By Collin Lessing, JVA Consulting

It’s difficult to believe we are already in the second month of 2013. For many organizations, this means you have already begun to get your first grant proposals of the year out the door. Whether you’re already off to a sprinter’s pace, or you’re still reworking your attachments and boilerplates, there are always tips to consider that can make your grants more competitive.

As part of our training offerings at JVA, we host panels of funders who offer advice to grant-seekers on what funders love to see in grant proposals, as well as what they might not enjoy so much. Here are a few recent tips from our panels:

Funding is all about “building relationships”

There is an appreciation for organizations that are persistent in their attempts to better their grant writing skills and their applications. Applicants who call between grant cycles are more likely to get in-depth and personalized feedback from funders who accept calls. Foundations are required by IRS standards to give away at least five percent of assets each year. Since foundations are required to give away money, they are as dependent on nonprofits as nonprofits are on them. Many funders recommend that you call the foundation so you can help each other through the process of determining if your organization and their foundation are a good match.

Common mistakes on financials
Financials tell a story, so your proposal should include any information that helps make that story easier to understand to somebody who’s not familiar with it. If there’s a discrepancy that stands out, it can be helpful to have information upfront that explains why the numbers appear the way they do. If there is no information to explain a discrepancy, it might appear that you’re trying to hide it.

Outcomes, outputs and changing the world

Funders want to know that you have a good understanding of your fit in the social issue landscape in which you seek funding. They are looking for narrative that explicitly focuses on how you are impactful in a way that uniquely chips away at a specific social issue. Talk about the context of your social issue and why it is important that YOU are the one working on it. Communicate your current impact in a confident manner (no matter how small), and how your corner of the world is positively changed by what you do. Address how your efforts and successes can be scaled up with increased funds. Funders are looking for evidence that you have an understanding of evaluation practice. Be sure to talk about outputs and outcomes of your programming, and the relationship between the two.

Funders’ pet peeves
Funders on our panels have mentioned that incomplete proposals are a pet peeve. Whether it’s questions answered with “N/A” or major pieces of the proposal missing, incomplete proposals are a burden to funders, and they severely slow down their review process.

Panel on state and federal budgets for 2013 takes place on February 21. If you are interested in learning how budgets at the state and federal levels might effect funding in 2013, come listen to local congressional leaders Becca Montgomery, State Policy Director for Senator Michael Bennet, and Morris Price, District Director for Representative Diana DeGette, discuss Senator Bennet’s and Representative DeGette’s priorities for the new year. They’ll be joined by JVA grant writing experts Laura Inscho and Lisa Cirincione, who have been following the sequester and the federal budget situation. This will be a great opportunity to ask the experts how the state and federal financial situations will impact your nonprofit or agency.