For the past 20 years, Duncan McDougall has successfully been raising funds (while telling stories to LOTS of kids) to support CLiF’s continued growth. We asked him to share his technique for fundraising and grant writing with our Year of the Book teachers at a past Community Literacy Conference. These tips are meant for beginner fundraisers who might be looking to find small amounts to fund programs with a track record. Here are some of the best recent ideas from CLiF partners – we hope you will put both the program and fundraising ideas to the test!

                Duncan’s Tips for Writing a Successful Grant Request

  • Identify a Need: Think of a project, event, or materials you want to fund.
  • Plan Ahead: Give yourself enough time so you’re not rushing the process.
  • Look Before You Leap: Identify funding sources before you start writing the proposal. Ask friends and colleagues. Do some online research. [Remember – many local banks/credit unions, rotary/service clubs, and stores such as Home Depot and Dollar General have grant programs.]
  • Make a Personal Connection: If possible, never submit a grant request until you’ve had a chance to speak to someone from the funding organization in person or by phone.
    • The feedback will help craft the proposal to match their interests.
    • You’ll learn about the best timing and type of proposal to submit.
    • Your personal connection will be remembered, and your application will stand out from the others.
  • Keep It Short: Be brief and clear. But include enough to show you are organized and enthusiastic.
  • Include Stories: Add a story or two. It makes your application come alive.
  • Add Supporting Data: Gather some data or quotes to support your need.
  • Pay Attention: It’s amazing how many folks don’t answer the questions.
  • Personalize Your Request: Tailor the proposal to each funder.
  • Let Donors Know What They’re Funding: Make the ask specific and tangible. Donors like to know exactly what they are supporting.
  • Budget: Build a simple, clear, realistic budget. Clarify all the costs.
  • Outline the Impact: Be clear what the impact of the grant request will be.
  • Customize: Avoid sending out bulk e-mails or requests.  Recipients will be able to tell you were not thinking of them.
  • Spread the Word: Tap your social network.
    • If the funds needed are relatively small ($1,000 or less) let folks know about your needs. If your need is compelling you might be surprised about who offers to help.
  • Show That Others Care Too: When possible, seek in-kind donations to show donors others are contributing to the cause such as printing, food, set-up time, etc.
  • Take the Long View: If a donor declines a particular request, find out why.  Ask if they would mind if you reached out to them in the future if other needs arise.
  • Let People Enjoy the Event: When the event is ready to happen, be sure to invite the donors, the press, and other important people.
  • Celebrate your Success. It builds excitement, momentum, and energy that can translate to future funds.  Send a personalized thank you.


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CLiF has served over 350,000 children since 1998.

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