Use Data and Language to Write Powerful Grant Proposals
By Alison Glastein and Gabriella Lockhart

Alison Glastein and Gabriella Lockhart
Alison Glastein and Gabriella Lockhart
The secret to developing a winning grant application is to make your proposal so clear and descriptive that a complete stranger could read it and immediately understand who you are as an organization, how you intend to use the funds, and the steps needed to implement your proposed program.

With limited dollars to go around, many organizations struggle to make their grant proposal stand out from the rest. To develop a winning proposal, nonprofits should use descriptive language and compelling data that will make the case for their program and demonstrate why they are the right match for the funding opportunity.

The following sections suggest some key strategies for developing effective grant proposals that both show and tell your organization’s story, mission, and goals.

How to Tell Your Story
  1. Offer details, evidence, and solutions. When describing your organization or program, be sure to include a clear explanation of the who, what, where, when, how, and why. Who are you helping? What problems are you working to address? How will you address these problems, and how will your program make a difference? Why is your organization or program the right fit for this funding opportunity?
    When answering these questions, be sure to include descriptive details about your target audience and the stated problem or need. Point to existing evidence by citing credible sources and powerful statistics. Finally, offer proposed solutions that clearly demonstrate how your organization or program will address the stated problem.

  2. Incorporate anecdotal evidence. You can strengthen your grant proposal by including anecdotes from your stakeholders and program participants. Qualitative information adds depth, passion, and emotion to your story by helping readers envision your work from the perspective of those who have experienced or benefited from it. Examples of compelling anecdotal evidence can include success stories, observations, and quotes from program participants and stakeholders.

  3. Articulate clear goals and tangible objectives. Your goals should describe, at a high level, what you ultimately hope to accomplish with the proposed funding. Your objectives should more tangibly describe what you’re going to do to accomplish those goals.
    A common strategy for setting clear program objectives is to use the SMART method:
    • Specific: Objectives should use strong and specific action verbs that can be easily measured. They should clearly articulate what is going to take place, by whom, and for whom.

    • Measureable: Objectives should be quantifiable so that change can be easily measured. This will make it easier for you and the funder to assess whether that objective is being met.

    • Attainable: Objectives should be attainable and realistic with the amount of time and resources available.

    • Relevant: Objectives should tie directly to your statement of need (in other words, the problem you’re working to address), and must clearly align with the overall goals you’ve articulated.

    • Time-specific: Objectives should clearly define the time frame for either completing or measuring that objective.
How to Show Your Story
  1. Use impactful graphics and images. Pairing a narrative that tells a powerful story with strong visuals can make a grant proposal even more compelling. For example:
    • Maps can be an effective tool for highlighting your target geographic area, especially when layered with meaningful statistics that emphasize the needs of your target population in that area.

    • Before-and-after photos can depict the impact that your program has in overcoming specific problems. Photos of program participants and activities add a personal connection to your proposal.

    • Graphs, pie charts, and other figures can add descriptive data to support your narrative.
  2. Leverage publicly available data sources. The US Census Bureau, MassCHIP, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education are just three examples of publicly available data sources that can provide invaluable statistics, figures, and graphs to add depth to a grant proposal. Think about what data is most relevant for your organization or program, and explore available resources to incorporate into your grant proposal.
Alison Glastein is vice president, and Gabriella Lockhart is a writer and project manager at Freedman HealthCare, LLC . Email them at and
December 2014