By Guest Blogger Matt Connor

“What are they asking for here?”

We have all been there – it’s 10:30pm, you just started a pot of coffee, your laptop is open in front of you, and you’re putting the final touches on your grant application that’s due at 11:00am tomorrow. We all know that’s not the most ideal situation to be in, and it would be great to have had that application put to bed two days ago. But here we are, looking over a document you’ve spent the last 10 days working on, and any nuances or typos will have long been camouflaged over by your intimate familiarity with it. But the one question that we keep asking ourselves from the moment we first download that template is, “What are they asking for here?”

As someone who has been on both sides of this issue as both a grant writer and a grant maker, I hope to be able to provide some illumination on a number of key issues when going through the grant writing process. As a writer, I’ve dealt mostly with federal grant applications – typically in the range from $50,000 to over $1 million proposals. As a former grant maker with the City of Indianapolis, I have seen hundreds of proposals, all with various levels of attention to detail (or lack thereof), all vying for a limited pot of money.

This will be a multi-part blog series on common pitfalls that organizations fall into during the grant writing process, focusing on how the writer approaches the problem and how the grant maker perceives that attempt. I’ve also added things that stick out (pitfalls) and things that stand out (strengths).

What is the grant for?

Grant writers have at their disposal a whole host of organizational resources, past applications and institutional knowledge. It’s very easy to find a few paragraphs that expand on the stated mission and goals of a particular program, and then just paste them into the application. This usually doesn’t become a problem, and is a great way to jump start the writing process. However…

Grant makers need to make sure that the grant writer knows what, exactly, they’re applying for. If the proposal keeps referring to “transitional housing” when they’re applying for a “permanent housing” project, they are giving me the impression that they might not have as good of an understanding of the principles and regulations of the program I’m funding. The language in the proposal really needs to be consistent with the language in the RFP, and it needs to communicate a firm understanding of what sort of program the funder wants to support.

Things that stick out: Incorrect terminology, misunderstanding the question

Things that stand out: Knowing the regulations, great outcomes, parallels with the funder’s priorities

Matt Connor has worked with housing organizations in Indiana for the last five years, focusing on grant writing and grant making. He is currently looking for great organizations that could use a leg up in their fundraising department, and can be reached at or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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