "Here it
is. Fund it." However, the very word "proposal" means offer. You must
remember the person you're making your offer to may wish to say something in
return. Be prepared to listen. And be prepared to modify your proposal
accordingly, making the sensible changes that will enable you to get the
support of this crucial individual.

Getting this proposal funded -- as well as future proposals to the same
source -- means developing a relationship, not making a demand. Your
proposal must excite, enthuse, arouse, and persuade your prospect to help
you. Not simply expect them to throw money your way whenever you want it.


Marketing consultant Dr. Jeffrey Lant specializes in creating documents...
fund raising proposals, direct mail letters, brochures, etc.... that get
your prospects to do what you want them to do. His many books provide
step-by-step details so you can achieve this on your own. These include

($28.45 postpaid)

($34 postpaid)

($34 postpaid).

Get them through The Sure-Fire Business Success Catalog,
50 Follen St., Suite 507, Cambridge, MA 02138
or with MC/VISA from (617) 547-6372. Don't forget to ask for your free
year's subscription to this quarterly resource guide that will help build
your nonprofit organization.

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