A case study of grant proposal writing in a nonprofit workplace: Writing to keep families off the street

Mary Flaherty Haas, Purdue University


This case study examines means of persuasion used by a successful grant proposal writer at a medium sized nonprofit, a homeless shelter in the US American Midwest. Concepts from the field of rhetoric, especially persuasion through appeals to the character of the persuader (ethos), are applied to analyze two grant proposals, other promotional discourse, and the grantwriter's verbal account of the work of the shelter. The grant proposals include a long text written to request funds from a governmental agency to start a new program for transitional services for formerly homeless families and a short “letter proposal” written to request funds from a local church for building repairs. The practices of the shelter are presented in a short ethnographic account and examined for correlation with the qualities presented in the texts. The qualities of character which emerge are altruism, practicality, networking with other community resources, and focus on the shelter's specific mission, aiding homeless families. These qualities are emphasized differently in different pieces of promotional discourse written for varied audiences. The quality of being networked is most prominent overall. The grant proposal texts exemplify principles of grant proposal writing taught in professional writing textbooks and in practitioner handbooks produced by entities such as The Foundation Center. The ethos presented for the homeless shelter reflects the ethos of the larger nonprofit sector. The collective ethos of the nonprofit sector, also called the philanthropic sector or the third sector, embodies altruism in the sense of voluntary action for the collective good, cooperation rather than competition among entities, and especially fidelity to mission. Fidelity to mission has received particular emphasis in recent times because of the shifts in funding patterns for nonprofit organizations and the pressure from funders to shape programming which give rise to concern about mission drift. ^




Major Professor: Janice M. Lauer, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Sociology, Public and Social Welfare|Language, Rhetoric and Composition

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