How to sell your story in grant applications

Include emotional anecdotes and photos on your grant application, and make sure your facts back it up

When tackling online grant application forms like the one used for American Fire Grants or most foundation grants, it’s easy to get the impression that funding decisions are based on “just the facts, ma'am, just the facts.” 

Seemingly endless “fill in the blank” fields can lull you into a false sense of security. You’ve done your job as a grant writer when you’ve checked every box, right?

No matter how tedious the fact gathering and reporting may feel, it goes without saying that it is a crucial step in the process. Your agency’s application may already be scrutinized for eligibility and completeness before it even reaches an official funding decider.

However, getting your application to the top of a committee’s “maybe pile” is determined by your story. How you sell your story will be the deciding factor as to whether your facts are considered at all.

Here’s a general look at how it works:

Step One: The reviewer asks: Why do they want the funding?

Step Two: The reviewer reads your application narratives.

Step Three: The reviewer says: Now that I am persuaded, inspired and/or motivated, let’s see if the agency’s facts support the stated need.

Step Four: The reviewers check your facts and figures to determine whether or not the facts support your persuasive declaration of need.

Step Five: If there’s more than one reviewer, they discuss your agency’s predicament and urgency of your need, and come to a consensus.

Persuasive writing doesn’t tell a grant reviewer how to think about your situation. It paints a picture that helps the reviewer come to his or her own conclusion about your agency’s worthiness to receiving the funding you requested. 

How to sell your story

Sell your story the same way a film documentarian presents a concept or idea. Use compelling anecdotes within your grant application narratives. Illustrate the gravity of your need by describing a past EMS call where the funding you’re asking for would have saved time, alleviated patients’ discomfort or prevented an employee’s on-the-job injury.

Help reviewers feel the weather and experience the road conditions of your EMS service area. Then present facts that justify receiving the money by using quotes from letters of support from community leaders.

Include photos and video clips to show your EMS employees in action, along with pictures of the outdated equipment that needs replacing. It boils down to putting a face on the people who will benefit from  the new equipment or gear, and distinguish your agency by using third party awards or accreditations to bolster the authenticity of your facts.

Mentioning accreditation from the Commission on the Accreditation of Ambulance Services, state, and regional EMS awards, and community service awards, can favorably position your agency’s contributions and demonstrate your agency’s importance to your community’s health care delivery system.

Don’t think for one moment that grant application reviewers will somehow just look at all your statistics and intuit that your EMS agency is the one most deserving of the precious dollars over which they have control.

While the facts are crucial, you really must sell your story. While the ultimate funding decision rests in your agency presenting valid facts, grant application reviewers will use those facts and figures to justify their personal and subjective opinions about your need.

Reviewers are human, so appeal to their emotions. 

About the author

Janet Smith's track record for business development in the medical marketplace spans over 20 years. Since 1990 as the owner and president of Janet Smith & Associates- On Assignment, an EMS consultancy, Janet Smith has consulted for scores of public, private and primary EMS services, winning business for clients through strategic business planning, public affairs campaigns, grant applications and proposal writing. Most recently, Janet authored and submitted a federal grant for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Center's health care innovation challenge. She is also the author of numerous winning RFP responses for 9-1-1 ambulance contracts. Most recently, authoring the winning ambulance procurement proposal for North Star EMS in the City of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Janet Smith is also a distinguished speaker regarding EMS and health care related issues. She recently presented at EMS Today conference in Baltimore (2012) and at the 2011 Pinnacle conference in San Diego.Janet Smith is a recipient of the President's Award from the American Ambulance Association.

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