10 Grant Writing Mistakes That’ll Cost You the Mother Lode

There are millions, even billions of dollars on the line. Do you want your slice of the pie?

The truth is, that money could all be yours…..IF the grant application is right.

Jessica Brown is the Chief Professional Officer at the Boys and Girls club of Central Appalachia. She was thrown into the grant writing world and quickly picked up on the ins and outs of the process. Along the way, she learned a lot. Check out Brown’s advice on mistakes you should never make when you’re undergoing the grant writing process.

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Mistake #1—Applying for a grant outside of your means.

Don’t apply for a HUGE grant just because it looks great. Apply for grants that are manageable and fit your NPO’s resources. *As a rule of thumb, Brown suggests never applying for a grant that’s more than half of your organization’s operating budget.

Mistake #2—Letting volunteers handle big grants and not giving them enough details.

Don’t let volunteers handle the big grants unless you’re willing to give them every detail about the organization and its financial state. If you’re going to entrust a volunteer with that kind of information, make sure they’re trustworthy and responsible. Not having the resources is NOT an excuse to trust just anybody with such a big task.

Mistake #3—Writing a grant that’s not personalized.

Always, always write your grant to a specific person that you’ve talked with on the phone or face-to-face. It increases your chances of receiving the money exponentially.

Mistake #4—Forgetting to send a thank you after every interaction.

We’re not talking about sending a thank you after you’ve received the grant. Thank yous should go out after every conversation with a potential funder (even state/government grants). Handwritten notes are preferable, but even an email can go a long way.

Mistake #5—Forgetting to include your mission statement in narratives.

The grant narrative is all about what your organization stands for. So don’t leave off something as important as your org’s mission statement. Make a mission statement you’re proud of.

Mistake #6—Not sharing your grant resources with other local nonprofits.

You never know when they’ll return the favor or what partnerships will come out of it.

Mistake #7—Getting so comfortable in your position that you stop learning.

Seek professional development opportunities. You’re a grant writer, and writers should always be honing their skills. Anything and everything that can help you write and keep advancing…do it!

Mistake #8—Not getting feedback from your board.

Sure, you might not want to bother the board members. But that’s the wrong attitude when it comes to grant writing. Let a board member (or two) read over your grant applications because they may have something that you overlooked. Or, they might have a personal connection to the potential funder. You never know until you ask.

Mistake #9—Discarding records that could help you in the future.

Don’t forget to keep records of your narratives so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when another application opens. You’ll thank Brown for this advice later. We promise.

Mistake #10—Trying to do it all on your own from the beginning.

Don’t go into the grantwriting process blindly. If you’re new, try to write a grant with the outgoing or previous writer to get a feel for it. Trying to do it all on your own might seem like the right thing to do, but we all need a little help (or a LOT).

*Bonus—Before you begin, make sure you know when to start nonprofit grant writing.

What grant writing mistakes has your NPO made and learned from?

  • Paulette N. Haines

    Great lessons that as a consultant we try and make clients understand! Thank you!
    Paulette N. Haines

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  • Gail Jones

    Great tips; I’d also add that it’s imperative to form solid relationships with those you’ll ask to review your proposals for accuracy. I’m in healthcare, and as a fundraiser–not a healthcare professional–I’ve needed to learn a great deal from the clinicians surrounding me (after all, you can’t write coherently about a need you don’t fully understand). Also, since grant deadlines are inflexible, you need to identify your “go-to” people–the experts who can be relied on for timely turnaround.

  • I enjoyed reading your recommendations on the grant writing process