I saw an ad the other day for a grant writing workshop. Nothing unusual about that, but this one was on how to customize your proposal for a particular funder. My curiosity kicked in, because I thought all nonprofits customized every one of their proposals for each individual funder. So I clicked on the link.
Read the first sentence of the description and did a Scooby Doo-style neck twist. Huh?
Because, much to my surprise, it said that many nonprofits send out mass mailings of the same boilerplate proposal to many foundations.
Hmmm. In 20 years of writing hundreds, if not thousands, of grant applications and proposals, I have never once been able to take a proposal I sent to one funder and send it unedited and unchanged to another. Never.
Don’t get me wrong. Boilerplate language is the grant writer’s best friend. And Program Officers have told me many times that it’s theirs, as well. They LIKE getting similar reports and applications from the same organization over time because (a) it indicates consistency and (b) it’s easy for them to see if the organization has changed something in their mission or core programs or long-term planning.
Using boilerplate language is also amazingly helpful for nonprofits and grant writers because it means we can write a LOT of proposals – each tailored to the specific funder – in a relatively short time frame. And we don’t have to type and proofread everything every time.
I encourage all grant writers and nonprofit executives to develop a good set of boilerplate language for the overall organization and for each project and program. This ensures a constant and handy source of text for applications, donor letters, press releases, and many other uses. And it’s great if there’s a surprise opportunity and not much time to write something new.
The foundation application process has hundreds of variations. Most of the proposals and applications I write these days are for foundations with wide variations in how they want the application structured. Some have web-based forms with very tight word or character limits. Others require an emailed application using their form and a narrative with various attachments. A few want a LOT of attachments or only one or two. And many require a signature from the Executive Director or Board officer, or both, provided either electronically or on a paper form.
While all of these variations also ask quite different questions or require very specific information, having language at your fingertips will make the process much easier and result in more applications. Which will, in turn, result in more grant funding. And that, as they say, is what it’s all about.
To go back to the first point, while boilerplate language is great, sending out the same proposal to many foundations is a waste of time, paper, ink, and postage. And it’s annoying to the recipient (more on that in the next blog post).
Foundation fundraising is partly about numbers. You want to send out lots of proposals and letters and applications. But you also want them to be pertinent to the foundation receiving them and, of course, ultimately, you want them to be funded. The answer is to have good, well-thought-out boilerplate language that you can adapt quickly and easily and to know what can and should change and what should be the same.
To help you figure that out, here are two lists. One is what should change for each application; the other is what should not. Okay three, because I’ve also included a short list of what you should probably write brand-new each time.
1. What should not change:
- Mission statement (this is something your board develops)
- Overall organizational goals and objectives*
- Project goals and objectives for a specific program/project and for a specific time frame*
- Staff list
- Board list**
- Financial information
* These can be edited for length and various goals/objectives can be included or not depending on the foundation’s guidelines and the application’s space limitations; however, the actual goals and objectives should remain consistent across applications.
** Board lists can include different information (contact info, affiliation, term info), but the actual list should be the same.
2. What you can write boilerplate language for and edit as needed:
- Core programs
- Project/program description
- Staff bios and resumes (you should have both a resume and a one- to two-paragraph description for each staff member)
- Description of funding sources (this should be a table or spreadsheet that you update regularly)
- Organizational challenges
- Organization history
- Accomplishments and achievements, including awards (also a list that you should update regularly)
- Description of your strategic plan if you have one
- Population served, including demographics, geographic location, and descriptive information
- Need statement for the organization and for each program/project
- Description of any partnerships or collaborations, current and past
3. What you should write new for each proposal:
- A sentence on how your program, mission, project, or work fits with the foundation’s focus area(s)
- If you have been funded by the foundation in the past, a one- to two-paragraph report on what you’ve accomplished with their funding thus far
- A brief cover letter, especially if you have met with foundation staff by phone or in person
These are meant to be a starting point for those who are just beginning to write grants for their organization. If you’d like some coaching in putting together your boilerplates, or even conceptualizing your work so you can write it up in a narrative form, I’m here. I’ve worked with many new nonprofit executives and many who were new to foundation fundraising and have developed a system that will help you outline your needs statement, goals, and objectives – for your organization and for any projects or programs. I can also write the boilerplate language for you, which will make it possible to do multiple applications and proposals on your own. Just head to the contact form or give me a call and we can get started right away.
Full disclosure: This post originally appeared on my old site for Crazy Horse Consulting. If you want to read about why I changed the name, go to the blog entry “Welcome to the Wild Blog!”