Example of a Successful Grant Proposal with 5 Writing Techniques?

You may assume that the funder wants to hear about your fantastic project; you are wrong. The grant writing process is not about you and the program you seek to fund. The grant writing process is about how collaboration between yourself and the grantor will have a significant impact on society. Changing your narrative from writing about your project to writing about collaboration is an example of the type of language shifts necessary for successful grant writing.

Don’t make the mistake of focusing more on yourself and your project than you concentrate on the grantor and their priorities. The language that you use in your proposal must indicate a deep understanding of the grantor’s priorities and how you will address those goals. In addition to focusing on collaborating with the funder, throughout this chapter I will discuss different writing techniques that will aid you in writing successful proposals.

Language Registers

There are five distinct language registers, and choosing the right register for your proposal is important. The five registers are Frozen, Formal, Consultative, Casual, and Intimate language.


The Frozen language register is language that does not change. Think of language that you can repeat by heart; examples include the Miranda Rights, Wedding Vows, The Lord’s Prayer, The Pledge of Allegiance, or even the theme song to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. “In West Philadelphia, born and raised…”


The Formal language register is used when giving lectures, writing policies, and is the standard sentence syntax and word choice of work environments and schools. The Formal language register utilizes complete sentences.


The Consultative language register is Formal register when used in conversation; it is less intentional about word choice. For instance, I wrote this book in the Formal language register; however, if you talk about something you learned in this book with a friend later, then you will be using consultative language.


Casual Language

The Casual language register is a register used with friends. There is a much smaller vocabulary in the casual register, and it is much more dependent on nonverbal cues. The casual language uses incomplete sentence syntax.


The Intimate language register is between those that you are closest to, likely family or close friends. Intimate language is heavily dependent on nonverbals and utilizes a much smaller vocabulary.

When writing a grant proposal, you want to use the Formal language register. Make sure that your wording sets you up as an authority on the topic but at the same time, write plainly. Avoid the propensity for pontificating verbosely with an exaggerated vocabulary, or more plainly, avoid the temptation to add too many words or phrases that sound unnatural due to word choices that are too big. Below is an example of a short program description written in the different registers.


“You know, that place with the dogs.”


“Oh, are you talking about the animal shelter on Main Street? I heard they are looking for fosters for their puppies.”


“The Main Wag pet rescue matches volunteer fosters with dogs. It’s located in Louisville, KY.”


“The Main Wag Animal Rescue ensures that animals are loved and cared for through a process of matching committed volunteers with animals in need of homes within the seven countries surrounding Louisville, KY.”

The above example indicates the importance of using the Formal register in grant proposals, but remember formal doesn’t mean stuffy. This book, which utilizes the Formal language register, reads at roughly a ninth-grade reading level, which is intentional. That means that 80% of individuals will be able to read and understand the content without the language interfering with their comprehension.



Research is still an important activity in terms of your wording. In addition to the register, phrases will stand out negatively for a grantor if they conflict with their priorities or theories of change. For instance, if the grantor funds projects that support individuals with disabilities, you may want to pay attention to whether you should use Person-First or Identity-First language.

Person-First language advocates assert that wording should focus on the individual and not the diagnosis. Therefore, those proponents would state, “Canfield Inc. serves individuals with disabilities. Conversely, proponents of the Identity-First language argue that placing the diagnosis first claims power over it and empowers individuals. Those who prefer the Identity-First language state, “Canfield, Inc. serves disabled people.” The debate between Person-First vs. Identity-First language is meaningful in the disability community, and your proposal should reflect the preferred style of the grantor.

There are many types of identity-specific language choices, pronouns, race, & ethnicity, and how you describe individuals of varying socio-economic statuses represent a few decisions. Does your project help poor people or individuals living in poverty? There are also geographically focused phrases. Does your organization serve Metro-Detroit or Southeast Michigan? Additionally, language relates to technical terms, associations, and more. As we’ve discussed, Grantors choose their funding focus carefully; when writing winning proposals, you must ensure that your language matches the language preferred by the funder.

Research helps you determine the language preferences of the funder. Spend time on the grantor’s website, download the organization’s annual report, or follow the funder on social media to get an idea for the language you should use.

A glance at the website of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee gives you a lot of insightful information about their language preferences. First of all, on the top of the “Who We Serve” page, there is a colorful map of Tennessee, which includes this title: “The 1991 Divisions of Coverage by the Community Foundations of Tennessee.” It then lists four different Community Foundations, Greater Memphis, Middle Tennessee, Greater Chattanooga, & East Tennessee. From the one graphic, you can tell that your proposal must include the phrase “Middle Tennessee” when describing your geographical focus. This foundation spent a good deal of time determining their focus area and will likely want to ensure that your project fits within that scope.

Similarly, if you review the social media posts of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, you will see posts that describe exciting opportunities related to “Traditional Arts” and “Living Cultures.” Before writing a proposal to this funder, you need to understand their definitions for these phrases. If you assume the meaning incorrectly, it may negatively impact your proposal since these terms are important to the Alliance.

Lastly, ask trusted colleagues and friends about their experiences with grantors. If they received funds in the past, they might have valuable insight into the writing a grantor expects to see in proposals.

Tone of Voice

Tone of Voice

It is wise to also pay attention to the tone of voice used in your grant proposals. Many grant writers assume that they must use dramatic language to write in a compelling manner that will catch a grantor’s eye. However, there is a fine line between persuasive and exploitative styles. Compelling writing invites the reader to empathize with the project, language that uses exploitation techniques manipulates the reader into sympathizing with the project. The exploitative style indicates disrespect for the clients you serve and may raise questions with grantors because the style is overly dramatic. Below is an example of compelling vs. exploitative language.

Compelling Language:

Feeding America reports that “More than 37 million people struggle with hunger in the United States, including more than 11 million children.” Delta Soup Kitchen’s mission is to eradicate hunger in Delta County by providing healthy food and nutrition education for country residents. When families have enough to eat, parents go to work, and children go to school without the stress and distraction of hunger. Your support of Delta Soup Kitchen supports families and helps them to thrive.

Exploitative Language:

Imagine the eyes of a hungry child, wide with fear and desolation, trying to get through a day of school. Imagine a parent who gave away the last slice of bread to their child. How do they make it through work? Poor people don’t have enough to eat, whether it is due to a lack of budgeting skills or unemployment, and Delta Soup Kitchen is here to help. Delta Soup Kitchen feeds families when they can’t feed themselves. Your support allows Delta Soup Kitchen to provide sustenance to poor people in Delta County.

Both examples share the same information; people in Delta County are hungry, and your support of Delta Soup Kitchen helps families to eat. The difference between the two is that compelling language shares that information in a way that is evidence-based and that honors the dignity of the clients served. Dramatic descriptions don’t necessarily tell a story better.

Conversely, grant proposals should not read like statistical reports or monotonous corporate memos. Here is an example of writing the same statement with a lack of emotion:

Perfunctory Language:

The Delta Soup Kitchen offers lunches and dinners as well as nutrition classes to people who are hungry in Delta County. Hunger is bad; therefore Delta Soup Kitchen feeds people. Your support would help Delta Soup Kitchen to feed more people.

When writing grants, it is best to use plain language that is easy to understand and is compelling but not dramatic. You have an idea that you want to receive funding for, and you are an authority on that project. Don’t manipulate funders into believing you; just state your reasoning clearly and honestly.

Sometimes funders in a region will develop a collective preference for the tone of proposals. For instance, they may prefer more data and fewer stories or the opposite. An excellent way to get a feel for the funders in your area is to do your research.



In the following example, you run a small business, H & K Collinder, Inc. You plan to apply for a grant through a local corporate giving program. AJ Gives that offers funds for businesses with less than 20 employees and businesses within their first ten years of operations. The company, AJ Manufacturing, is a major employer in the area; they make plastics, and they have three giving priorities 1. Economic Development, 2. Innovation & 3. Diversity.


H & K Collinder INC. which was established by Hank and Kathy Collinder, makes bags out of used jeans for homeless people. We also make high-end briefcases and purses for working professionals. Our company employs poor people to make the bags and then we deliver the bags to people living on the streets.

Homeless people live on the streets without the comforts that you are I are used to. They sleep on the cold, hard, ground, and do not shower regularly which causes them to smell and other homeless people often steal their belongings.

H & K Collinder INC. makes bags out of used jeans that look unattractive so that other poor people won’t steal them. We also make attractive briefcases and purses for professionals. We sell our products in local stores. With each purchase of a briefcase or bag customers also cover the costs of a bag for a poor person. We then deliver the bags to homeless people in the area.

We request $150,000 to hire employees and purchase 6 industrial, multi-function, silicon edge, sewing machines with adjustable silicon tape channel to fit for 10mm to 15mm. These funds will help H & K Collinder, Inc. to achieve their business goals and expand.


H & K Collinder, Inc. (H & K) values AJ Manufacturing’s commitment to supporting the local community and seeks to build a relationship that will employ residents through an innovative social enterprise. H & K, a minority-owned small business, began in 2017 as an effort to sell high-quality briefcases and purses with an additional social benefit. H & K commits to uplifting diversity, equity, and inclusion in all its business practices.

Like, AJ Manufacturing, H & K seeks to support local economic development by employing individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless states that meaningful and sustainable employment is the key to creating and maintaining housing stability. And that connecting people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness with job training and placement programs is critical to ensure they have the tools they need for long-term stability and success. With the support of AJ Gives, H & K will employ five residents currently experiencing homelessness and will purchase the necessary equipment to aid in the production of merchandise, both high-end and bags intended for use by individuals experiencing homelessness.

H & K seeks $150,000 to achieve the above goals and to promote economic development, innovative practices, and a commitment to diversity. Through this exciting collaboration, AJ Manufacturing and H & K Collinder, Inc. will make a significant impact on the region.

Example A is an example of less successful writing. It focuses too heavily on the business and neglects to highlight the ways that collaboration between the two companies would benefit society. It also utilizes both exploitative and perfunctory language in ways that fail to make a compelling argument for funding. Lastly, the language register leans more towards a casual style with the use of “We” and “our.”

In contrast, Example B uses the Formal register, outlines the benefits of a collaboration between the companies, and illustrates an understanding of the grantor’s priorities. Example B uses compelling language that avoids manipulative techniques and removes boring content like the specific names of equipment.


Your project details are obviously essential to the success of your application. However, similar to the necessity of providing all the required documents, you don’t want your writing style to become the reason that you are denied. Writing for grant proposals is different than writing for purposes like corporate memos, novels, and emails. You must consider the grantor’s priorities and make the case that collaboration with your organization will be the best way for them to achieve their goals.

Additionally, using plain, compelling language in the formal register, and paying attention to your tone of voice are a few examples of the ways that you can write successful grant proposals. Luckily, these are techniques that are easy to incorporate into your writing style.