The secret recipe for the written word

DesJean Jones, OIC

Whether you are responding in writing to a grant opportunity or a request for proposal, how you write your response can make or break that opportunity.

Often times when facing a list of questions and blank spaces for answers, people start to overthink it or simply overdo it. But when it comes to telling your story in writing, you don’t want to overthink or overdo it.

Try these tips, which I like to call my secret recipe for the written word.

Answer the question being asked.

This one sounds ridiculously simple, but it’s true. How often have you read something in print—a brochure, postcard, or something else—and they’re telling you everything expect the one thing you actually want to know. If you’re writing a grant proposal or responding to an RFP, don’t try to stuff extra details into every question. Answer the question being asked.

Know what’s for sale.

When we submitted our grant proposal for a quarter million dollars, we knew exactly what was for sale: funding that would help us help more people. Funding from an organization that wanted to see positive change in adult education. We knew what was for sale, and we spoke directly to that.

Speak (or write) as a person who is answering an outsider.

When responding to a proposal, you should know your audience, but you also shouldn’t assume what they know. Write your answers (or tell your story) as though the person you’re speaking to doesn’t know much about your organization or your industry. Make sure you include all the details so someone without background knowledge can still understand.

Put yourself in the seat of the audience.

What does your audience really want to know? What do they need to know? How do they want to feel? At OIC, we put ourselves in the seat of our audience every day.

If I were 60 years old and had left high school to take care of family and was now finally coming back to finish… what would I need? I think I’d need them to make me feel like my entire life experience had purpose and that it wasn’t a waste just because I didn’t finish high school. A business proposal audience is a little different perhaps, but it’s still important to put yourself in their seat.

Easy-to-read goes a long way.

When we accepted the quarter million dollar grant, the funders said to us, “Thank you for writing a proposal that was easy to read.” If you’re trying to cram everything into one proposal and add extra details to every question and make sure you’re answering an outsider, you can end up with answers that are pretty lengthy.

There’s also the tendency to use flowery language and fancy words, but really, it just needs to be easy to read and understand.

Opportunity exists in the most unlikely places. Do the research.

You may think your work doesn’t apply for any sort of grant funding, but maybe it does. Or maybe the state or federal government needs the widget that your company sells, and there’s a proposal process out there for it.

If you haven’t explored that for your business, you might think about it. Or, consider different partnerships instead of the standard companies you’ve done business with. Think about the untapped markets you’re not reaching yet, and then go after them.

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