Grant-writing tips for success

Posted in: Bridges, Highways, Municipal


iStock_000016390891SmallState and federal grants are an incredible opportunity to leverage limited agency or community budgets for important infrastructure projects or initiatives. In today’s economy, grant funding is exceptionally competitive and the applications are increasingly complex.
This equals more time, energy and money just to apply. Every effort must be made to not only “check the boxes”, but to truly hit the mark for the grant’s stated purpose and increase the possibility of winning. Success lies with proper planning, focused writing and an organized submittal package.

What is pre?

Last-minute applications are rarely successful. After identifying your grant source, thoroughly review their scoring and success criteria. Contact the grant administration agency directly to discuss your project and gain insight on what “keys” they look for in an application. This will enable you to isolate the necessary data, estimate your work effort and identify the needed stakeholder letters of support.

Assume nothing and make your case

Your narrative is where you convince the funding organization that your project is imperative. Don’t assume the funder knows your subject area. As the expert, educate them about its importance. Describe the situation in both human interest and factual terms, using the data as support rather than the star. Outline how the project fits the community’s long-range plans, will address deficiencies and improve life.

Focus on project solutions and benefits

Highlight the steps to completion and positive impacts to the community. Address items like:

  • Overall project goals
  • Potential safety improvements
  • Job creation
  • Assistance to a low-moderate income population
  • Improvements to overall quality of life

Include letters or resolutions that demonstrate the financial commitments of the community, along with documentation of legislative, community and stakeholder support.

Polish and package your application

Presentation matters. Use your cover letter, organization, graphics and packaging or presentation to make an impression. Clear graphics illustrate the:

  • Project
  • Improvements
  • Budget
  • Timeline
  • Key details

Include a table of contents and section dividers for easy review. Provide a cover letter that briefly summarizes the proposal. Learn the funding organization’s application package preferences. For example, many typically do not like a permanently bound document, but prefer to remove or copy sections. A 3-ring binder for hard copies is better, with a digital copy for their convenience. Use a mailing service that confirms delivery. Avoid submissions on the deadline date, and hand-deliver for that personal touch when practical.

Preparation will equate to success.

Looking for continued guidance on grants?  I’m happy to hear from you – what are your community planning goals?


Dustin Wolff, AICP

About the Author

When he works on development and preservation plans, Dustin Wolff, AICP, keeps in mind that communities need to evolve. “Helping people shape their futures is a rewarding and humbling responsibility,” he says. “The built environment has a profound effect on our lives. Decisions we make today will be felt for years to come.” He also enjoys visiting cities around the U.S. to experience what makes them special.

Read more posts by Dustin Wolff, AICP

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