The Development Source

What Reviewers Do and Do Not Want to Read in your Grant Proposals

As Tom Searcy of Inc. points out in his recent articles, your job is to win the buyer’s attention and get the company’s business.  This is true whether you are a salesperson or a Proposal Manager of a nonprofit organization. 

 Searcy recommends that you can get the customer’s attention and respect by providing insight and advice that is valued.  Below are Searcy’s recommendations about what you should tell and not tell potential customers.  Although he is discussing sales, his advice equally applies to grant proposals.

There are five things potential customers want to hear:

  • Market position.  What is happening in the market (federal, state, and local) of your customer?
  • What’s next?  What developments will affect the customer in the near future?
  • Best practices.  Tell your potential customer the best practices inside your field.
  • Trend and patterns.  Government agencies are very interested in trends and patterns in regulations, technology, the delivery of services, and other developments.
  • Points of differentiation.  Every government agency thinks that it is different and wants to know how your specialized solution is tailored to its needs.

In a proposal, one of your major challenges is to turn a sales pitch into something more substantial.  Provide good advice and show how you can make your customer more effective.

There also are four ways to bore potential customers by discussing things they do not want to hear too much:

  • Your organization’s history.  Keep it brief.  It only matters to you.
  • Lists.  Too many lists of awards, equipment, locations, or anything else is never very interesting.
  • Years of combined experience.  Focus on skills and experience instead.
  • What makes you different.  If you focus on what makes you different, you are ignoring the customer’s needs.  Focus instead on what makes your solution different.

In your grant proposals, take this approach.  Ask a key question early on and use the proposal to answer it.  Declare your benefits to the customer early and often.  And focus on the outcome.  Start with the end in mind.  How will you help the customer?  This should be the major focus of your proposal.

Grant proposals are sales documents.  Focus your attention on the customer front and center – provide them with evidence, information, and a solution that shows you can help them achieve their mission more effectively.  This will improve your proposals.


Your grant proposal should not be about your organization.  It should be about offering a compelling solution to the customer’s problem.



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