What to Avoid When Writing a Proposal

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

You probably already know that there are certain elements that should be included in a proposal to a grant-making foundation such as a clear project description, evaluation methods and a budget.

But the best grant writers know that there are some things to avoid as well:

But the best grant writers know that there are some things to avoid as well:

  1. Overuse of words like “unique” (as in “this is a unique project”) or “crucial” (it is “crucial that we act now.”)
  2. The word “obvious” (as in “the problem is obvious.”) This sounds both insulting and lazy. On one hand, it says the reader should be smart enough to understand the problem without you spelling it out. On the other hand, it says you are too lazy to think through the problem.
  3. Unsubstantiated claims. If you really can prove that your ideas, products, services, etc. can impact “every American across the country,” great. If not, don’t make such a bold claim.
  4. Superlatives such as “best” or “most important.” Be proud of your work but don’t be boastful about it.
  5. Filler. Don’t include unnecessary information but do give the program officer enough so that he or she can take it to the board.
  6. Disparaging other organizations. While it’s important to distinguish your work from other groups, don’t do it at the cost of discrediting another nonprofit.
  7. Jargon and acronyms. Make sure your writing is easy to understand by the layman. Abbreviations are fine if they are spelled out initially.
  8. Unrequested materials. While you may think the CD you produced is a great example of your organization in action, it won’t be welcomed by the foundation unless it asks for it.
  9. A sense of entitlement. No one “owes” you a gift. No matter how carefully you have matched your interests with those of the foundation, there is still a chance you will be denied.

For 91 more tips like these, click here to reserve your copy of of 100 Tips, Techniques and Templates for Persuasive Proposal Writing.

We compiled this user-friendly booklet based on our experience of writing and editing thousands of grant proposals, and collaborating with grant seekers as well as grant makers. 100 Tips, Techniques and Templates for Persuasive Proposal Writing offers practical ideas on topics such as:

  • How to conduct research and find free resources
  • Meeting with foundation program officers
  • Writing proposals that get results
  • Words to avoid in grant proposals
  • How to follow up with foundations
  • And much more!

The booklet is available for immediate download in Adobe PDF format or can be ordered in print.




The team at A.C. Fitzgerald & Associates is ready to answer your questions.


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A.C. Fitzgerald, LLC
P.O. Box 321012
Alexandria, VA 22320



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