Exploring the grant-writing process: Perseverance with the details increase the odds of being awarded a grant

Sept. 1, 2017
Staci Violante, RDH, offers suggestions for grant writing as many hygienists seek additional funding for research or community outreach.

By Staci Violante, RDH, BSDH, MSDH

Grants are funds or products expended by a grant maker or funder, often a government agency, corporation, or foundation, to a nonprofit organization, educational institution, business, or individual. Most grants fund explicit programs or projects and instruct some level of conformity.

The grant-writing process involves an applicant submitting a proposal to a funder, either through the applicant’s own action or in response to a request for proposal (RFP) from the funder. The funder usually wants to know about the scope of the project, the support from the community, long- and short-range impact, and overall budget and project cost estimates.

In the United States, grants predominantly derive from a wide range of government, public, and private foundations and trusts. According to the Foundation Center, a nonprofit organization that maintains comprehensive databases on grant makers and their grants, these trusts and foundations are “in excess of 88,000 and disperse in excess of $40 billion every year.”1

Although grants are the most prevalent way for nonprofit organizations to gain capital, there are many other additional strategies to increase revenue, including mailings, e-mail blasts, social media (e.g., Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter), events, and workplace fundraisers.

Grants and dental hygiene

The Wrigley Company Foundation’s community service grants allow an American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) member the opportunity to apply and be awarded a community grant for those who are “involved in a specific community health project that improves the public’s oral health and provide oral health education on behalf of programs with these considerations:

  • Demonstrate involvement in outstanding activities with a community health program or project, which includes oral health enhancement.
  • Illustrate that oral health education is one element of the project.
  • Show that these activities enhance the public view of the professional role dental hygienists play in health improvement.”2

Recipients will receive an award of $2,500-5,000 per grantee.

The Research Grant Program supports advancements in the dental hygiene profession through professional education and development, qualitative and quantitative research, health services research, health promotion and disease prevention, clinical dental hygiene care, and occupational and health safety.2

Community service grants - Oral health community service grants provide low- or no-cost oral hygiene care and education to underserved and at-risk populations. These service grants are designed to legitimize dental hygienists to improve the oral health of these underserved populations and communities, implement community health projects, and respond to their oral health needs and concerns.

Foundation grants - Foundation grants are the most fundamental and paramount source of funding to all nonprofit organizations. Compared to other sources of revenue, foundation grants are the most economical and produce the most accolades, yet they do bring forth some expenses, including consulting time and research, budgeting, program planning, and staff expenses.3

To begin the process of attaining a grant for an organization, there are many components that need to be considered first.4

  • Research and find a nonprofit organization. This can be accomplished via the organization’s website, calling to speak with staff or leaders, or both.
  • Does the organization have long-standing goals, a mission and a purpose?
  • Does the organization have concrete financial measures?
  • Does the organization have the fundamental staff and leadership to convey its declared goals and objectives?
  • Is the organization prepared to track, provide reports, train staff, evaluate the program, disperse funds as affirmed, communicate with funders, and meet all grant expectations and requirements?

If a foundation meets all of these stipulations, then the applicant can begin the grant process.

Keep in mind that some grant cycles take as long as six months from the time a grant proposal is submitted to the time an organization learns whether it has been funded. Then, if an organization is awarded a grant, it might take up to another few weeks before funding is received.

A well-written, detailed proposal, leaving nothing to chance and specifically following the grant’s guidelines precisely, will grab the attention of the funder. The more detailed, the better the chances of being awarded the grant. The grant-writing process is long, detailed, and can be extremely daunting. It is an extension of the academic environment that competes for the highest level of recognition and achievement. With perseverance, the grant-writing process will become more familiar, and the task will seem far less daunting. All efforts put forth will be worthwhile when one receives an award that will address an important or crucial demand in a community or underserved population. RDH

Steps to a Successfull Grant

Step 1 : Establish a relationship with the funder. Building a relationship with a funder is a great way to establish compatibility with the grant seeker and the funder before a proposal is even written. Once this is confirmed via e-mail inquiry, meeting, or phone conversation stating the program plan, communication is continuous throughout the process.

Step 2 : Begin the grant process.5 First, identify a community and an unmet need and scope to be addressed. Determine if needs within the community are being met by other organizations. Then, develop a clear plan that meets all the needs, goals, and objectives; such a plan can greatly aid in the development of a proposal. Develop project cost estimates and determine funding for initial start-up and continuing operations. Match the budget with the goals and objectives, and know your budgetary limitations.

Research funders to submit the grant proposal to, and begin to build a relationship with them. Write a specific, clear proposal tailored to each potential funder that supports activities consistent with the mission of the grant agency.

Step 3 : Write the proposal. The proposal should include a cover letter; a summary of proposal; a statement of need (i.e., the main focus or problem to be addressed); organizational background; goals and objectives; a description of program and services that will achieve the goal and objectives for the organization; an evaluation that assesses the program; strategies for additional funding after the grant’s term is up; and a program budget with a timeline.1

How to be successful in submitting a grant application

  • Be unique: Begin with fresh ideas. This is a great opportunity to articulate your ideas and thoughts to make an impact.
  • Present background and preliminary data: Persuade reviewers that the work proposed needs to be fulfilled - and you’re the best candidate to do it. Various grant programs require differing measures of preliminary data justifying the work before the grant is awarded. To a reviewer, alluring results relate directly to the specific goals and objectives of your proposal, and demonstrate your expertise.
  • Provide research and design: This section constitutes the major portion of the grant proposal. The purpose of this section is to depict the proposed project in detail, indicating to the reviewers’ efficiency in fulfilling the project. This affirms to the reviewers that the applicants are considerate in anticipating difficulty and limitations associated with the project.
  • Acquire the applicable funding mechanism (e.g., research, equipment): Most organizations assist in finding the appropriate funding programs and opportunities to suit your grant.
  • Follow the guidelines for grant submission: Grants that do not comply with the particular guidelines can irritate reviewers and leave an unfavorable impression no matter how exemplary the applicant may be.
  • Be clear and concise: Be forthright with respect to your goals and objectives - keep them short and sweet. Grant seekers are frequently too enthusiastic in their proposals. Don’t make this misstep: be realistic.
  • Summarize well: Oftentimes, reviewers can miss key points. It is best to summarize and format wisely so key points won’t go unnoticed. In each section, restate key points from the previous summary if applicable.
  • Choose your timing well: Be mindful and realistic of deadlines. Give yourself the appropriate amount of time to review, reread, get feedback from peers, and revise a completed draft. Be explicit about the duration of the project (e.g., 12 or 18 months). Feedback can be extremely valuable.
  • Delegate management wisely: Be specific about who will do what jobs and who will have what responsibilities and obligations.
  • Proofread your documents: It is imperative to proofread the grant proposal multiple times, for content, grammar, and punctuation. Have colleagues, peers, and friends read and comment. Print the completed proposal and make notes of any changes that may be needed. Headings should be on the same page as their paragraphs; figures and charts should be numbered correctly and appropriately inserted into the text. Once it has been proofread over and over, you are ready to submit your grant proposal.

Staci Violante, RDH, BSDH, MSDH, graduated from the New York University College of Dentistry Dental Hygiene Program in 1997. She went on to complete her master’s degree at the Fones School of Dental Hygiene at the University of Bridgeport. She has been a practicing clinical dental hygienist for the past 20 years, as well as serving as clinical professor in the dental hygiene department at New York University College of Dentistry. She is currently pursuing her doctorate of health science in education.


1. Foundation Center. Retrieved from: http://foundationcenter.org/about-us/mission-vision-values.
2. Wrigley Company Foundation Community Service Grants. ADHA website. http://www.adha.org/ioh-wrigley-application.
3. Forum of Regional Associations of Grant Makers. Retrieved from: https://www.unitedphilforum.org/philanthropy-education.
4. Sinclair C. Grant writing tips for nonprofits - how to get your grant accepted. http://www.nonprofitkinect.org/article/3307-grant-writing-tips-for-nonprofits. Published March 5, 2013.
5. O’Neal-McElrath T. Winning Grants Step by Step: The Complete Workbook for Planning, Developing and Writing Successful Proposals. 4th ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2013.