When Rhodes started his first day of Kindergarten, he was a little nervous because he didn’t know what to expect.  It was a different teacher, new kids in the class and learning new things.  It was exciting but intimidating all at the same time.

His new teacher had new rules for the classroom and it took take a while to adjust from playing all summer to keeping still and quiet – two of his most un-favorite things to be.  Just like Rhodes had to learn the rules of Kindergarten, so do grant writers have to learn about the rules of different grant makers.  And following the rules makes everyone happy.

Fortunately, foundations and other grant givers don’t change the rules on us too often.  As a matter of fact, here are some hard-and-fast rules that will never change.  Learn to follow these and a grant maker will surely find favor with your application:

Be Respectful of The Grant Maker’s Mission – Just as your own nonprofit has a mission and purpose for founding, so does the grant maker.  Learn why they were formed, what programs they want to support with their funding and if they support organizations similar in mission to yours.  Not only is it a waste of time to apply for funding from a grant maker with a mission that’s completely different than yours, I think that such application borders on disrespect.  It proves that you didn’t take the time to get to know them or that you believe your organization’s goals are more important than theirs.

Follow Their Application Rules – I’m willing to place a small wager that for every one of you that understands this simple concept, there is one that doesn’t.   Remember how Rhodes has rules in Kindergarten he’s expected to follow?  The teacher provides these for a reason.  Grant makers also place “rules” in their applications to follow for their own purposes.  We may not understand why the foundation won’t accept applications by email or require a Letter of Intent before applying but applicants that follow application guidelines will be the ones to win a grant every time over those that don’t.

Avoid Jargon They Don’t Understand – You may have become so accustomed to acronym language in your environment that you forget others don’t know what in the heck you’re talking about.  You don’t have to spell it out each and every time in your application.  Instead, the name of your program or something else you’re writing about can be spelled out initially, with the acronym in initials, and then referred by the acronym throughout the rest of the proposal occasionally referred to by the proper name every now and again.

Be Aware of Their Hints – Grant makers are all the time providing “clues” to what they’ll pay attention to and fund.  For instance, I like to pick out some of the wording in a grant funder’s mission statement or what they fund and include it in my own application.  You’re giving some of their words right back to them – how could they not notice you?

Just as I hope Rhodes’ new teacher will be pleased with him following the rules, follow the rules provided here when writing grants for your organization and grant makers will be pleased with you.

Betsy Baker is a contributing consultant to Help for Small Nonprofits.