The Development Source

How to Describe your Organization in a Grant Proposal

 Let’s say I am at a party and introduce myself to one of the guests.  He asks me what I do.  “I’m a sales representative for a company that makes prosthetic devices,” I respond.  “Oh,” he responds.  “Do you enjoy your work?”  “Yes,” I reply.  “It’s very exciting.  Last week, we closed a billion-dollar deal with a major pharmaceutical company.”  “That’s great, congratulations,” the guest responds.  Without bragging or appearing immodest, I have made a good impression.

Now suppose you use the strategy that many organizations employ when they describe themselves in grant proposals.  When the guest asks me what I do, I reply:  “I’m a results-oriented, innovative, 24/7, dynamic sales representative who gets things done for my company.”  Now I sound like a braggart and a caricature of a nonprofit Web site.  Worse, I have not told the guest really anything about myself and have made a really bad impression.

 Unfortunately, this is how many grant proposals read.  They use jargon, clichés, and empty boasting to describe their history, capabilities, and commitment.  The inevitable result is laughter and the erosion of trust on the part of reviewers.

 Avoid using these terms to describe your organization: 

  • Innovative.
  • World-class.
  • 24/7.
  • Results oriented.
  • Dynamic.
  • Best-in-class.
  • Best practices.
  • Best of breed.
  • Unique.
  • Industry leader. 
  • Thought leader.

 These make a bad first impression.  Worse, they make you sound like a circus barker.

 Instead, use the proposal to tell stories about your organization:

  • Who I Am Stories.  How does your organization earn trust and respect? 
  • Teaching Stories.  What lessons have your organization’s experiences taught you?
  • Vision Stories.  What is your vision for the future?
  • Values-in-Action Stories.  What actions of your organization typify its values?
  • I-Know-What-You Are-Thinking Stories.  What stories did you tell that will dispel the objections they might have about your organization?

The way we describe ourselves in grant proposals is very important.  It can either help establish competence, trust, and respect or the opposite.  Don’t brag.  Instead, tell convincing stories about your organization that demonstrates your skills, ability, and experience.

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