How are you telling your story?

A grant proposal is the story of your agency and the people you serve. What story are you telling? Is it the whole story? What makes some stories/proposals more compelling than others? Of all the worthy organizations competing for grant funds, how can you make your proposals resonate with funders?

As a grant writer, consultant and reviewer for federal grant requests, I have found that some of the most compelling proposals include the following three elements:

  • Demonstrate organizational cohesiveness – a technically strong proposal shows alignment between community need, services, staffing, partnerships and data/financial management capacity.
  • Use data to support the argument – a convincing proposal shows the number of people affected by the issue, documents their characteristics, defines how people use the services, and delineates how the proposed intervention will move the issue forward with positive outcomes.
  • Highlight the human element – a compelling proposal interweaves the story of technical competency and community outcomes with personal narratives from the clients, the staff and others impacted by the program to create emotional resonance that inspires people to action.

Of course, storytelling is nothing new, but the advent of social media and technology advances has provided new opportunities to use stories to increase fundraising and improve social impact in the nonprofit sector. I recently learned about a project launched by Rockefeller Foundation to consider the role that digital technology can play in elevating the practice of storytelling to improve the well-being of to improve the well-being of people, places and ideas around the world. Their new initiative, Hatch, offers access to a suite of tools and a growing community of storytellers to help agencies develop strategic and compelling stories to drive social impact. Many other foundations supporting innovative initiatives, such as The Case Foundation, are leveraging digital storytelling and social media to empower and engage citizens. A host of smaller organizations, such as I’mtellinya! in Philadelphia, are helping nonprofits produce digital stories that show their missions in action – how people feel about the way their lives have been changed.

Digital storytelling can foster new support for nonprofits and excerpts from these stories can strengthen grant proposals. As noted by the Rockefeller Foundation, “a strategically crafted story can … help people become aware of the need, care about the cause, understand the problem and solution, feel a sense of urgency to act, and know how they can help.”