Know your Audience – Grant Writing Tips

I know I need to write to an audience, but who are they?

I struggled with the placement of this chapter as it could easily sit in the writing part of the book. I settled with Research because an understanding of this section flows on to Project Management and Project Planning. Let me explain.

When writing your grant, consider your audience, they are important It is an easy mistake to get wrapped up in the process and the passion of a con­cept. It is also easy to miss the point on what you want as opposed to what the funder wants.

All funders have an agenda and they need an important reason to pan with their cash. Carrying out research to understand the reason and the driver of the funder’s mind-set will give you an idea of who you are pitching to. And it is a pitch. It is why your organization deserves the cash over and above what may be a significant pool of applicants.

Governments, for example, are tasked with providing a multitude of services and will look at supporting their strategic goals and current agen­das. The audience you write to is pivotal to your sanity as a writer. We speak of an audience, but any writer knows this is incorrect The audience must be considered as one person who embodies the attitudes, emotions and fears of the group you are writing for. Sadly, for many of us in this employ, our audi­ence has been determined internally.

A typical organization has a process for review and sign-off. You may have project managers, strategic managers and a CEO involved in that process. Each will have their writing peculiarities and perceived require­ments for the writing process. They may be so self-interested or so organizationally focused and stuck in the process of the project that they forget who it is that you are writing for – and that entity is the funder, your audience.

It is your job as the writer to work with the project group in determining your audience. It is not easy, but it will impede your progress if you fail in this task. An example is as follows: Your CEO who is strategic, is delegated with signing off on your grant application. You know they will proofread for every missing apostrophe and every mistake, we all miss those sometimes and we may make grammar faux pas. You have an office-based academic who has developed the best and most innovative program. To add some personal conflict, you have a group of individuals about to lose their service provision and the staff who work on the project, face imminent redundancy. Sound familiar?

So, who is your audience?

So, who is your audience?

It is a scenario we all dread. We sit at our computer frozen, cautious in every key stroke trying to please them all. When we get a draft together and attach it to the email, we wait for the critical feedback to come in and add to our dread. Each person reads from their perspective and takes the flow bit by bit out of the passion you tried to pass onto your audience.

Yes, I said audience. Not them (your work colleagues).

Each member of the applicant organization has a role, and they need to understand that. The internal reviewer’s viewpoint is valid, but the reviewer is not the grant writer. What they need to understand is that the real audience is the funder. The funder is the organization who wants to see a project that gives them what they want, something new and innovative. They also want someone who will sort out an issue that keeps them awake at night

It is one person who embodies the funder. This person can be a person you know or a fictitious person. Whoever you chose, they personify the funder for you. All the internal players in your organization are probably passionate about the features of what they work on. They need to have the benefits squeezed out of them. Here is an example:

Me: At Grants Information, we post current information on grants.

Funder: Great, what’s in it for me?

Me: 5000 plus people accessing grants information daily.

Funder: Good for you. What’s in it for me?

Me: Grants Information receives no funding. We provide free informa­tion to 5000 organizational staff which allows them to build capacity and fund their service to assist the communities they serve. Can you give us a $ 1 million to upgrade to provide a portal and get the message out to a gazil­lion people?

OK, so the above is a tongue in cheek response. It does show what the funder is seeking. For a $ 1 million grant, the funder’s brand/mission gets to a gazillion people. For a $ 1 million grant, a gazillion grant writers don’t miss out on funding, and the cascade effect flows on to a gazillion communities and ten gazillion people. The funder cares about the benefit offered. The features of how Grants Information would offer such benefits are then pre­sented later in the funding application.

Let’s look at the funders and what they might require. Commercial fun­ders will want a more straightforward ‘what’s in it for me’ approach. They will want their services to align with their corporate brand and they will at least want to show their community participation and stewardship.

Academic funders require a different approach. There is an expectation that you write to the standard required in an academic paper. They are usually funding research and expect a professional approach.

Individual philanthropists tend to have a personal agenda. It may be a cause close to their heart or a lifetime bequest based on a love in their life. The fund may be run by them or for them. Regardless, the passion behind their cause is evident

Philanthropic organizations are a mix of the individual and the commer­cial, under separate foundations, with predetermined target groups and ac­tivities. They are often oversubscribed and may require the building up of a more personal, networked approach before a formal application is made.

Community groups like the Lions, Rotary and similar organizations are more grassroots in nature and more responsive. They know their commu­nity, they want to help them and they are hands on. These groups like to see their funding in action and will often support the projects by providing volunteers.

So, who is your audience?

What is clear is the need to understand your audience. Look into what makes the audience tick. Look at the funder’s corporate information. If pos­sible, do some relationship networking with them, so that your application is not a surprise. When writing to funders make it clear that you understand their aims and objectives. Respect their needs and the work they do to sup­port organizations. Know their brands and their genesis. Don’t waste their time by applying for something that does not meet their eligibility criteria.

Targeting your audience is a difficult part of the writing process. From your internal project team, set the guidelines up front, seek support, not criticism, and find a way to utilize the internal skill sets to strengthen the de­velopment of the project as well as throughout the application process.

Always remember, if the internal and external audience shares the same passion, you are writing to the converted. With the right networking and work, you will be colleagues and the impetus to support and fund you will be higher.