Be Good, Be Brief, and…Be Gone, a board member of the historical museum I once directed used to advise me. A retired corporate executive and the organization’s treasurer, he was fond of dispensing aphorisms with a wink in his eye. He taught me, a graduate student with more words than available pages, the importance of a one-page memo. He taught me how to get to the point.
One challenge of writing a strong grant proposal is to describe the importance, and detail the specifics, of your project using a limited number of words. Drafts of proposals can ramble and explore ideas, how various pieces might fit together as a fundable project. But this initial energy must somehow translate into a coherent argument within the predetermined spaces of the WHC grant application. Thinking critically and strategically about how to tighten your proposal can help you to:
- Focus on your project’s most important components
- Determine the language—words, sentences, and paragraphs—you use to communicate your project
- Respect your audience
Your audience is the WHC’s volunteer Board of Directors. Thoughtful, accomplished, and from across the state, they want to know why your project is important, how it will work, and what its success will contribute to your community and our understanding of the human experience. By being brief you can help them to see your project clearly and evaluate your proposal thoroughly.
The importance of being brief applies to different aspects of the WHC grant application and process. Three tailored letters of support, for example, can speak better to the significance of your project than a dozen generic letters.
As part of the review process, major grant applicants have an opportunity to answer questions about their proposals asked by reviewers. The most effective responses are those written as if the applicant had taken to heart the advice of that retired business executive to “Be Good, Be Brief, and Be Gone.”
Being brief ultimately should not impede your authentic voice, however. The terse prose of Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver doesn’t appeal to everyone. Nor should it. Write in your particular voice and your passion for your project and knowledge of your subject will show through. Despite the word limit.
Questions? WHC staff is available to help you tighten your proposal.
“Graduation” poem written and used with permission by Shoshauna Shy, the founder of Poetry Jumps Off the Shelf and the WHC’s resident poet. Read her article for Humanities Booyah about Past-Poet Laureate Max Garland here.
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