Do You Speak Grant-ese?
By Gail Shapiro and Carla Cataldo

Gail Shapiro and Carla Cataldo
Gail Shapiro, left, and Carla Cataldo
The success of a grant proposal depends on your ability to describe your project realistically, thoroughly, and succinctly ”“ in the grantmakers’ parlance. If you aren’t communicating in Grant-ese, your application could be misunderstood and ultimately go unfunded.

The application will ask you to provide a thoughtful description of your organization’s mission, goals, and objectives, as well as detailed information on the inputs, activities, and outcomes for your project. But do these terms have the same meaning for you as they have for a potential funder? As you read and respond to different funders’ guidelines, you may find a lot of discrepancies in terminology. To deal with these discrepancies and with instances when a specific funder’s guidelines may not be clear, you can fall back on these universal definitions, written in the language of Grant-ese.

A mission statement is an idealistic and concise statement of why the organization exists.

A mission statement expresses three elements: business, purpose, and values, although one or more of these may be implied. In other words, why does the organization exist, what is its aim, and by what principles does it operate? The mission is not measurable, nor does it tell how the organization is going to accomplish the mission. It should be both succinct and lofty so that it is memorable and inspiring. For example:
  • Womankind’s Financial Literacy Project helps women become financially literate and economically self-sufficient.
  • Bleeker College seeks to advance the theory and practice of learning, and to nurture and prepare young minds for today’s diverse and ever-changing world.
  • The mission of the Shangri-La Senior Service Center is to improve the lives and well-being of elders in our community.
A goal is a broad-based statement of the ultimate result of the change being undertaken.

The goal statement avoids describing how the organization is going to accomplish the goal, just as a good mission statement does not state how the organization will accomplish its mission. These three goal statements correctly focus on an ultimate result:
  • Encourage women to take responsibility for their own financial well-being and self sufficiency. (Womankind’s Financial Literacy Project)
  • Entering freshman will be better prepared to learn and to participate in college life. (Bleeker College Fresh Start Program)
  • The homebound elderly in Shangri-La County will live with dignity and independence in their own homes. (Shangri-La Senior Service Center)
Describing how a goal is going to be met is the job of one or more objectives.

An objective is a measurable, time-specific result that the organization expects to accomplish.

More narrowly defined than goals, objectives should show some sort of movement as a result of your activities. An objective can be stated as “who” will do “what” by “when.” You may have several objectives to address each of your goals.

Using the first goal cited above—to encourage women to take responsibility for their own financial well-being and self sufficiency—here are three potential objectives:
  • Objective 1: With input from financial professionals, members, and the Board, Womankind staff will create the curriculum for a six-week, introductory Financial Literacy course by January 1, 2011.
  • Objective 2: The Training Coordinator will train at least two new Financial Literacy Course Facilitators by February 15, 2011.
  • Objective 3: Womankind instructors will offer the first Financial Literacy Course for 20 women, beginning April 2011.
Note that these objectives do not describe methods and the many tasks by which you are going to accomplish the objectives. Instead, they describe a result.

To communicate fluently in Grant-ese, it’s critical to grasp the difference between goals and objectives:
  • Goals are lofty intentions; objectives are exact.
  • Goals are intangible; objectives are tangible.
  • Goals are broad; objectives are focused.
  • Goals cannot be measured; objectives can be measured.
Goals and objectives do have commonalities, however. When they are well-conceived and well-written, both will:
  • Tie directly to the case statement.
  • Include all relevant parties in the target population.
  • Allow plenty of time to accomplish the aims.
  • Be specific enough that they can show movement toward the desired results.

Measuring Results

If there is no way to measure change, you either are describing a goal (not an objective), or you will need to rethink the objective.

In the example above, evidence that the first objective was accomplished would be the written curriculum documents. Evidence that the second objective was met could include results of a test administered to new facilitators showing that they learned the training materials.

There are several different ways to categorize objectives. In human services, for example, objectives often measure knowledge (changes in learning or skills), attitude (changes in opinion and approach), and behavior (changes in ability or performance).

Learning and using Grant-ese correctly will help you accurately describe your project or program, and will help position your proposal for the best chance of funding success.

This article is adapted from Get That Grant! The Quick-Start Guide to Successful Proposals by Gail R. Shapiro and Carla C. Cataldo (Booklocker, 2009). For more information, click here.