I read a proposal recently that was technically correct and it had all the right pieces, but I felt nothing. While the statistics showed great need for the grant, it didn't feel like there was a need.
Some of you may be thinking, "It's not about emotion, silly. Just give the facts and tell your story."
I disagree. As long as there are human readers making decisions about the proposal, emotions play a role.
Here are the suggestions I make for putting enough passion in your proposal:
- The first page should be perfect. First impressions matter. Not only should the first page of the narrative be error-free, but it should convey something about your organization that goes beyond the numbers and makes the readers fans of your work. The readers should leave that first page already liking you.
- Tell your story like you care. If I were to ask you to tell me about the strengths and needs of your organization, I'm sure you would have plenty to say. More importantly, I would get a definite feel for how your organization impacts the community and how important the services are. The readers should have no doubt that you care.
- Use descriptive language. Think about this sentence: "We will initiate a foot-stomping, in-the-media-spotlight, no-holds-barred cage match with poverty, racism, lack of opportunity, under-education, and a cycle of disenfranchisement among good people who just want a leg up to help their kids rise up." Okay, maybe it's a bit over the top, but it definitely conveys some passion, doesn't it? It also tells you something about the applicant, doesn't it? It gives you a definite image to think about, too. Maybe you won't go this far, but consider this sentence my personal effort to slap you out of the boring, lock-step grant language that you are probably used to seeing and using. That brings me to the next point.....
- Expand your use of language. You can't communicate the passion of a zealot using the language of an accountant. I have nothing against accountants, of course, but most would have trouble really expressing the pain of homelessness given the language they typically use. Think about how you would describe your need and your plans to a good friend, to a potential donor, to a newspaper reporter, to a potential employee. Make notes on the words and phrases you use. Ask others who encounter your services to describe them. Note the words and phrases they use, too. Then use some of them.
- Read. The best way to expand your language is to read. I always advise people to read grant proposals and I'll continue to make that recommendation, but remember that there are good examples and bad examples. You should be reading many other things, too. The more diverse your reading is, the more diverse your language will be. And here's a hint you probably haven't considered. If you're having trouble writing with passion, read some books about passion and romance. Don't focus on the plot or even the vocabulary, but on how the author builds the sense of passion and desire. I'm not saying that your grants should be written like romance novels, but that there is something we can learn from all genres. Finally.....
- Show some restraint. Some people have trouble adding life to their writing, but others add too much. Too much flowery writing is simply annoying, and you know you should not annoy the readers. Expressing passion and commitment isn't about throwing out emotional phrases. It's much more nuanced than that. It's about conveying a mood, a feeling. There is such a thing as "too much."
What are your thoughts about writing with passion?