More Than a Numbers Game: Bringing Meaning to the Data in Grant Applications


Successful grant applications include compelling statements of need, and those statements of need must include meaningful data. How do we communicate this quantitative information in the most captivating way?

As grantwriters, we are accustomed to accessing reputable data to be used in our grant applications: the U.S. Census population tables, our local schools’ statistics, and various economic indicators. We are armed with copious tables and charts, from external sources to our internal program evaluations. Our sources are cited, and our numbers double-checked.

But are our objectives clear? In our rush to find the numbers that support our claims, what are we missing?

Here are three ideas for bringing more meaning to the data into your grant applications:

Make it easy.

Don’t make application reviewers do any additional work to figure out what your data is trying to say. If you cite a data point or statistic, explain what it means. A demographic statistic doesn’t indicate need until you connect that quantitative value with the issue your work aims to address. What does it mean that half the children living in the community you serve don’t have access to reliable Internet? Or that 30% of adults in your community lack access to reliable transportation? What do these statistics mean in the context of individuals’ everyday lives?

Connect the dots for readers in a linear way. It’s one thing to have a compelling statement of need, but a grant proposal that both convinces a funder of need and lays out an effective intervention will be more competitive than one with rote statistics, skippable tables, and ignorable charts.

Aim to inspire action.

Include only the data that you need to persuasively communicate the connection between what your organization does and why it does it. But in a world where bountiful data fills our screens, how do you know what to weave into your narrative and what to leave out?

You likely have a big pool of data to draw from. Don’t drown your reader in it! For every data point you include, ask yourself if it moves the narrative forward. Does this particular statistic illustrate the importance of your organization’s work? Does it clearly indicate need for the service you are providing?

Try to refrain from watering down the data that means something with a series of indicators, simply because they’re available. Superfluous demographic information does not show need for your work. In addition, trends are more meaningful than singular point-in-time numbers. It is impactful to tell a funder that 30% of your community lives below the federal poverty line. It inspires an actionable response to say that five years ago, that number was 15%.

Tell your story.

Every grantseeking organization has a story. It’s the reason it was founded, the progress it has made, its history, and its impact on the community it serves. The data in the grant narratives that are written to ultimately support this work should clearly connect with the story of your organization or program.

Demonstrate need, but also include relevant data proving the value of the services or programs your organization provides. Consider that your reader is likely reviewing a number of applications from organizations focused in a similar arena of work. Interweaving impactful data points with compelling narrative can provide an effective one-two punch to drive your story home. A sprinkle of surprising data points can spice up an otherwise well-composed but uninspiring proposal.

Half of the puzzle is to show that need exists, but your proposal will be more attractive when you also can illustrate the effectiveness your organization’s work has on reducing that need.

Effective use of data can make or break your proposal. Being thorough but selective and judicious but thoughtful can make your data work best for you and your organization.

Action steps you can take today
  • Explore the U.S. Census's new portal to find out what data and trends might be useful and specific to your organization's work.
  • For each data point in your narrative, ask yourself: "So what?" Answer that question next.
  • Ask a friend or family member who is unfamiliar with your organization to read excerpts of your grant application narrative and see if the data makes sense and adds to your story.