Grant Applications: Telling Your Library’s Story

April 5, 2018 – AWE Learning Staff

One of the most important components of writing a grant application is how you tell your story. This includes describing the project you are looking to get funding for, but also giving additional details, such as background information on your library, how the program you are seeking funding for will impact the community, your long term goals, and more. AWE Learning’s Grant Writer has provided some suggestions to consider when crafting your library’s story.

How can I increase my chances of my project/program being considered for funding?

It is important to understand that funding is never guaranteed and it comes down to which way the wind blows for the individual or group reading your funding submission. That being said, there are ways to sweeten the deal, and that involves having a compelling story to tell. A funder wants to see that your library serves a need in your community and casts a wide net. Foundations want something that is not only aligned with their focus, but something that illustrates how their investment will make an impact. Knowing your library’s story is very important; not only does it set the scene for the funder reading your proposal, but it identifies the library’s role in the community.

What are the things I should think about when writing my grants narrative? Are there things that funders specifically look for?

The requirements for submitting a grant application can vary depending on the foundation. A great story is the best starting point. A funder wants to learn about your library, including the purpose you serve to your community and most importantly the needs of your community and how you plan to approach them.  These items should be addressed up front. There are items that a funder will need to see that gives them more faith in your ability to deliver. Showing that you are in good financial standing is a strong asset as it gives the foundation an increased level of confidence that you can maintain a project, regardless of how much funding they award you.

What does a library do when they don’t have any programmatic purposes for the funding request? Will a funder give money towards operating expenses or the purchase of furniture and technology?

Most funders will not give money for what are referred to as “capital improvements”(i.e. buying furniture or computers for a library). You will be more successful if you can think of how these items can be incorporated into a specific program at the library.

Think ahead. What are the goals of this project; measurable goals, and long-term and short-term goals? Measurable goals are items you can track and report. If you are looking to increase book circulation in your library, you can track this by the system used to check out books.  If you are looking to increase test scores in the children that come to your library, that is a long term goal. However, start thinking about how you will measure this. Will you be in communication with the local schools? Or, will you provide formative and summative assessments at the library? Measurable goals are most important because those are the ones you will have to report to the foundation if you receive funding to track the success of your project. Since these reports are often asked for within 6 – 12 months, it is vital to have the ability to retrieve this quantitative data within this time frame.

I’ve heard people mention the importance of being able to communicate my library’s “elevator pitch.” What does that mean?

An elevator pitch is an old sales technique, one based on the premise that if a salesman stepped on an elevator and met a stranger, the salesman needed to convey his product message as concisely as possible before the stranger got off of the elevator. Comparing this to the compilation of your grant narrative, you have 2 – 3 minutes to sell the merits of your programs or services. Be sure the information you provide is attention grabbing! If you are active on Twitter, your tweets are limited to a maximum amount of characters; therefore, you must get your point across and include the key points within these parameters. This is comparable to how journalists write articles; they are told to deliver the most important information up front to grab the reader’s attention, so they are intrigued to read more.

When crafting your library’s elevator pitch, think about the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of your project or program. Sell only the most important details. This is also a great way to keep your narrative confined when writing a full proposal; it shows you aren’t wasting time with unnecessary information and details.

For more tips on writing your grant applications, be sure to read our previous Grants 101 Blog posts: Searching for Grant Opportunities, Completing the Grant Application, Post Application Submission.

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