It’s one of those phrases one hears in random snippets of local conversation: So-and-so “wrote a grant,” and now Anytown, USA, is getting a new skate park, or walking trail, or pilot program. Lucky Anytown. Looks like they got some money. We’d like some money. How do we get money?
What the heck is “writing a grant,” anyway?
Grants are awarded based on submitted applications. There’s a word missing in this colloquialism; properly speaking, it ought to be “writing a grant proposal.” “Grant writing” denotes the practice of applying for grants, which typically includes actually writing a lengthy, heavily detailed proposal or filling out an application form. An effective grant writing process is designed to cover every aspect of the applicant’s desired project to the satisfaction of the reviewers who will be reading the finalized application, from outlining the work to be done to presenting a persuasive case for the desired funding amount.
Grants are a means of funding specific types of work. The money can come from federal, state, local government, or private sources. Depending on the eligibility criteria, it can go to an individual, a nonprofit, a business, or an agency. Very broadly speaking, grants are not given with an expectation of repayment. They are not loans. However, the money is designated for more or less specific types of projects, and whoever is providing the grant may require the recipient to prove the money was spent as intended.
Grants can be restricted. That means the funding sometimes comes with very tight strings attached. Typical grant restrictions include requiring the recipient to account for all expenses paid with grant funds, and specifying how the recipient can or cannot spend the money. For example, one might be permitted to purchase certain items for a project, but not to pay volunteers or the electric bill. When working with restricted grants, any associated project expenses not allowed by the grant must be handled using a different funding source.
Grants often don’t cover the applicant’s entire project. They aren’t exactly “free money”: While not every grant program out there will require applicants to come up with a “match,” this expectation is extremely common. The reasoning is straightforward; an applicant who contributes something of his or her own to a project has a greater incentive to see it through to completion. The applicant will, in most cases, need to come up with cash or in-kind offerings, either to meet grant match (cost-share contribution) requirements or to pay for expenses not covered by the grant award.
The grant writer’s primary role is to clearly explain why the client’s project deserves to be funded. In order to make that argument, the grant writer must have a firm grasp of not only the grant requirements but also the client’s end goals. A well-drafted proposal from an experienced grant writer can be critical to an applicant’s chances of achieving funding success.