How to Tell Your Story in a Grant Application

How to Tell Your Story in a Grant Application

Posted by Rachel Quednau, With 0 Comments, Category: Tips and Ideas, Tags: , , , ,

Our Basic Human Needs grant applications are due in two months, so now is a great time to talk about what makes a compelling grant application; namely, telling the story of your organization in an informative and values-driven manner. To facilitate this, our grant applications always require the submission of one to three “vignettes” or short stories that demonstrate the life-changing effect that your program has on its guests and volunteers. The facts, mission statement and budget you submit are, of course, essential to a grant-maker evaluating your program, but the vignette puts a face to all of that. As a bonus, it’s also something that can often be reused in grant applications to other foundations. So, how do you go about writing one of these vignettes? Here are some tips from our office, which reads approximately 200 vignettes every year:

  1. Read examples first.  We just posted a document with examples of well-written vignettes here. Read it through to get an idea of what we’re looking for.
  2. Ask your guests for their stories. Take the time to sit down with your program’s guests and find out where they’re coming from. You’d be surprised how many people would love the opportunity to share about their life experiences.
  3. Track a guest’s progress throughout the year. Starting on their first day, get to know new students in your after school program or new families at your food pantry, and pay attention to the ways in which your program helps them to grow and succeed throughout the year.
  4. Enlist the help of your staff or other volunteers. You, the grant writer, might spend most of your time looking at big-picture programmatic needs or fundraising, but other volunteers and staff are on the ground, working with program participants every week. They’re sure to have insight on powerful narratives that have taken place in your program and will help you in telling the story of your organization. Just ask them.
  5. Take your time while writing. The vignette portion of our application comes near the very end. Some applicants tend to rush through this part because they’ve already put so much time and effort into the narrative and the budget. Don’t make that mistake! The vignette is a vital portion of your application and should be given sufficient thought, as well as editing, for maximum success.
  6. Evoke emotion. Help your readers get a feeling for the situation. They’re more likely to be persuaded by your application if they can empathize with its characters.
  7. Don’t use real names. This might seem like a no-brainer but remember, it’s important to protect the privacy of your guests by changing their names in any publications unless you have express permission from them.
  8. Ask for feedback. Get a friend or colleague to review your work before you submit it (especially someone with writing or development experience). Additionally Episcopal Charities’ Director of Programs is always available to give feedback or review an application draft, provided that it is submitted at least two weeks before the grant deadline. You can contact her at or 212-316-7426 .

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