Spice it up!

 This was first published in PhilanTopic - a blog of opinion and commentary from Philanthropy News Digest, Foundation Center Online, New York on July 3, 2013. 

Does it feel like the grant proposals you're writing are getting old and tired?  Maybe you've been working for the same organization for a number of years and writing proposals for the same programs month after month. If you can recite from memory the first three paragraphs of the last grant proposal you wrote, it's time to spice things up!  Here are some tips for freshening up your writing and reinvigorating your passion for your organization's mission.

1. Tell a story. Rather than starting with the mission statement or leading with a litany of dry statistics, tell the story of your organization as if it were a novel. Put the funder into the shoes of the clients served by your organization. Show him or her the world through the eyes of the people whose lives are changed. If it's an arts organization, put the funder in the front row as the curtain comes up, the music swells, and the show begins. If it's an environmental organization, make your reader see the colors, hear the sounds, smell the smells of the habitat your organization is commited to protecting. Spark your reader's imagination first, then hit them with facts and figures.

2. Start with a blank slate. I know, it's the bain of every writer's existence. But sometimes -- especially if cut-and-paste has become your default mode -- starting fresh with a clean white screen or blank document is a good way to jumpstart your imagination. What would you say about your organization if you were the very first person tasked with describing it to a funder? Why is it such asset to the community? Why do you love to come to work? Let your imagination run free and, when you're ready to put fingers to keyboard, write from the heart.

3. Get out of the office. Still having trouble telling a story that will grab a funder and make them want to fund you? Maybe you need some out-of-office time to experience firsthand the good work your organization does. Spend a day or three working on the frontlines with actual clients. Invite yourself along on the next site visit. Ask yourself, "What's the one thing about our programs most folks don't know that they absolutely should know? What would they be most surprised to learn about the work we do?"

4. Look for new research. Updating your needs statement with new research and findings is another good way to liven up a proposal. Fire up your favorite browser and learn what other organizations in your space are doing or saying. What's the latest research out of academia? Give yourself permission to pursue tangents that grab your interest. Chances are, those are the kinds of things that will interest funders, too.

5. Attend an event. Today's development professionals are highly adept at engaging their donor base. If you haven't been to one of your organization's special events in a while, make a point of attending the next one. Keep an eye out for what worked -- and what was less successful or ignored. And pay attention to remarks made by your executive director and/or the keynote speaker. It's their job to connect those in the audience with your organization's work and mission -- which is exactly what you're trying to do.

Program officers often review new proposals from an organization alongside grant proposals they've funded previously. Show them that your organization doesn't take their funding for granted by sharing with them a fresh narrative that speaks to all that is new in your organization, in your community, and in your field. Remember, a little passion goes a long way!

Do you have any special techniques you use to spice up your grant proposals?  We'd love to hear them. Use the comments section below....

-- Allison Shirk