Grant Writing Best Practices

The next best thing to direct fundraising is grant writing. While not as reliable as direct fundraising, applying for grants can supply enough money to complete your digitization project. Grants are not an easy solution to your fundraising goals. Writing grants can be a time consuming and difficult task that does not guarantee funding. Remember that direct fundraising will be the most efficient use of your time and effort and can easily be combined with grant applications.

Foundations primarily give directly to nonprofits. It is extremely unlikely that an individual grant could apply for your digitization project. If you are an individual looking to find a grant for your digitization project, approach your local library, museum, historical society, or similar organization as a volunteer and see if they would be willing to sponsor your grant. At this time the Oregon Digital Newspaper Program cannot directly sponsor grant applications.

The Basics

Grant writing is putting a project in context and selling it. With your digitization project think about why you are passionate about making it happen and aim to convince a person reading your grant to feel the same way. Much like a job application, you are convincing someone to give you money based on the merits of your work. In this case, the work being the digitization of historic Oregon newspapers.

Finding a Grant

One of the most difficult parts of grant writing is finding an appropriate grant to apply for. We have provided some resources on a few grants you could apply for, but in your own search, make sure to find grants that are appropriate for a digitization project. Helpful keywords to use include: historic preservation, newspapers, libraries, and genealogy.

The steps provided here will assist you with finding grants that are likely to fund newspaper digitization. Your time will likely be best served by focusing on Oregon-based private organizations. Foundations and other grant making organizations are typically concerned with serving the communities they exist in. Also private organizations will have simpler application processes and are more interested in smaller grants, compared with government and large foundation grants.

The next step is ensuring that the organization is interested in a digitization project. You can find out what other grants they have given, either using a site like GuideStar or The Foundation Center, or giving them a call. Many smaller foundations don’t have up to date websites so don’t be discouraged if you can’t find a good website for a grant making organization. You can always contact a foundation and ask what they are interested in funding. Foundations want people to contact them to limit the number of bad or irrelevant grant applications they will receive. Finally, make sure that the organization distributes grants with the dollar amount you are looking for. What a foundation states as the limits of its funding are final and not up for negotiation.

For local newspapers, look for organizations that only fund projects in that county or town. These grant makers could be interested in digitizing their local historical newspaper for their community to easily access.

Foundations will usually clearly state what they are interested in funding. Read carefully, it will save you time and better your chances of getting your grant approved.

Using the free features of sites like GuideStar can get you a long way in discovering Oregon foundations. The public computer stations at the University of Oregon Libraries offer access to more robust information on possible grant makers through The Foundation Center database. Check with your local library, as well, to see if they have subscriptions to GuideStar or The Foundation Center.

Key Things to Remember When Writing a Grant

  • What’s the problem and what is the solution? (Sell both!)
  • How will this benefit the community, and what is the need?
  • What happens if no action is taken?
  • Build on the success of others. Look on the blog for stories about papers that have been digitized.

The Most Important Part of Grant Writing

Follow the directions! While this may seem like an obvious part of grant writing, it is the most crucial and easiest to way to disqualify your application. Depending on your grant, the grant maker may be getting dozens, to hundreds, if not thousands of applications. DON’T GIVE THE GRANT MAKER AN EXCUSE TO THROW AWAY YOUR APPLICATION. Many individuals and organizations have lost major grants due to not properly following the instructions to a letter. There are rarely second chances in grant applications.

The instructions provided are meant to make the work of the grant maker easier and for you to be clear about what your project is and how the funds will be used. Make sure to follow them.

How Will Your Grant Stand Out?

Your job in grant writing is to sell the project, much like a job cover letter. Discussing any other fundraising you have done will be notable and demonstrate that the project has broader community support. Try to add as much passion, and the level of impact, as possible throughout the application. Your digitization project is important, sell it! And the smaller the grant, the more likely it is to get funded.

Notes and Tips:

  • Make sure to have multiple people read over the final version for grammar and spelling corrections. Grant makers will either throw away or take off points in their scoring if the document has errors. Also use another set of eyes to double check you followed the directions.
  • Don’t be sneaky with formatting to add more text. Make sure your document follows all the formatting instructions. Grants have been rejected for having the wrong sized margins!
  • While you can seek a grant to fully fund a project, grant makers are more likely to fund projects that are already partially funded. This allows the grant maker to stretch their funds further and encourages them to the fact that the community already supports the project.
  • Balance being concise and detailed. Your grant reader has limited time to read your grant, but need to fully understand the project in the time they have to read it. Aim to explain the project as succinctly and effectively as possible.
  • Ask the grant maker if you have any questions by calling, emailing, etc. They want good applications!
  • If they ask for an abstract, this could be the only part they read. Write the abstract after finishing the entire application and refer to other resources for writing a successful grant abstract. Also see an example abstract here
  • Assume the reader has no knowledge of the history, impact, or purpose of your project. Explain everything and use the Historic Oregon Newspapers site, ODNP blog, and fundraising resource page to detail as much information as possible.

Further Reading:

The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need, Ellen Karsh and Arlen Sue Fox, Fourth Edition, Basic Books, New York, 2014

University of Oregon Libraries Grant Guide:

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