The Development Source

Why are Great Grant Proposal Win Themes Important?

A good grant proposal tells a compelling story, and to tell a compelling story you must have strong win themes because they help reviewers understand why you can provide the best solution to the problem identified in the grant guidelines.

One of the wisest people on the subject of developing strong win themes is Chris Simmons, the founder and Principal of Rainmakerz Consulting.  I strongly recommend that proposal professionals read his five-part series on “How to Create Great Proposal Themes” at  Although Simmons is providing advice to businesses, his advice also applies to nonprofit organizations applying for grants.

To develop strong win themes, you must provide differentiators, or proof that sets you apart from the competition and demonstrates to reviewers that your proposed solution is likely to work.  Proposals should include no more than several win themes.  Anything more is too difficult for reviewers to remember.

There are two good reasons to spend time developing your win themes.  First, it will provide you with a framework for developing your grant proposal.  And second, it will help focus reviewers on the main points of your argument, story, and information that comprise your proposal.  In other words, win themes are good for you and good for reviewers. 

Win themes are not mindless sales slogans that we see in advertising.  They are carefully developed statements that contain (1) a central idea that is of benefit to your funder; and (2) proof.  They help reviewers answer the question:  Why should we select you?  As Simmons points out, “well-written themes provide clear and convincing reasons for capturing the attention (and ultimately the imagination) of evaluators.”

To start creating good win themes, take these steps:

  • List the funder’s main issues.
  • List a feature of your solution that will address each funder’s issue.
  • Define the issue concrete and specifically.
  • Try to quantify the benefit.
  • Draft a proposal theme statement that links the features and benefits to the funder issue.

Here are some examples of good proposal themes that follow this approach:

Over the past three years, our organization has provided consumers with reliable, effective, and safe family planning services at less than $5 US dollars per service, the least expensive among major family planning organizations.

Our drug-free coalition has mobilized over 150 community- and faith-based organizations to develop local drug-free programs that have been cited by the US Department of Education for their “effectiveness in reducing drug use among teens.”

Our EPA grant training program at 40 historically black colleges and universities will result in at least 7 institutions applying for EPA education grants over the next year.

Good win themes are the scaffolding for competitive proposals.  Take the time to develop them at the beginning of your proposal development process and you will produce better grant proposals.

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