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The Power of Positive Writing

Positive writing starts with positive thinking.

Does your writing style project a positive tone? You would naturally write only positive things about your organization and project in a proposal, but there are subtleties of style that can enhance your proposal to create an image that displays a can-do, positive tone. This will help make the funder want to say “yes.” Sometimes, the simplest word choices and phrasings can make a major difference in how your proposal comes across. Here are a few ways to strengthen your proposals


Will vs. Would 

It’s amazing the difference using “will” rather than “would” can make in a proposal. “Will” asserts your confidence that the project will move forward, even implying it will do so with or without the funder’s participation. “Would” puts your verb into the conditional tense, indicating that you may or may not do the project, depending on the funder’s decision. When you use “will,” you indicate that (1) you are confident that the foundation will make the grant you are requesting and (2) you are in control of the situation. Consider the following simple examples:


  • The Community Food Bank would provide daily meals to an additional 200 homeless people in our community with funding from the Smith Family Foundation.

  • The Healthy Family Food Bank will provide daily meals to an additional 200 homeless people in our community with funding from the Smith Family Foundation.


Just changing “would” to “will,” you can see that the people at the Healthy Family Food Bank are ready to get the job done. Using “will” throughout the proposal creates a cumulative impression of optimism and confidence—two important qualities you will want to project.



Good or Better Than? 

It is unlikely that your nonprofit’s services are unique in your area. Invariably, some other organizations provide some of the same services, although they probably do so on a different scale or in different ways. You will want to position your nonprofit as deserving of a foundation’s support by stating its unique qualities, and you will want to do this without putting other nonprofits in a bad light.


Building your organization up at the expense of another sets a negative tone that will detract from your message. (It also doesn’t hurt to remember that a staff member from a similar charity may well be a peer panelist reviewing your grant application at some future date.) Consider the following three statements of the same facts, yet the third one creates a totally different (and negative) impression of the nonprofit asking for the grant:


  • Hometown Health Service's mobile unit will provide diagnostic testing and treatment for diabetes for 100 people daily who now do not have access to regular, free health services.

  • Hometown Health Service's mobile unit will provide diagnostic testing and treatment for diabetes for 100 people daily who lack transportation to the county's existing low-cost or free clinics.

  • Tri-County Health Center's mobile unit will provide diagnostic testing and treatment for diabetes for 100 people daily who are not served by Hilltown Medical Center and other facilities that treat only people who are able to come to their facility and can afford at least a minimum fee.


Hometown Health Service found two ways to emphasize their unique service (they go where no other service providers will go), but they do so in ways that do not denigrate other services, as Tri-County Health Center has done.


Superlatives and Qualifiers 

“Avoid sweeping statements” was a rule drilled into us when we wrote term papers in school. But grant proposals are not term papers, and frequently a grand, bold statement is just what you need to demonstrate your confidence in your nonprofit’s ability to carry out a project. Consider the difference between these two examples:


  • Central Opera Company is arguably among the premier performing arts organizations in the region and serves one of the more diverse audiences in the region.

  • Lyric Opera of the Tri-Cities is the most lauded performing arts organization in our area and the only one providing opera to a large and diverse audience.


Central Opera Company comes across as a good, but modest company doing modest work, but Lyric Opera impresses the reader as a major player in the area's cultural arena, especially in reaching a wide demographic. The assertiveness of the statement creates a positive tone that makes me want to know more.


Of course, both opera companies would follow their opening sentence with additional information to substantiate their claims. The bolder the initial statement, the more important it is to back up the claims with details. Lyric Opera sets the stage for that by referring to itself has "highly lauded," paving the way for quotes and testimonials.



Endorsement and praise of your nonprofit from the press, civic leaders, or your constituents and clients provide the ultimate in creating a positive tone. Weaving testimonials of this type into a proposal adds depth to what you can say about your own work and provides color and context that will set your proposal apart from others.


When quoting individuals in a proposal, it’s not necessary to follow the conventions used in scholarly writing to indicate minor changes. After all, people will usually appreciate you making them sound more articulate than they are—as long as you don’t change the meaning of their words. Indicating each place in a quote where you’ve made minor changes will only make for awkward reading, and may even make the person quoted look bad. Consider the effect of reading the following examples:


Original client statement:
"The Health Service gave my Bonnie, who had broken her toe, and me compassionate and expert care late last Thursday night. And they gave it right when it was needed."


Technically correct attribution:
"The [people at Community] Health Service[s]...[provided my family with] compassionate and expert care -- right when it was needed."


Readable attribution:
"The people at Community Health Services provided my family with compassionate and expert care right when it was needed."


The last example certainly does not distort, in any way, what the client said, but it presents it in a manner that is more readable and does not raise needless curiosity about the words omitted (indicated by the ellipses).


If you don’t have a direct quote about your organization, you can support your case with quotes that speak to the need your nonprofit addresses. Check to see if the foundations to which you’re applying (or other foundations) have published or funded studies on your issue. Quoting from these studies will show an appreciation for the work done by the foundations. Also, check to see what has been written in the press about your issue. Statements by public officials can be especially compelling. For example:


“As Mayor Jones said in his recent speech to the City Council, ‘Healthcare, to be effective, must reach those most in need where they live and work.’ This is why Hometown Health Service’s mobile unit is so important for the community.”


By including praise from clients and articulations from public officials and published studies of what is lacking in community services or facilities, you will present your project as the real-world solution to a pressing need. When you combine this with assertive, positive prose, you’ll have a winning proposal ready to go. 



Other articles you might find interesting: 

10 Most Common Grant Writing Mistakes


The Quick Wise Guide to Writing Grant Proposals

Learn Proposal Writing in 60 minutes

The Quick Wise Guide to Proposal Writing -audiobook 

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