How Your Aunt Millie Can Make You a Better Grantwriter


There must be something in the air whenever people begin to write grant proposals.

Something that lands on your shoulder and hisses in your ear, “Don’t forget your proposal p’s and q’s!”  

If you obey this little voice, you will end up with a grant proposal that looks like a wall of text jammed with information about you using ten dollar words that read like a matter-of-fact summary of dry facts.


twitter-2Jargon is the pig latin of snobs – Tweet that!

Most people believe this is how to write a grant that will get funded.  

Why anyone would think that is beyond me but after reviewing grants for many years, this is what I see.  

What that kind of proposal is guaranteed to produce is what I call “panelist rage” which is quickly reached after the stage called “panelist fatigue”.  

Once that kicks in, you have a slim to none chance of regaining ground and getting that grant.

Here are 3 things you can do to win over a grant panelist:


1. Make it passionate

If you are putting together a grant proposal for a project you are passionate about, start by writing a short paragraph of 3-4 sentences that captures why you feel it is urgent, important and essential.  

Don’t feel like you have to start at the beginning of the list of questions you will have to answer.  

This paragraph will most likely become part of your project description but it will keep you on track as you write your proposal.  

I call this “pulling in the grant panelist”.

When I am looking for a book to read in a book store, one that I will actually pay money for, I have to be hooked by either the jacket blurb or the opening sentences.  

These are the places most people go to if they are curious to know more about the story and ultimately, buy the book.

As a grant panelist, I often find myself doing the same thing when I read a proposal.  

I look at the opening of the project description which usually sags with self consciousness, lack of urgency or sounds dry, factual and regrettably, forgettable.

Almost as if they were repeating this amongst themselves and not to a group of people who may have never heard of them.  

But if you imagine yourself telling your favorite Aunt Millie about your project, you will have to use your imagination to make it come to life for her.

You want her to feel the same passion that you have.

Write down what you would say to here even if what you are describing is not in chronological order because what is key here is to make Aunt Millie feel the urgency you feel.

Go ahead and write what you feel has to be said first, and you can fill in the stuff you should include later.


1. Make it about Aunt Millie

Fiction writers talk about creating an experience, or a dream state for the reader.  

In his book, The Art of Fiction, John Gardner talks about the “fictional dream” and how the writer must use the power of writing – language, plot and voice – to keep that reader in the narrative flow of that dream.  

Think of the person who can tell a long joke and keep everyone at the edge of their seat waiting for the punch line.

What she says, how she says it, the timing are all crucial elements to the success of the joke.  

This dream state, or the experience your project, has to become something Aunt Millie can imagine herself being in.

You will want her to sit up a little straighter, clutch her pearls, and say, “I can see myself there.”  

Leave space in your writing for Aunt Millie or a grant panelist to invest some of their imagination in to become part of your project.

Successful grantwriters use the same strategies as fiction writers to engage grant reviewers as they make their case.


3.Make it universal

Philanthropy is all about making the world a better place, one person at a time.

Even if the grant proposal you are writing is about creating a piece of art or writing music, the underlying intent is that work will contribute to making the world a more beautiful place for people.

Many artists will spend more time describing the art than the change the art will make.

One way I like to describe doing this better is this:  


Sell Paris, not the airbus – Tweet that!  

Focus on the destination, the dream of being in the City of Light, April in Paris, baguettes and cafes.  

Once you have hooked people into the emotional pull of that vision, how they get there is not as important.  

Tell me your project will open my eyes to a different way to see colors, or show me a new way to move through light and shadow.  

Change something for me that will make life better.

Artists have the power and the vision to do this.  

By keeping these three things in mind you will make a fan out of Aunt Millie and you will create a proposal a grant reviewer will love.


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Hoong Yee


About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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