Write Like a JD by Maryam Gilmore, JD

Grant professionals are oftentimes asked to address multiple questions which require an in-depth response but with limited word (or worse, character) counts. In my transition from a legal career to grant writing, this was, and still remains, one of the strongest skills I brought to the table. Consequently, law school also taught me how to whittle down content like nobody’s business but that’s for another day.

There’s a fundamental formula every 1L (i.e. first-year law student) learns for approaching narrative questions, or as we referred to them in my law school days, hypotheticals (hypos for short). The CRAC* methodology (conclusion, rule, analysis, conclusion) is taught as an organization tool for making an effective legal argument. As a grant professional, I use a simplified version of this method to construct my narratives. For our purposes today, we’ll be focusing on applying these strategies to the ‘Need’ section of a proposal.

Conclusion: This is where you introduce the reader to the overall issue/topic you intend to discuss and language indicating why it matters. Let’s say you’re preparing a proposal for general operating funding for 4 Walls, a 501(c)3 nonprofit providing housing and supportive services to single mothers. Here, you are using an introductory sentence or two to state the issue you are discussing (homelessness) in a way that connects your conclusion (it’s vital to first get families into safe, affordable housing, and then help them address the underlying causes that led to homelessness).

Rule: Once you’ve introduced your reader to the issue, you can transition into establishing the ‘rule’ you’ll be applying to solve the issue. For our 4 Walls grant purposes, this could be the:

  • Evidence- or research-based modalities utilized by the agency to ‘solve’ the issue (e.g., Housing First);
  • Data and statistics utilized to further illustrate the need for your proposed interventions (e.g., experts estimate that 40 million U.S. households are now at risk for eviction during the pandemic); as well as
  • Other relevant information that establishes a basis for how you will solve (or are solving) the issue at hand (e.g., 4 Walls will utilize its comprehensive case management strategies to ensure families are making progress towards their goals).

Start with your broadest principles first, then work your way towards smaller ones, secondary components, or exceptions to the ‘rule.’

Analysis: This is hands-down my favorite part. Always has been, always will be. Why? Because this is where you connect all the pieces together. It’s like taping up the final parts of the gift you’re wrapping. (The final conclusion being the bow on top.) Here, you’re going to apply the facts of the situation to the issue to draw distinctions, analogies, and get into the nitty gritty of how the need can be addressed. Perhaps our 4 Walls proposal would connect their utilization of the evidence-based Housing First methodology to their goal of decreasing the overall number of single mothers and their children experiencing homelessness amid the pandemic. Further, they may elaborate on how Housing First is a low-barrier program (meaning, there are little to no requirements for enrolling or remaining in it) that is conducive to providing a safe location for families to address the underlying causes of their homelessness (i.e. eviction, substance use, financial literacy, etc.).

Conclusion: Here, all you will need is a sentence or two that concisely states the outcome of the issue based on the analysis or application of your ‘rule’ to the facts of the issue. 4 Walls might say something like: Utilizing Housing First principals, 4 Walls anticipates providing housing and comprehensive, supportive services for up to 200 clients in 2020. This means 200 more women and children will now have safe, affordable housing in which to continue addressing their needs in a supportive, encouraging environment.

While this blog has not prepared you to write a legal document in a court proceeding, it hopefully has taught you some more strategies on how to organize your arguments persuasively while illustrating the issue and proposed resolution to your reader.

*Author’s note: Sometimes this acronym is also taught as IRAC with the ‘I’ for issue or as CREAC, adding an ‘E’ for additional explanation, the remaining letters are the same.

Competency #4: Knowledge of how to craft, construct, and submit an effective grant application. Skill 5. Identify appropriate, sequential, consistent, and logical presentations of grant-narrative elements and ideas among or within proposal components.