The top 2 myths about nonprofit grant-writing

Marte Siebenhar
4 min readJun 10, 2022
Photo of the author, by Eva Hart

I began my grant writing career accidentally. Due to lack of staffing (sound familiar?), I was asked to take on two projects outside my primary expertise area, at my first nonprofit job in New York City.

I’m proud that both projects were funded, including the organization’s first National Endowment for the Arts grant of $30,000. As an accidental grant writer, what business did I have succeeding?

Turns out, I had good instincts. I stuck with it, and the experience I’ve gained helped me become an on-purpose, high-impact grant writer whose firm has raised over $8 million dollars in the past three years.

I’ve encountered a number of myths about grant-writing along the way. In this post, I debunk two of the myths that most often derail grant applications, and share what I’ve learned about what works.

Whether you’re an individual artist, a large nonprofit, or somewhere in between, this information is for you.

Myth 1: Grant applications don’t need to appeal to a funder’s emotions

Imagine you are interviewing for a job. The interviewer asks you to tell a story about what motivates you, what you’ve learned as a professional, and to share a clear vision about where you’re headed now and how you’re going to get there-but you only have 60 seconds.

Plus, your performance will give your interviewer a firm, lasting impression of your leadership prowess that they’ll be weighing against 20 to 200 other candidates, sometimes openly discussing the vulnerabilities and flaws they perceive in you, based on that 60 second performance, in public.

Q: Who would sign up to do such an insane, impossible thing?

A: Anyone who puts together a grant application. And successful ones are as compelling as bedtime stories.

Funders put a lot into creating their grantmaking strategies. They are excited to consider applications for their funding, and a lot of excitement typically goes into weeding through the submissions to find the gems of the funding cycle. They love the drama of the “interviews” (applications) and the beautiful new discoveries they encounter in the applicants and their submissions, even year after year.