My hobbyist interest in writing fiction began when I started writing grant applications. There, now you know. Whether it’s for music or mental health, education or the environment, it takes a little creativity to interpret a non-profit’s programs in a way that a will match a foundation’s interest. This doesn’t mean re-writing the mission statement, but using the prospect’s own language to describe what you do.
We grantwriters are the waitstaff of the nonprofit world. We are the primary interface between the immutable forces of our paying customers (funders), management (er, management) and the kitchen (program staff). To keep everyone happy takes some juggling, and a bit of art.
The spark of creativity I get from writing grants made me wonder what kind of advice master fiction writers would offer my profession. Turns out, they already did that. Below are quotes from fiction masters (in bold) and my interpretation for grantwriters (in italics).
1) All you have to do is write one true sentence. – Ernest Hemingway
Make sure you get your facts straight.
2) When you catch an adjective, kill it. – Mark Twain
Let your program’s accomplishments speak for themselves.
3) I try to leave out the parts that people skip. – Elmore Leonard
Keep it simple and don’t repeat yourself.
4) Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. – Anton Chekhov
Use specific examples that bring strong images to mind.
5) Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
– George Orwell
Go easy on the acronyms, and words that are common to the organization but may not be well-known elsewhere.
6) I always prepare a very detailed synopsis before I start writing. – JG Ballard
Write the summary first, or keep a short list of key points in mind before you start.
7) Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words. – VS Naipaul
Bullet points are your friends.
8) The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. – John Steinbeck
Be truly excited about the cause you are supporting and it will come through in your writing.
9) Pity the readers. – Kurt Vonnegut
Foundation staff read a lot of proposals. Make them love yours.