Grant Writing Tips for Beginners

By ARSL board member, Lorie Womack, Branch Manager, Washington Branch Library, Washington, Utah

Writing that first grant can be a scary and overwhelming experience for novice grant writers. This article provides some practical advice on how to make that first grant writing opportunity a little less daunting task. Further, it will get you excited about the rewards that can come from writing grants.

The first time grant writer should always keep in mind that grant writing is a process that takes time and effort. Writing a grant is more than just filling out an application and submitting it to the granting organization. Grant writing is a skill that is learned over time and with lots practice.

As Herbert Landau shares in his book that, “writing a competitive grant is a gamble, with no guarantee of a payoff for the effort invested. In evaluating the odds of winning a grant, apply my rule number 3 of successful grantsmanship: Do not pursue a grant if the odds against winning are more than 10 to 1.” Don’t let the fact that grant writing is a competitive business and a time consuming process discourage you from giving grant writing a try. There is nothing like seeing your hard fought for project become a reality.

The first step in the grant writing process is to do some research. The first part of this process is to find a grant opportunity that matches your proposed grant project. Shelley R. O’Brien writes, “there are many resources on the Internet, but it’s simplest to start with a Google search of opportunities in your community. Most foundations and corporations have websites that detail their application process. If you are in need of additional information, check out the Foundation Center’s website at The Foundation Center also provides excellent free webinars and classes on grant writing.” Don’t be afraid to research the organization and the particular grant you are applying for. You may find some ways to tailor your grant proposal and application toward the mission of the grant and the granting organization. Paying close attention to the requirements of the grant application may make the difference between your project getting funded and not getting funded. It is not a good idea to exceed the grant requirements as this may result in your application not being funded. Most grants are funded based on specific criteria. As you prepare your grant application carefully consider how your project and proposal will rate against the grant rating criteria.

With your granting organization and grant identified you are ready to look at the specific requirements of the grant. Take the time to learn about the mission statement of the granting organization. It is always a good idea to make sure your organization and project meet the eligibility requirements of any grant you apply for. Many grantees only award money for projects that meet specified criteria. As you prepare your grant application carefully consider how your project and proposal will rate against the grant funding and rating criteria.

One common mistake that first time grant writers make is to fill out the grant application first. The best place to begin is the grant proposal. Author Emily Beth Devine explains, “the format and length of a grant proposal are dictated by the funding agency. Proposals submitted to private foundations are short (usually a few pages) and focus on describing the problem and proposed solution. Proposals submitted to federal agencies can include up to 25 pages of text for the research plan,29 plus supporting documents.”

I begin writing a grant proposal by asking the following questions:

  • Who is the target audience?
  • What will need to be done?
  • When will project tasks need to be completed?
  • How does this project help me meet my organization mission and goals?
  • Why is this project important to the success of my organization?
  • Where can I find partners to assist me with this project?

With these questions answered you are ready to begin putting your proposal on paper. As you write your proposal keep the grant requirements in mind and clearly state the ways your proposed project meets that criteria. An important part of successful grant proposal writing is clearly outlining how your proposed project will benefit the target audience of the project.

Another key piece of advice I would give any first time grant writer is to write your proposal with the target reader in mind. Remember that not everyone understands your grant project the way you do or has the experience and expertise you bring to the project. It is always a good idea to anticipate questions that a grant reviewer may have. Clarify things such as who will complete what parts of the project, where additional money for the project may be coming from, and what donation or in-kind contributions may be coming to the project.

Grant writing is truly a skill that is learned over time and is acquired with experience. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the funding the first time. Simply, regroup and evaluate what you have learned for the next grant opportunity that comes along. If you believe in a project don’t take no for an answer keep trying until you get a “yes.” The rewards for writing grants are well worth the time and energy you put into the project.

Emily Beth Devine, “The art of obtaining grants,” Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, March 15, 2009.
Herbert Landau, Winning Grants: A Game Plan, (Chicago: ALA Editions, 2010). (See also article in American Libraries).
Shelley O’Brien; “Grant Writing Tips for the Non-Grant Writer,” Parks and Recreation; November 2011.

See Also: Library Grants Blog

3 Responses to “Grant Writing Tips for Beginners”

  1. There are many very good tips in your article, Lorie; however I differ with you on what is the first step. For the best results, begin grant work with planning. When you have a solid project plan based on your library’s plans (strategic or technology, for instance) you will have a much easier time with research and proposal writing. In addition, planning gives you the opportunity to include input from partners and collaborators and gain buy-in from staff and administration well before the writing begins.

    Thanks for citing the Library Grants Blog which I co-host. I hope your readers will find it helpful.

    Best regards,
    Pam MacKellar, author and teacher

  2. Janice Ajose says:

    Non profit organization looking for grant opportunities to help at risk students attend college. We are tarketing at risk kids with hardships. The budgget I have does not afford me the luxary of paying for this valuable information therefore I am very grateful for this site.

    Janice Ajose

  3. […] As board member of ARSL (the Association for Rural & Small Libraries), Womack (2012) provides a personal account of grant writing.  Her key piece of advice is “write our proposal with the target reader in mind” (para. 9).  Womack’s article can be found at […]