The 3 Top Tips For Telling Your Story So Funders Listen

The Top 3 Tips For Telling Your Story So Funders Listen

I’m that guy you don’t want to watch movies with very often (or at all). Especially the typical Hollywood productions that make their way to local theatres. Why? I always know the ending. I try not to say anything out loud, or ruin the experience for others (except for maybe my wife… I do find that funny). Even though I love being surprised, which is why I’m pretty enthralled with a show like Game of Thrones (“I never saw that coming”), it just doesn’t happen often enough.

So What Do Stories Have To Do With Grant Writing?

How do stories and grants connect? At GrantsEdge, we believe that stories are a vital part of every grant application. Tell your story well, and a funder is more likely to connect with your idea, and more likely to say “yes” to your application. Bore them with a proposal that reads like all the others and you may end up back at the drawing board looking for money from a different funder.

If you can begin to include great storytelling in your grant proposals, funders will take notice, and your success rate will begin to increase.

Stories Have A Typical Formula

Before you go thinking I have some kind of special gift to be able to guess the outcome of a story, I don’t. I’m not alone in my ability to understand the classic rhythm of storytelling. You’re probably thinking of someone in your life right now who has been known to ruin the ending of a movie from time to time. It’s because most great stories follow a formula.

Even with all the predictability that most stories (books, movies, T.V. shows, etc.) bring, I still love them, and would never want to live a life void of story. As humans, we are wired in such a way that story captures us and moves us more than any other medium of communication.

The 3 Things You Need To Know To Write A Good Story

The 3 principles to writing a good story are:

  1. Know Your Audience
  2. Make Yourself The Sidekick, Not The Hero
  3. Articulate The Transformation

These are foundational principles for storytelling within a grant writing context. If understood and implemented, they can begin to take your stories from common to compelling, and your grant proposals from a “no” to a “yes.”

1. Know Your Audience

Know Your Audience

Knowing or anticipating who will be reading what you have written is key to effective writing in general, and storytelling specifically. Not knowing your audience is just asking for trouble.

I was reminded of this idea recently when attending a program in my community. The facilitator of the group had invited a guest speaker to lead a conversation around financial literacy.

The guest speaker had prepared a ton of great information. You could tell he was passionate about the topic and really wanted to be helpful. There was one big problem though, he didn’t know his audience.  As he described some of the finer points of saving money and planning for a strong financial future, participants became frustrated. Some were even angry. What he didn’t realize was the main source of income, for the vast majority of the group, came through government assistance. Being told they needed to “save money” was offensive to them. It’s wasn’t that they didn’t want to save money, but once they covered their basic needs, there wasn’t much, if anything, left at the end of the month. Even if there was, saving money was not even a possibility within the rules and regulations of the system.

I sat uncomfortably in the corner (as a guest) and watched, as most participants felt frustrated and angry. It was obvious that no one left the session feeling like they had gained anything valuable from the experience. One of the most unfortunate aspects, was the guest speaker actually had valuable information about how to manage money… it just never got heard. He didn’t know his audience. Had he known his audience, he could have shared his story and information in a way that would’ve resonated, rather than isolated.

Could you imagine alienating a funder that way by submitting a grant proposal that is so far off the mark they get angry? Maybe the example is extreme, but grant writers make this common mistake far too often.

One of the most critical components of telling a good story and writing a good grant is to write it with your funder in mind. Don’t write the proposal for you, write it for them. Tell your story in such a way that funders know you’ve tailored it for them. Do the work to understand their purpose for providing funding. Recognize the results they hope to foster through their fund.

The story you tell in your grant proposal must connect your mission with the priorities of the granting agency.

2. Make Yourself The Sidekick, Not The Hero

Let’s get right to the point. The hero of your story, every time, should be the clients or community you serve. They represent the main character, the protagonist of your story. In most storytelling frameworks, the hero is usually taken on a journey, or looking to accomplish a task that seems to be beyond what they think they are capable of doing. Without taking action, the hero, whose flaws and weaknesses are visible, will find themselves (and others around them) in danger or dealing with significant struggle. The hero needs to do something different. They need to take action for their survival. For the audience, this character is compelling.

At this point in the story, a sidekick or guide usually appears. In most stories, they come alongside the hero to help them solve their problem. Their job is to listen, understand, and empathize with the hero’s problem. The hero also needs a plan or a solution. It’s the guide who shows the way.

  • Frodo must save Middle Earth, but he’s not sure he is courageous, or brave, or good enough to accomplish the task. Gandalf is the guide.
  • Luke Skywalker isn’t sure if he has what it takes to be a Jedi. Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi play the role of guide.
  • Bridget Jones doesn’t feel worthy of love, and it takes her mother and friends to guide her through this journey of self-discovery.

For every Shrek, there must be a Donkey. 

You, or your organization, are the sidekick. You’re the one who has a plan for the hero to follow. It’s that plan that results in successful outcomes.

In too many of our stories, we want to write ourselves in as the hero. As you begin to craft your grant proposals and write your program descriptions and organizational overviews, become the sidekick. Help funders understand the hero of the story and their challenges, and then go on to explain how you will serve as the guide. Tell your story in such a way the funder understands the plan and how it will have an impact.

3. Articulate The Transformation

The transformation is the most exciting and interesting part of the story. This is the part of the story where I get that lump in my throat because, in the end, the hero is different, they’re in a better place, and their challenge has been met with a solution.

I want to suggest a formula that effectively articulates the transformation of the hero.

Problem + Solution = Transformation

We’ve already referred to the problem and solution parts of the story. As the guide, you enter the story with an understanding of the problem and you provide a plan and a solution. The last part of the equation is to write about the transformation. What has taken place in the life of the hero because they implemented the plan? What positive changes have occurred as a result of the guide’s solution(s)? What success have they experienced?

The description of the transformation is key in your grant proposal. By clearly outlining how your solution will change the circumstances for your clients, the funder will gain a deeper understanding of the benefit of your project and be able to make a decision about whether they wish to invest their funds into such a venture.

If you don’t include the transformation in your story, a funder is left wondering if your plan really works or makes a difference. Paint a clear picture for them. Evoke in the funder, the type of emotion that causes them to get a lump in their throat, as they recognize the transformation of the hero in the story.

Be A Great Storyteller

We all love a great story. Utilize one of the oldest forms of communication as a way to demonstrate to funders that your program is worthy of their support. Take grant proposals from good, to even better, by implementing the elements of storytelling outlined in this blog post. Here’s a quick recap. Be sure to know your audience before you write. Make sure you understand that you are not the hero of the story, but that you are the sidekick with a plan. And as you conclude your story, write about the amazing transformation the hero has experienced.

GrantsEdge is all about action, and we want to do everything we can to help you become a great storyteller as you write your grants. Use the GrantsEdge Problem + Solution = Transformation Worksheet to implement storytelling into your grant writing.

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