How do you write a persuasive funding proposal?

Same Short from Short Persuasion

We’re really excited to bring you this guest post from Samm Short, a professional writer and the Director of Short Persuasion, an enterprise that aims to bring greater stability to charities through persuasive writing and project development.   In this excerpt from the book Short Tips – Persuasive Writing for Charities (due for release later this year), Samm gives us some pointers on how to write exceptional funding proposals. 

Ever been told to make your funding proposal ‘more targeted’ or your blog more ‘audience-focused’? If so it’s for a good reason – we all like to be recognised and communicated with as individuals. Doing your homework about the audience of your written piece is therefore a vital first step, and every single word – every single comma! – should align specifically with that audience.

Drayton Bird is a marketing guru and the copywriter behind Save the Children’s most successful fundraising campaign to date. His golden rule for successful writing is this –

‘You should spend twice as much time thinking about the people you are selling to as you do thinking about what you sell.’

  • a valuable lesson for those of us so caught up in the importance of what we’re doing that we forget to account for what our audience actually wants.

(The full interview with Drayton Bird can be found at

As a charity, you may well have limits on the audiences you want to approach for support – for example a conservation charity may have a clause in place that states it will not accept funding from or be associated with an oil company (though that’s certainly not always the case). This section of tips starts from the understanding that you’ve already decided the no-go areas for your charity, and that by following these tips you won’t be placing yourself or your organisation in a compromising position.


Find out what your audience’s current strategy is and mould your piece so it clearly aligns with and contributes to that strategy.

Start with the assumption there has to be something in it for them – ‘doing good’ is a lovely additional extra, but helping people achieve what they personally want is a much stronger motivating force to work with.

  • Are they focussing on supporting start-up causes this year?

If so, what about your project is new, small, with the potential to grow into bigger things after an initial hand up? Can you quantify the future, bigger impacts your audience can say they’ll have contributed to?

  • Are they under pressure to increase their media presence and improve the way they communicate with other people about what they do?

If so, what are the media-savvy aspects of your project that will reflect well on them? Maybe you already have some impressive photos or videos of your work, with a gap where their name or face could be inserted?

As long as their strategy is publicly available and you haven’t gone to any dubious means to discover it, you can be explicit – ‘I note your current strategy is blah blah blah; by supporting us we’ll help you achieve it in the following ways…’


Research the charities and individuals they tend to support.

If all the projects they’ve supported have resulted in buildings with a plaque with their name on it, chances are they won’t want to support something intangible like a staff capacity building programme.

Do their current grant recipients all come across as highly professional and hardnosed? Or as small-scale, family-run and big on the feel-good factor? If you can see a trend, it’s usually advisable that you match it.

Fears and Needs

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes – what are their greatest needs and fears?

Every person will have their sensitive spots; if you can align your project so it dispels their fears and meets their needs then you’re heading in the right direction.

  • Have they recently been taken over and are looking for new ways to build team spirit?

If so, can you find a quote or stat about the benefits of a charity support programme for keeping staff motivated and productive? What about your project is likely to appeal to an office of commuters?

  • Have they, their industry or their membership group recently been criticised in the media?

If so, can your project help them re-build their social licence and public image?


Mimic the language your audience uses

By tailoring your pitch to mimic your audience you’re providing a basic assurance that you understand the way they operate; and when we feel like someone truly ‘gets’ us, we’re more likely to let our barriers down.

  • Does your audience use a lot of technical language?

If so, make sure your writing is sufficiently technical too.

  • Do they talk about ‘The Bottom Line’? ‘Vulnerability and Resilience’? Or ‘Activism and Justice’?

Whatever language your audience uses, make sure you frame your piece in terms that will resonate with them.


Mimic you audience’s style

Style reveals identity. A development branch of a government will have a very different style from a family foundation, which will have a very different style from an on-line community of supporters. These distinctions are deliberate and important. Match your pitch so it’s understandable, familiar and likeable to whichever audience you’re working with – difference can be threatening.

  • Does your audience use a lot of jargon that only people inside the industry will understand and set everything out in very official looking documents?

If so, it’s probably important you come across as business-like and professional – a chatty style is likely to rub them up the wrong way.

  • Does your audience use abbreviations, slang and incomplete sentences?

If so, a formal style is likely to put them off.

Thanks to Samm for these great tips, which we hope have been useful for you – if you want to see more, head on over to Samm’s website and look out for her book, Short Tips – Persuasive Writing for Charities, which will be released later this year.