The Five 'C's of Successful Technical Grant Writing

In your journey toward building a Data Culture at your organization, you may find that you need to bring in a partner for a technical project like redoing your website, revamping your communications, or buy new equipment for your programs. The time has come to write a technical grant and request funding from either public or private sources to bring this technology to your organization. Whoever your audience, here are some tips to keep in mind to nail your technical proposal.

1. Concise

“If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter Technical Grant Proposal” – Mark Twain, if he was a technical grant writer

The goal of the technical grant is to communicate how you will use a given technology to increase the impact of your programs and help your stakeholders. Don’t let too many jargony words and the need to hit the max page numbers get in the way of this. Remember, grant readers are people too, and they will appreciate brevity that delivers the key points their RFP asked for.
That said – make sure you hitting all the requirements of the grant, including details like page numbers, attachments, word limits, and delivery method. You don’t want to lose because of a technicality!

2. Competent

Demonstrate that your organization has the requisite ability, knowledge, and skill to execute on the ideas in the grant. It can be helpful to seek external validation and quotes of support from relevant experts in the field to include in your supporting documentation, and highlight the relevant experience of your staff in their biographies.
If the technical investment is new to the organization, don’t overreach. Funders may be hesitant to move forward with ambitious technical projects if it is clear the organization has not done similar work before. This is not to say that you shouldn’t shoot for the moon, just that if you are, be sure you have all of the details and potential partners to do it (see Collaborative below).

3. Clear

“Jargon, jargon everywhere, but not a drop to read.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge, if he was a technical grant writer

It is tempting to throw out a web of technical terms to prove your competence in the topic. Instead, define key terms that are critical to comprehension and use plain english to describe the exact outcomes the technology will enable. This will make dry topics like CMS migrations, MySQL integrations to Salesforce, and advanced web analytics via GTM more tangible to grant readers.
Build from a standard outline and include the key areas that the funder is looking for rather than burying this all in one section.

4. Creative

Writing about technology and data tends to activate the cold, cognitive, gear-grinding part of our brains. “Quick, what’s 33% of 5,000, now write me a check for this grant” is not going to capture hearts and minds. The phrase is ‘capturing hearts AND minds’ for a reason because it takes both to make a compelling proposal.
Once you explain the more technical aspects of the technology, tell the story of what the benefits of the work will look like. Who’s life will be different, how many more stakeholders will be effectively reached as a result, what does this look like on the ground? It doesn’t take much to turn a grant about advanced web analytics integration into a story about how it will help you increase HIV awareness in low-income suburban areas. You might also include capacity building and talk about the lasting effect this project will have on your staff’s ability to tackle similar projects in the future. Remember that behind the numbers and stats are real people and by weaving specific anecdotes into the narrative you activate emotional triggers to make your proposal even more compelling.

5. Collaborative

Find the experts in the field to see how they are using the given technology you are exploring. It may be the case that there is a way to partner, borrow, or collaborate on the technology or at least cite them as a successful use case that you are modeling.
Consider using a RFI – request for information – to get technical firms to submit expected costs, timelines and details for a potential project. Vendors that have expertise in the type of technology you are looking to implement often have proposal templates that can compliment a grant proposal very nicely. Be clear that the project will still be publicly bid to both the vendor and funder if necessary. Use our RFP generator – SNORKL – to create this kind of request and find trusted vendors that can help in this process.
And don’t forget, this is also a collaboration between your organization and the funder. Your proposal is a chance to persuade them that your work will help them carry out their mission. So make sure you are knowledgeable about the funder’s current priorities (are they putting a new emphasis on data-driven strategies? Is their mission tied to a specific audience that you have access to?) and speak to those priorities in your proposal.

Where to Find Nonprofit Technology Grants

Funding for nonprofits more generally, including funding for technical projects, falls into two buckets: public and private. Public grants (government grants) are often given for specific federal, state, or local initiatives and require strict adherence to the program that is described in the RFP. Private funding includes grants from foundations, individual donors, and corporate sponsors and can often be used in a more flexible way.

Government / Public Funding Sources

  • Local discretionary funds – these are general pots of money that your local representatives can allocate to nonprofits as they choose based on their priorities. This guide explains the process for the New York City Council; do a search for “discretionary funding [your city name]” to learn more about the process in your area.
  • Local cultural organization funding – many local governments have funding available for cultural or community-based organizations. New York City’s Cultural Development Fund, for example, gives out small grants to over 900 arts and cultural organizations each year.
  • Federal technology grants – This searchable site lists all active and future federal grants. Try searching for “digital.

Foundation / Public Funding Sources

Bonus list of tech grants and resources.

More Grant Writing Resources

Ten Simple Rules for Getting Grants, and Network for Good offers resources that focus mostly on individual and peer fundraising.