0th Law: Tell a story. There are human beings reading your grant. Intrigue them, teach them something new, make them laugh at least once. Don't bore them.
1st Law: Follow the rubric. Title your sections according to the point that they want covered.
2nd Law: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Make sure the design is good. If Steve jobs were to design your proposal how would it look?
3rd Law: Under promise, over deliver. Better to project 10% increase in income and achieve 12% than the other way ‘round.
4th Law: Make good use of your time. A $1m grant doesn't take 1000x longer than a $1,000 grant. Don't bother. Exception to the 4th Law: the $1000 is the price of admission to a $1m grant down the road.
5th Law: Grants take 2x as long to get as you'd think to write, go through due diligence, etc. It took up to 18 months for me to receive the money from a grant we won once. By then the grant was hardly even relevant to what we were doing.
6th Law: Grants don't plug cash flow issues. They make them worse. Most grants won’t pay you until after you spend the money or at best they will send you money upfront, but you never know when you’re going to get the money so you can’t depend on it.
7th Law: The more you get, the more you get. At first you won’t get anything. Once you start winning grants it’s like you’ll need an umbrella just to protect yourself from the rainstorm of grants you’ll get. Like the Nobel prize, throwing a life preserver to people who have already made it to shore.
8th Law: Get women and people of color on your board of advisers. All male, older, white board has bad optics. If you are serving women in Ghana, then, for God’s sake, have at least one Ghanaian woman on your board.
9th Law: Human brains work by analogy. Throwing 12% more facts at people, overworked by an average marginal Work Index of 6.1 won’t help you win grants. Write a case study of someone who was successful who did something similar. Example analogy: We are Toms Shoes for Soccer balls. Easy to understand that the impact will be huge.
10th Law: Repeat the same numbers over and over. Not new numbers. There is a temptation to say 31% of children are malnourished, 16% are stunted and 5% are emaciated. Just one number. We get the point. Children are in trouble. 31% are malnourished, 31%, 31%.
11th Law: Humans can remember 3 things. What 3 things do you want them to remember? Usually, I want them to remember 1.) my organization’s name, 2.) their money will make a big difference for us, and 3.) we have an innovative solution. That’s it. If they remember those three things the day after they read my application, I win.
To get someone to remember your name don’t just say your name over and over. Tell a story. “The story few people know about how we started [insider gossip heightens the interest in the reader] is that I was sitting on the side of a brook and, suddenly, I had the idea! I was so excited I fell into the brook. That’s why we are called Brookside Dairy.” Now the reader will never forget your name.
12th Law: Have your Docs in a row. Get it? Docs? Ducks? Yeah, have everything lined up. Here’s the Grant Document Checklist I send to my clients.
13th Law: You need 2-4 hours of uninterrupted time to do grant writing. I often do it at night when my employees are gone.
14th Law: No acronyms, no 50 cent words, no jargon. Exception: well-known acronyms like USAID, HIV.
15th Law: Be poetic.
16th Law: Grant management is even harder than grant writing.
17th Law: Outsource and delegate.
18th Law: Look for global maxima. Is this the best grant you can apply for? Or is there one that is a better fit? Scan the list of all possible grants that I share with my clients.
19th Law: Invent/reclaim a new word. Easy to be the best at a new term you coined. I guarantee you I have the best 20 Laws of Grants in the world because no one else has done it.
20th Law: WIIFM. What’s in it for me. That’s all every human being wants to know. What are you giving the grantor that is worth $50k or $5m? How will you make them look good?
Bonus Law: Thank people when they help you and they are likely to help you again. If this answer helped you, give some thanks by sharing with someone who you think will also benefit from it. Pay it forward.
Kyle founded Grant&Co after running a biogas company in Kenya for 5 years. We raised a lot of grant capital there. And now we help other entrepreneurs raise capital.