I recently reviewed a grant drafted for a family foundation focused on a particular disease. As I began reading through the application, it occurred to me that I did not understand who the audience was for the grant, and that I could not provide any useful feedback until I had a better understanding.
But, figuring I'd read through the proposal first, I found the introductory summary very clear and understandable and the project description extremely technical. I was lost in the first paragraph. It felt as though the two parts were written for different audiences, and indeed they were.
As I started researching the sponsor, I discovered the process they used to review and fund grants was first to send them through a technical review where experts in the field assessed the science and viability of the project, and then they selected a smaller number to pass along to the board to determine which projects to fund. The board was composed of family members of the founder who had lost a loved one to the disease that their foundation was dedicated to curing.
Armed with this information, I took another look at the proposal. It now made perfect sense that the summary and project description were on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of how complicated they were. But, I noticed in the summary, which the board of family members would presumably use to determine whether the project was funded, spent a large amount of real estate on describing the disease and how it worked.
I tried to put myself in the shoes of the family/board member who had lost someone to the disease as well as someone who has reviewed a multitude of proposals on the disease. I probably would understand the disease at least at the basic level it was being described in the proposal so it might not be necessary to spend so much time on. I thought what might be more compelling for me would be to describe the impact of the disease - how many people are affected by it? Or, perhaps sharing a personal interest story of someone living with the disease that would be easily relatable to someone else either living with the disease or that has had a loved one living with the disease.
So, I use this example to reaffirm how essential knowing your sponsor is to writing a good grant. You could be the most accomplished persuasive writer in the world, but if you don't understand who you're talking to and what they will do with your writing (i.e., the review process), you're trying to hit a target blind-folded.
Know thy audience and thy purpose are truly the most important rules of good grant writing.
Applying to Funding from Family Foundations: Results of a New Survey at Guidestar
How to Make a Grant Proposal to a Small Family Foundation by Joanne Fritz