get creative with grant proposals

Is it ok to get creative with grant proposals?

As writers, we may be inclined to experiment with form sometimes, breaking out of the usual rote, technical format. But is it ok to get creative with grant proposals?


Along those lines, this question came to us via Twitter:


@ProGrantWriter Does a more narrative approach in your proposal work?


We asked for clarification, and received this message:

@ProGrantWriter A bit less formal, bit more conversational. I feel like the formal tone sometimes loses what our organization is all about.


Since our answer is a bit lengthier than Twitter’s character limits allow, and because other grant writers can benefit from the answer, we’ve decided to answer here.


Differing answers

Our CEO, Megan Hill, listened to a panel of officers from three large Seattle foundations recently, and they addressed this topic. They each had a different answer. One said she absolutely wants to see grant proposals fit the usual format of a cover page, project description, need statement, project budget, evaluation, etc. She doesn’t want pictures, she doesn’t want pull quotes, she doesn’t want any deviation from or experimentation with the proposal format.

This would also be the answer for federal grants, or any grant application that is highly technical. These grants come with rigorous guidelines and requirements, so there’s little to no room for creative flourishes.


It’s ok to get creative with some grant proposals

Another said she appreciates when nonprofits get creative with grant proposals. That means playing with the narrative form and adding colorful elements that both tug at the heartstrings and make her job of reading hundreds of proposals more interesting. And she mentioned it helps the creative proposal stick out in her mind when she’s making funding decisions.


The bottom line

So what is a grant writer to do? The panel suggested that, if a foundation doesn’t specify any proposal guidelines, a grant writer should contact the appropriate program officer and ask.


In our experience, though, these three foundations are some of the most open and accessible we’ve ever dealt with. Most foundations are not. If they do publish their contact information and you manage to get in touch with someone via phone or email, chances are they want to get rid of you as quickly as they can. We find it rare for a foundation to want to chat about inserting pictures and using a creative narrative style.


Assuming you have the same impersonal experience with a foundation, play it safe. Write a proposal that doesn’t straddle the line of what’s acceptable and what’s not. Save the creativity for another foundation.


Interested in learning more about our grant writing services? Contact us.



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1 Comment

  • Avatar for Meredith Hilt

    Meredith Hilt

    24.01.2012 at 12:15 Reply

    This is a tough one, and it truly does depend on the foundation. You can sometimes tell from the guidelines what the tolerance is for creativity.

    As long as the proposal meets the application requirements, I think some creativity can be effective. (e.g., Don’t skip “outcomes” to include a pull quote.)

    Formal proposals tend to get wordy and use too much jargon, which stunts effectiveness. Too many creative bells and whistles can also clutter your request.

    At the end of the day, I appreciate requests that are honest, complete and concise.

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