What to do When Writing Feels Like Groundhog Day by Kellie Brungard, GPC

Did you wake up with a foreboding sense of deja vu? Like you’ve written the exact same narrative over and over again? There are not too many occasions when I can relate to Bill Murray waking up and reliving the same day, except when I find myself reworking the same narrative for another application. You know the feeling – when you have tried and true narrative pieces that perfectly depict the history, need, and program design that makes you feel like you are stuck on repeat?

So, what can you do when the programs aren’t changing, but you need to breathe some life into the writing? Here are some tips to refresh your writing and wake up feeling rejuvenated for a busy grant season!

Connect with the Cause

Client stories or testimonials are a great way to reconnect with the purpose of the work and create new content. If your organization provides direct service, interview a caseworker about a recent client success or ask a board member to share why they serve. Client feedback from surveys or social media may include testimonials. Incorporate a client testimonial (with their permission) into the narrative or create a one-page document with a client photo and their story to attach when possible. Take a step back from the project and see if there is a new way to tell a story that supports changing population needs.

Get an External Opinion

In some instances, I became so comfortable with my application content that I was blind to the gaps created by cutting characters or sections that lacked an explanation for someone not familiar with the program. Ask another staff member or connection to review a recent application for feedback with this lens in mind. Check with your regional Grant Professional Association, which may have workshops for reviewing sections of content that specifically aim to help members in this way. Assel Grant Services recently launched external reviews as a standalone service if you are working on a new project or pursuing a federal grant and want to raise the competitiveness of the proposal. Reach out to Tracey Diefenbach, GPC, Assistant Director, for more information.

People absorb information in different ways. Ensure your content incorporates styles that appeal to multiple people – story-based, data-driven, or conceptual thinkers. One area I’ve worked on is recognizing when information is better suited to visual representation, and build out a table or graph to articulate the point.

Redefine the Need

The target population and need your organization serves should remain the same. However, take a step back and consider if there is a different approach to describing the need or population served in a new way. Consider if more inclusive language could be incorporated or if the needs of the community have changed. Using strengths-based language empowers a community and places the focus on the systems or lack of resources that exist. Research local foundations or hospitals to see if a new community needs assessment was published. In addition to annually updating the same data points, look for new sources or demographic shifts in the neighborhoods served. Create a resource document with different statistics and data that might relate to another program. These quick reference sheets make it easy to personalize the narrative to the grantmaker’s priorities. Make sure to note the sources!

Directly Answer the Questions

Reusing content for multiple applications can be efficient. Many community foundations created standardized applications for this purpose and to reduce nonprofit resources needed to apply for grants. The downside is when writers think a section answers the question “well enough” without actually answering the specific question. This is where recycled content can serve as a good starting point. Take the time to customize the response to answer the grantmakers’ specific questions or highlight the components that speak to their priorities.

The good news is that everyone has felt like they are saying the same thing over and over again.  Remember that you see this content every day, but each grantmaker only sees their individual application (or maybe more if they manage a community fund). You may be tired of reading the same paragraphs, but that does not mean the reviewer will have the same feeling. Spend some time connecting back to the mission through stories, conversations, or volunteering at an event. Regardless of Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction, we will still be writing high-quality grant proposals for months to come.

If you are interested in learning more about AGS services, Julie Assel, CGMS, GPC, President/CEO, will be happy to talk with you about this opportunity and provide you with a quote for grant services.

This BLOG is aligned with the Grant Professional Certification Institute’s Competencies and Skills

Competency #4: Knowledge of how to craft, construct, and submit an effective grant application

Skill 3.2: Interpret grant application request for proposal (RFP) guidelines and requirements to ensure high quality responses

Skill 8.6: Identify proposal-writing approaches, styles, tones, and formats appropriate for proposing organizations and various audiences.

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