How to find a grant

Most grants come from three places: U.S. Federal Government, State Governments, and Foundations. Everything else could be called donations.

I recommend that nonprofits stay away from Federal grants. Many times, the reporting and management exceeds the nonprofit’s resources. More importantly, Federal grants can mandate requirements on how the nonprofit should operate.

State grants are usually funded by Federal money. However, the State may not have the same reporting requirements as Federal, making them a good source.

The best way to find State grants is to talk with an elected official where the nonprofit is located. They usually know or have access to State grants. The State’s website may have information on grants, but it is usually easier to find the department that may have grants and call the contact.

Most nonprofits apply to foundations for grants. There are three types of foundations.

  • Corporate which is funded by a large company.
  • Public (or public charity) who receive money from different sources.
  • Private foundations which are generally funded and run by a few individuals or a family.

One of the best ways to find a corporate foundation is driving around the area. Pick a large company and do an internet search by typing in their name followed by “foundation.” Corporations are likely to fund a grant if they have a significant presence in the community. Talking to the manager of the store or business is a must.

Private foundations are difficult to find because they rarely have websites. The best way to find a private foundation is word-of-mouth or through newsletters of other organizations. Once I find a private foundation, I call them. They may tell me how to apply.

There are databases that list grants. Some are free, but most cost from $100 to $1,500 per year. Some libraries have accounts to these databases that a member can use. I used some of the lower cost databases and found more grant opportunities doing my own internet search.

 

Keeping Track of Things

This blog entry will be dull for most people. I’ll explain how I track my short stories when I send them out to magazines for publication. I have two methods – one using a spreadsheet and the other writing in the folders I keep for each story.

I’ve been maintaining a spreadsheet for many years and eventually settled on the following categories.

  • Magazine title and each story I sent
  • The date I sent the story and the date it was returned (“returned” is a polite way of saying “rejected”)
  • A formula stating how many days the story has been with the magazine
  • Another formula flagging the story with an “x” in the cell after 60 days. After 120 days, the formula puts an “XX” in the cell and so on until after 250 days when the formula puts a big “OUT” in the cell. Usually before this last step, I’ve given up on the magazine sending me anything.
  • “Remarks” is when I do get something back, mostly a form rejection. If they say something, I put that down. If positive, I send them something else. If negative, I take them out of my listing.
  • I mark the months the magazine does not read submissions and the genres the magazine accepts, such as experimental, humor/satire, literary, mainstream, or science fiction
  • There are three categories for word length (minimum, maximum, and average)
  • How often they publish, when they were established, and their website ends my worksheet headings

I have over 260 magazines listed in my spreadsheet. The most useful part is my ability to sort through the headings and find magazines for my short stories that got rejected (or returned).

My second method is much simpler. I give each story a manila folder that includes all the rejections I received and acceptances (when they happen). In each folder, I write the magazine title, the date I sent them my story, and the date they returned or accepted it. It’s redundancy, but I can double check with my spreadsheet to make sure they match.

These methods are my means of being organized with my short stories. I still make mistakes, but not as many if I didn’t have these methods.

A writer should try to be organized (actually everyone should). Organization does not mean clean surfaces. It could be piles of clutter. As long as a person knows what’s in the pile when they need it and the pile does not fall on them.

We’ll Meet Again

I recently finished a Saturday morning, six week grant writing class at the local community college. The teacher had a good, outgoing personality and was informative, being a professional grant writer for several years.

Not the teacher’s fault, but I didn’t learn a lot since I’ve been writing grants for a while. It was a good class anyway, since I met other grant writers or grant writers-to-be. This is important.

Finding people who do what you do. People who might give some help when needed or who you could help. I certainly could always use help.

Even though the class ended and everyone went their separate ways, like the song “We’ll Meet Again”, you never know when you’ll meet again. “Don’t know where, don’t know when.”

Three things about a character’s name

A name means someone existed who meant something to another person. Names are important in life and in a story.

1. A name should mean something to the character (and reader)
When I read a name in a story, I expect something out of that character. I want to see what happens to the named person and what part they play in the story. When I’ve read enough and find that a writer has named people and never mentioned them again, I stop reading. Naming every character just because they are in a scene makes me wonder who is important. Maybe none of them.

2. Way Too Many Names
Some writers believe the more names, the better the story. I quickly become lost as to who is who. How many characters should be named in a story? Not that many. I like for named characters to be developed in some manner. To do this with a lot of names can only result in a story filled with character sketches and no story.

3. Characters with similar names
Each name should be unique in some way. As an example, if several names start with the same first three or four letters, it is difficult to keep them all straight in my head. The first couple of letters are mind catching and should be different and as unique as the characters. My mind is not caught when too many names sound the same.

What’s in a name?
I use the term “name” loosely here. Really, it is any title given to a character in a story. It doesn’t have to be their name, but could be a title like “detective”. I picture three levels of characters:
• Those with names who have some significant part in the story.
• Unnamed people who are described in some detail and generally have a title. These characters may appear in several scenes before disappearing. They add to the story.
• Unnamed and briefly mentioned characters are mostly for only one scene and can be important for the atmosphere they provide.

A name should help develop the character’s personality and give the reader a reason to keep reading. A name should be treated with care because it is what is remembered. Just like in real life, a name identifies who is who.

Relationships

Every grant writer and staff from a nonprofit should take time to meet each other in person. This may sound like ancient advice since social media lets people keep their distance. But, people build a better relationship not by throwing electrons at each other across cyberspace.

A personal visit does two things:

  • Gives the grant writer an opportunity to tour the facility and meet the people working and supporting the organization. The grant writer can also get to know the community being served.
  • The nonprofit has a chance to understand what the grant writer can provide and if there could be a relationship. In the end, it is the grant writer who can go away and the nonprofit is left with the results.

Just like everywhere, there are good and bad people. The internet has shown that bad people can find good people and vice versa. Meeting in person can help both sides figure out who is who.

If a grant writer and nonprofit staff cannot meet, at least do video conferencing. And, do it once a week because a monitor is not quite the same as face-to-face (again ancient concept that worked well in the past).

I think that the most important thing about grant writing are the relationships. These should include not only grant writers and nonprofits, but the people providing the funding or other resource.

Many foundations want a conversation. They want a relationship with the nonprofit staff and a grant writer should help bring the two together. A foundation should not be seen as a source of money, but people who want to invest in the nonprofit’s mission.

Really, all of this grant writing is not about the papers and processes, but about people talking to each other. I’ve been working on getting people money for years and it all comes down to relationships and shared views.

Communicate, write, and submit. But, talk about it with all the people involved.

That old argument: Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing

 

I had another blog planned. However, I’ve been listening to self-publishing podcasts and traditional publishing came up as it usually does.

I think there is merit in both and some people agree since there are hybrid publishing systems combining the two. However, the biggest advantage to self-publishing is that a well written book has a venue toward being read. There is less chance in traditional publishing.

The merger of the publication industry narrowed the book selection process with fewer people doing the selecting and fewer venues for authors to sell in. Also, publishers took less risk by using just a few plot lines. Readers’ choices declined while publishers compensated by using marketing ploys like best seller lists that did not really list best sellers. I’ve heard many readers who selected a best seller and wondered why, after reading it, that it was ever published.

Agents are not at fault because they need to select books editors want. Editors must select what is quickly profitable or get fired. Corporate management will not adjust leaving the decision for change up to the reader.

My goal has always been to look elsewhere than best seller lists and the big five publishing companies for something to read. Going to the other end with self-publishing is usually not good, either. There are too many self-published books of poor quality. At least books traditionally published are readable.

I seek out small, independent presses. This is where I have found books rich in diversity and vivid story telling that could become classics. While hybrid publishing helps improve self-published authors, these presses are where a well written book has a chance to being read for a long time.

Given all of this, I’m likely to self-publish my books. I’d rather not, but it’s fruitless to pursue an agent because my books do not fit the standard plot line. I’d like to find an independent publisher, but they are hard to find in my genre (hint: become more recognized). Instead, I will professionally edit my books and put them out there. Maybe one day, someone on a podcast will talk about my book. I hope it’s a podcast I listen to.

What does a Nonprofit Need?

Before looking for grants, I find out exactly what a nonprofit will need to meet their mission goals.

Almost everyone thinks this means money. But, many times a nonprofit will need something else like volunteers. Or, they might need an in-kind donation like equipment or a used vehicle. Maybe, the people at a nonprofit just need someone to talk to.

I try to always be available and listen to staff members talk about future goals for the organization or how they deal with problems. I try not to tell them what they should do but help them figure it out as best as I could. As a volunteer, it doesn’t cost them anything and I don’t mind.

It’s good that there are other people better than me who can find in-kind resources. It helps when the nonprofit staff have a relationship with local businesses and vendors. Nonprofits should work on these relationships in case they need something one day that they don’t have the money to buy.

My ability to find volunteers is not that good, either. Unless I volunteer my wife. Nonprofit staff should develop a relationship with their local community. Get on neighborhood email lists, speak before church groups, or simply go outside and yell for help.

Successful nonprofits communicate regularly with local communities, churches, businesses, social clubs, other nonprofits, and individuals. They build partnerships and share resources as much as possible. They look for other means to solve problems and promote the mission.

Nonprofits and grant writers should not always look for money. There are other ways to get help and usually people are there to help.

Quote: Hope dies last (Studs Terkel)

Outlining for Fiction

I’ve been writing short stories for many years. Now, I’m writing novels, hopefully to publish one soon. Whether writing short or long fiction, I learned not to write an outline.

When I’m ready to write, I had already been thinking about the story for so long that I don’t need to write an outline. I think not writing an outline is what most fiction writers do.

Some writers just start writing something and some say they start with an idea only. But, I think most are like me and have thought about the story enough that they have the story outlined in their thoughts. Except, soon after I start on a story, about when I discover the main character and plot, I write the ending.

This becomes my outline. A start and a finish with only the middle to be written. Fairly simple process, like coming to a fork in the road and knowing which one to take. Yet, by the time I’ve completed the middle, a lot of times my ending and beginning have changed and taken the other fork in the road. Sometimes, even my ending is better as the beginning and vice versa.

My characters are at fault. While they have not entirely changed things, they tweaked enough to make the story start and end as they wanted it. I let them since it is their story, anyway.

I’ve tried writing a story without first writing the ending and I’ve ended up with a story without an ending. Maybe an outline would solve this issue. The problem is I wouldn’t follow an outline if I wrote it.

At some early point in writing the outline, I would be writing the story.

Outlines can be good for a lot of things, such as writing business plans or a technical manual. Even some fiction writers do well with an outline. Writers should not get lost in outlines. Do the minimum and go write.

What really matters is the story.

Quote:  A fork in the road. Classic cliché. Most people write about how they don’t want to go left (or right). It is better to write how it is good to go in the other direction. Granted, the choice may lead the traveler off a cliff, but it was good up to that point.

 

Passion in Grant Writing

I have had a busy two weeks writing grants for several nonprofits. I volunteer my time since these nonprofits do not have the money to hire a grant writer (if they can find one in this rural area).

I learned grant writing by working way too many decades for the U.S. Defense Department (DoD) writing budget issue papers. The papers were part of a budget process where everyone tried to steal each other’s money. Designed to submit a budget to Congress each year, the budget process was like the grant writing process. Except, stealing each other’s money was a DoD twist.

Writing a grant is like writing an issue paper. It’s about identifying a need, finding a resource with the money, and justifying the program in a way that builds confidence the money will be spent judiciously. Like in DoD, when a program got funding, someone else received less or nothing.

In DoD, few people cared (it was cut throat process). But, the need is more real in the nonprofit world. When asking for money, a grant writer should care about the program because someone will get less or none. Yes, like in DoD some grant writers don’t care as long as they win. However, grant writing should be a more than winning.

There should be passion for the program when writing a grant proposal. I think this was part of my success in the Defense Department. If I believed in the program, I almost always found funding for it.

Six rules I use to find a book to read

There are a lot of books I want to read that get lost in the many books I don’t want to read. So, I came up with six rules to help me sort through all these books and pick the right one (hopefully).

  1. Ignoring book covers

In Brenda Ueland’s 1938 book If You Want to Write, she states that “writing does not get better with a fancy, loud package.”

I found that few book covers have anything to do with the book’s content. The only thing I pay attention to on the cover is the author’s name and title.

If the author’s name is big or bigger than the title, I won’t read the book. The publisher is selling the author’s name rather than the contents or story. I found these books to be not well written and boring.

As for the book’s title, I look for something unique. In other words, I have no clue what title catches my attention until it does.

  1. Who is the author?

I want to see a picture of the author smiling. If the author is giving me a grim look, I wonder why the person is angry after getting a book published. I don’t want to read a book from an angry author.

The credentials of non-fiction authors should show experience and education on the topic. I think fiction authors who publish three or more books a year are rushing to publish rather than paying attention to what they write.

  1. Who endorsed this book?

Endorsements from individuals, like other authors, are irrelevant. They can easily become favors to each other. However, endorsements from organizations are more valid because the reviewers need “likes” to get paid. These endorsements are hard to come by. Individual endorsements are easy.

  1. About the book: Multiple authors and point of view

I avoid books written by more than one person. For non-fiction, it seems the authors are always arguing with each other. In fiction, the different styles of writing are just irritating. Another irritation is second person narrative (example: you thought this and you did that). How does the author know what I’m thinking or doing?

  1. From start to the middle of the book

I do not read books that start off with some vicious, violent scene or a string of profanity. The author is using shock writing to attract readers. If there is a plot, it generally consists of more violence and profanity that becomes the story. Some readers like shock writing. I do not.

So much effort is given to writing an opening that many times the rest of the book fails. I find that the middle of a book is where writers struggle the most. A story or non-fiction kept strong in the middle means a lot. This is the problem with books online. Publishers make sure only the start of the book is seen, not the middle.

  1. Non-Fiction versus Fiction: Likes and Dislikes

For non-fiction, I look for a topic that interests me in a subject I want to learn more about, something that hints at a new discovery, or where an author presents a different viewpoint. To me, a non-fiction book should be something I learn from and that makes me rethink what I thought I knew that was all wrong in the first place.

I generally avoid creative non-fiction books. I think many of these are more fiction than non-fiction.

I like a wide range of fiction genres, but not the commercial, mass market driven books. Publishers are more interested in making easy money than providing anything worth reading. I don’t want to read a book that I can’t remember what it was about after I read it.

Summary

There’s a lot of bad books either because of poor writing or awful topics. These are easy to weed out by glancing at the title or a brief look at what’s written inside. But, there’s also a lot of good books, just not ones I’d like to read.

These rules help me improve my chances at finding something I like. However, sometimes I find a book I really like by ignoring everything I listed here.

Quote: Read to let the words be the writer’s mentor.