Communicating Effectively With Applicants and Grantees

By Tony Proscio

The main purpose for exchanging information with applicants and grantees is to make sure your organization gets the best possible results with the grants it makes. Yes, maintaining complete and accurate records and accounts is crucial. But the ultimate purpose of those records and accounts is to understand how organizations are using the support they get from you (or how they plan to use it if they become grantees), for what purposes, and with what results. The quality of that knowledge depends, in turn, on

  • how you ask for information
  • the way you respond to information when it comes in, and
  • the way you convey information to those who seek and receive support.

It’s not necessarily important that your writing be beautiful or elegant (that’s always nice, but not everyone is a poet). What matters is the response it elicits from the person who receives it. Does a letter or publication make the reader want to take an action that is helpful to you? Does it give that person a clear understanding of your needs and goals and a reason to help meet them? If the correspondent is seeking support, does the information you provide significantly raise the odds that he or she will submit a winning proposal, or not waste time submitting an ineligible one? If you’re communicating with a grantee, does your message evoke a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect — the kind of spirit that makes people want to satisfy a request completely and promptly?

Most of the time, it isn’t writing that produces the best answers to those questions. It’s re-writing: the careful process of scrutinizing a draft and then revising, rewording, editing, asking for readers’ comments, and revising again. For most people, the first draft is mainly an opportunity to put all the important ideas on the page in more or less the desired order. But it takes two or three more drafts to make those ideas flow, make them clear and compelling, and determine whether they are likely to produce the desired effect in a reader.

Of course, effective writing and re-writing alone can’t make every relationship work. But they improve the chances of success — sometimes by a lot. Most of all, writing that isn’t re-considered and revised can easily end up being unclear, abrupt, confusing, or belabored. And that is almost guaranteed to make any relationship worse by leaving the recipient baffled, annoyed, or exhausted.

Fortunately, effective communication isn’t an exotic art. It follows some simple, practical rules. And it’s easy to monitor: You can experiment with it, test it, tinker with it, and ask for constructive reactions along the way.

The Seven C’s

The most effective communication is distinguished by a handful of characteristics we’ll call the Seven C’s. The best, most persuasive, most understandable writing is:

Clear and Concrete. Points are easy to understand; ideas come across as practical and rooted in the real world; and it’s never hard to know how to satisfy a request, or why the request is being made.

Courteous and Collegial. The person on the other end of the communication feels valued and respected; the tone and style of writing are collaborative; instructions or requests are based on a presumption of shared interests and common values.

Current and Consistent. Information is up-to-date and authoritative; correspondents get the same message, whether you are communicating in writing, on the web, or by other media.

Concise. Communication gets to the point quickly; nothing seems needlessly time-consuming; if it’s necessary to include routine or boilerplate text, the most important messages — the ones that call for action — are presented right at the beginning.

Read more about the first two characteristics, Clear and Concrete, in this newsletter In future Project Streamline newsletters we will look at the remainder of the Seven C’s and how they can help make your writing more effective.

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