You’ve got a fundraising strategy.
You’ve got good evidence that your project is needed and a list of funders to apply to.
You’ve checked their guidelines and you know that you fit them. You know your project and your approach. You know what questions you’ll need to answer.
You’re ready to go. All that stands between you and a world-beating bid is a blank page.
This is the hard part, where the pain starts.
But it doesn’t have to be so hard. And it can be less painful. There’s a pretty simple process you can go through that makes bid writing easier, helps you feel like you know what you’re doing, and saves you time. Here’s how.
My bid writing process, in tasty Yorkie size chunks.
1. Brain dump it
If you’re clear on the details of your project and your approach to the funder’s criteria then you’re ready to take this step. If you’re not then you can apply this technique anyway.
The basic idea is to get everything out of your head and into physical manifestation. Thoughts, ideas, questions, musings – it’s all better off somewhere you can see it (your brain will thank you before quickly moving on to deeper bid related thoughts). I usually manifest what’s in my head as a spider diagram – but you could also use post its, a wipe board or mind mapping software.
The stimulus for brain dumping should always be a question or statement, for example ‘what does my project look like?’ or the questions provided by the funder.
The main thing is that you have a way to capture each thought as it surfaces, and so de-cluttering and liberating your mind to focus more deeply on the question. How you do this is up to you but here’s some more suggestions.
Repeat for each question.
2. Dump other people’s brains
You need not be alone in the brain dumping arena. In fact two brains are definitely better than one. Rather than just having a question to stimulate your grey matter you’ll also have your friend/colleague/boss person to spark you off.
Bounce your ideas around, make connections between your thoughts, burrow more deeply into each question. Enjoy sharing the pain.
You may also find that if one of you takes responsibility for the capturing then as if by magic, into the space created while you scribe, your dumping partner will bring forth gems of wisdom and ideas that you would never have thought of on your own.
A note on censorship. In the spirit of brainstorming this stage is best done without self or partner censorship. So don’t question or censor your ideas. Not ever. We’ll come on to that bit next.
3. Process and plan
Got your brain dumped? Now it’s time to process it.
You’ll be aiming to take what you’ve captured and shape it into a hierarchical skeleton or outline for each question. It’s like putting the mass of ‘stuff’ that came out of your head into some kind of order. To do this you’re going to need to look at it and ask yourself where each bit fits best. You may have naturally done some of this when dumping it. The difference here is that we’re going for a cleaner and tidier looking outcome, probably using a keyboard and screen.
I use bullets for each main point, and sub bullets for further details. I try and lay them out in logical order. Sometimes I’ll move bits about a lot and sometimes a little. Sentences are not required; some would say to be discouraged. Keywords and phrases will do. So long as it makes sense to you.
A note on word counts. If there is one then it needs consideration at this stage. One good point or a medium sized paragraph is about 100 words. You should be able to see how many points you’re trying to make for each question; so in your processing don’t be afraid to ditch the less important ones. They’ll never survive anyway. Trim the chaff now and it’ll save you time later.
4. Hold off until you’re at max bid writing revs
I know, by now you’re itching to get writing. You’re desperate to write your first sentence. But “hold off” I say, until you’ve processed as much as you can and are comfortable with the shape of each response.
The temptation is to start writing early but by waiting until this point you’ll feel more ready, you’ll have a clearer idea of what you’re going to be writing, and you’ll be less likely to get stuck later on. Trust me, I’ve got stuck aplenty.
At the same time, don’t hold off so long that you lose inspiration and start to dip. Prepping is the easy part but it’s also easy to put off coming face to face with that painful blank page again. There’s no pill for this part, you’ve just got to start. Trust that you (or your deadline) will know when the time is right to release the clutch and let rip.
5. Write drunk, edit sober
In the words of Copyblogger, you don’t have to take this literally. Some may say alcohol can ease the pain of bid writing, but its also likely to make a mess of your page.
The principle behind Ernest Hemingway’s words of wisdom is that you’ve got to sound real. You’ve got to show funders that you believe in what you’re proposing. And you’ve got to show them you’ve got the passion to make it succeed. Writing as you, rather than as a drone will help build trust and persuade them that you’ve got what it takes to deliver on your bid’s promises.
It’s easy to slip into an overly formal style just because it might sound authoritive. This is not good! Grant assessors are humans too and, just like you and me will get turned off by stiff, formal bids.
But they will get turned on by personality and passion. They’ll get involved by your enthusiasm. Just tell them what you want to say. Use the structure you’ve created to make it easier for your voice to flow. Ditch the self-consciousness and just tell.
Let your passion out.
If you go overboard then you can always edit it out afterwards. But it’s much harder to insert life into a bid that never had any to begin with.
6. You can never plan everything you are going to write
The deepest you will ever dive into any bid is when you’re writing it. Submerged in the flow of the process you may have your biggest Eureka moments. Sometimes the best bits of inspiration are found in the deepest most pearly depths. When this happens you may have to rise to the surface, examine what you’ve found and work out what to do with it.
Integrating these finer points or inspired ideas can sometimes mean making changes to your bid’s approach or content. But if you’ve prepared well then more likely it will fit naturally and enhance what you’ve already said. You’ll never know it all until you’ve written it.