April 04, 2019

Grant Writing 101 | Tell Your Story

By Lisa Bennett Brunson |

This is the final of three posts in our Grant Writing Blog Series. What is the afterschool story you want to share with potential funders? We hope you reach out with any questions during this grant writing season. Good luck!

“Bring home the bacon,” “Show me the money,” “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” … there are hundreds of trite sayings about a subject that is vital to the survival of most non-profit organizations—Where do we find the money to keep our programs going?

This is the case for the afterschool programs that serve our most at-risk student populations. It is painful to have to turn away families that rely on the nutritional snacks, homework assistance, academic enrichment, successful role models, and other interventions provided by your programs. As a fellow advocate and grant-writer, here are a few tips to writing a great grant application:

Know Your Audience

As with any good writing, you should keep your intended audience in mind. Who is authorizing the grant? What are the objectives of the organization? Who will be reading/scoring the application? Restrain from using acronyms or jargon that may confuse the reader. Rather than writing, “We will provide ATOD prevention education,” write it out as Alcohol, Tobacco, & Other Drugs (ATOD). And wherever possible, speak their language. For example, if an application asks you to describe your target population, parrot the words “target population” in your response.

Tell Your Story

Typical applications will provide narrative opportunities for you to share what it is that you do and why. With feeling, but without exaggeration, include the elements of a good story: the conflict, the protagonist, the main body, and the resolution.

The Conflict. Within the Needs Assessment, you have the opportunity to describe the challenges your students and families are facing—Poverty? Language barriers? Inadequate nutrition? Lack of internet access? Addiction? Dig deep enough to uncover the human element in your conflict—how do these challenges place students and families at risk? If one or more of these challenges is a priority for the organization or grant for which you are applying, highlight those elements in your story.   

The Protagonist. As you turn to your Program Design, be sure to address the “conflicts” Hulkyou described earlier. Why is your organization the best option for addressing those needs?  What are your strengths, resources, partnerships, or super-powers? Remember this scene from the Avengers? Loki: “I have an army.” Iron Man’s response: “We have a Hulk.”  In short—why would the audience believe you have the ability to overcome the conflicts described in your Needs Assessment?

Photo: Promotional image of the Hulk from the TV series Avengers Assemble. Art by Brandon Peterson.

The Main Body. Logically lead the audience through your Program’s Goals, Strategies, and Action Steps to the Anticipated Outcomes. What is the plan and how will the Protagonist accomplish it? What is the timeline? How does the budget align with the Plan?

The Resolution. This is where the story comes full circle with the audience. Think of Grandpa’s line from The Princess Bride: Princess Bride“She doesn’t get eaten by eels at this time…I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.” Don’t leave your reader wondering how the Anticipated Outcome resolves the specific needs identified in your initial assessment. How is the outcome relevant to them? Why should they invest in your story?

Photo: 20th Century Fox/Courtesy Everett Collection "The Princess Bride"

A Few Final Points:

  • Remember to be concise and organized in your responses.
  • Words can tell stories, but numbers give credibility and weight to the words. Throughout your narratives, use data to strengthen key points.
  • Ask co-workers for opinions on the clarity and cohesion of your narratives before submitting your final application; and
  • Always double-check those budget numbers! Because we all know, “Being broke is no joke!”

Good luck!

Lisa Brunson, MBA, serves as the Executive Director over Compliance for American Preparatory Schools. She works as the LEA's Title I Director and oversees the Title III, IVA, VI, and IX programs. Her team is responsible for policies and procedures, data analytics, and supplemental initiatives, including afterschool programs. Mrs. Brunson effectively manages millions in grant-funded programs annually, ensuring that they are implemented with fidelity.