Begin to write the grant request

A grant request should be personal, unemotional, and informative. The request should read as if the grant writer faced foundation people who already heard others ask for money. The writer should make something of the request that is unique to the nonprofit.

As the saying goes: easier said than done. Yet, it is easier if the opening documents set the correct tone. All grant requests start one of two ways. A letter of inquiry (LOI) or a cover letter. An LOI asks for the application with nothing following. The cover letter introduces the application’s documents.

While the application is important, the LOI or cover letter set the tone for everything else that follows. The LOI and cover letter introduces the nonprofit, the project to be funded, and the purpose for the submission.

The LOI must give more information to get the application by stating the nonprofit’s goals, objectives, and how they match with the foundation. There is not enough room for details. Summarize the summaries. The writer will edge toward stating the facts, but add a little sincerity.

A cover letter is like a handshake. All of the project information is in the following documents. Such as details about the project, a budget, and confidence the foundation’s money will be well spent. The cover letter is a welcoming and an opportunity to give details about the project’s successes that is not found in the application.

Some people may say a grant application is a matter of filling out forms. Of course, it is not that simple. It is a matter of understanding the reason a foundation would fund a project and explain this with unemotional sincerity. Spend some time on the LOI or cover letter and this could help lead to a better application.

It takes time to create

In my attempt at being a published short story writer, I try to spend more time being creative and less time finding a home for my stories. Finding a magazine to send my short stories to can take a lot of time.

Over the years, I used sources such as Duotrope (costs to subscribe, but worth it), Poets and Writers Literary Magazines database (free, but please subscribe to their great magazine), and the annual Writers Digest Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. Using these sources saves time from randomly searching the internet.

I also use a spreadsheet I created with over 250 magazines who publish stories similar to what I write (see the blog post “Keeping Track of Things). The spreadsheet doubles as a way to keep track of the stories I send out.

After I narrow down my search to a few magazines, I go to the magazine’s website for more information.

I read what the magazine has published, the editors’ biographies, their mission statements, and submission requirements. One of the most important items is meeting the word count. I stay at least 500 words below their maximum number of words because shorter is generally better.

When I finally pick a magazine, I follow the submission process exactly. I don’t want my story rejected because of a technicality. And, the most important part of the process is spelling the editor’s name correctly.

What this is all about is the expense of time. Writing and getting published are about many things, including writing a good story. Having enough time to do this creativity and finding someone to like what is written is important.

Relationships (again)

I wrote an earlier blog post about the relationship between a grant writer and a nonprofit. This time I’m writing about the relationship between a nonprofit and a foundation.

Whenever money is involved, relationships become more important than the money. Foundations want confidence nonprofits can spend money efficiently and effectively. Nonprofits need money to do this. Both sides should talk.

The nonprofit’s managers should take the first step and start a conversation by calling the foundation’s leadership. This should be done before any written grant request is submitted.

Starting a dialogue is not a problem when a nonprofit has stories to tell. Such as how they improved someone’s life. They can talk about documented results and plans for the future. Things stated in a written request, anyway.

This is what it’s about: people talking to each other. Many nonprofits write grant requests without ever talking to the foundation, hiding behind the submission process. Having a dialogue is a substantial bonus.

It gives the nonprofit’s managers a more personal way of telling who they are, what they are about, and why they want to help people. However, at this time they should not talk about the money.

That is only for the written grant request. Conversations are about building a relationship, which should lead eventually to a visit between the two organizations.

Whether the nonprofit’s managers talk to the foundation’s leadership or not, I always try to talk to the foundation’s staff before applying for a grant. I have had some great conversations that were very helpful in writing the grant request.

Nonprofits and foundations should talk to each other to get a better understanding of each other’s needs. This so they can continue succeeding.

P.S. which cow is the nonprofit and which is the foundation?

Books on Writing

Like many writers, I read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style several times (it’s a short book). Nowadays, books on writing have more imaginative titles like Sin and Syntax, Eats Shoots and Leaves, and The Transitive Vampire.

The current books with their creative themes are good because they generate interest in writing readable English. But, we should not ignore older books on writing, even with their plain titles. Things haven’t changed that much.

I recently read A Handbook of Short Story Writing by John T. Frederick, published in 1924, and If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, published in 1938 (recently reprinted).

Both had basic writing advice that is just as good as the current books. One advice I found useful: a writer should always write to someone.

It may be a stuffed toy, an imaginary friend, God, or someone the writer knows. It could be a small audience of people, a bigger group in a specific genre, or the writer through a diary. When writing, there is the intent of a reader.

Back to books about writing.

People who write text messages, emails, notes, or shopping lists do not need to read books about writing. Those who want to communicate by writing, should.

Whether it has an imaginative title or was written a hundred years ago, writing readable English means writing so a person could be understood clearly. Whether a writer is writing to someone, no one, or to themselves, there is the hope of a reader.

Getting Organized to Tell a Story

Telling a Nonprofit’s Story

Before submitting for grants, nonprofits need to be organized and ready to tell their story. Like querying a magazine to publish a short story, the story has to be ready for submission.

One of the most important places to be organized is the nonprofit’s online presence. Many times, what a nonprofit has online is as important as what they provide the foundation.

Every nonprofit should have at least their own website and Facebook account. The website is where they do business. The Facebook account is where they interact socially with the public. When a foundation receives a request for funding, they are likely to go to the nonprofit’s website and Facebook to learn more about them.

Another important item of communication is the elevator speech. I pretend to explain what a nonprofit is about while riding an elevator five floors with a foundation president. The doors close, the person is a captive audience. The doors open and they are gone into the masses. Hopefully thinking about how great the nonprofit is and not about how I was pestering them.

The elevator speech is not a mission or vision statement. It is a summary of what the nonprofit does and why they exist. It should be placed on the website’s home page and as an introduction on all requests for funding. Something easy to remember (or at least the highlights).

Once a nonprofit’s story is known, writing a grant is just a matter of following the foundation’s guidelines and templates (not really, but the asking is easier).

The Length of the Story

Several decades ago, a viable market existed for stories at 5,000 words or more. Now, the market for short stories drops off quickly after 4,000 words. This creates more competition for lengthy stories and leaves writers with reduced chances for publication.

I try to keep my short stories to no more than 3,500 words, usually less. To do this, I place my stories in a single time period and in a particular place with no more than three main characters. Focus is important.

Each word of description and dialogue should support the plot without the reader asking questions. Each event has to relate to the story in a direct way. There should be no more than one subplot, preferably none. Ignoring these points, the word length grows quickly.

Some short stories are just not made to become short stories. They may be an outline for something longer like a novel. If I find that a short story does not want to be short, I try to break it up into several pieces to try to tame it.

It generally does not work. In one case, I gave up and turned the short story into the novel it wanted to be. At the other end, sometimes a novel can be nothing but a series of short stories.

I wrote a book that just did not work. To salvage something out of it, I made five of the chapters into short stories and three were published.

I find it is best to listen to the story and let it grow into what it wants to be.

Quote: Keep writing and the truth is revealed quietly one day.

 

What I learn from creative writing that I use for grant writing

Writing short stories has helped me a lot to write grants. Not the part about making stuff up, but how to think creatively and find places to send my stories (or grants).

Creative writing develops characters, introduces conflict, and presents a solution (mostly). A grant writer develops the story behind a community’s need and finds the resources to fund that need.

Yeah, this doesn’t really compare that well. Maybe with examples.

For example, writing short stories gave me the skills to write concise. I learned to write in the active voice and be conversational. I learned how to move a plot along quickly to a conclusion.

Grants require concise writing because of limited space. A writer has to tell everything in as few as words as possible. Like in short story writing, every word counts. Writing in active voice helps.

Active sentences use fewer words and explain things more directly. Also, using words from everyday conversation help define a need better than using broad, scholarly words.

Short story writing also helps in research. With each story, I try to match what I wrote with what a publisher would accept. I learn to follow the guidelines exactly when submitting. This is the same for submitting grants. The simplest thing is to follow guidelines, which is where most people mess up.

Finally, all writing requires editing skills. There are an over exaggeration of material to learn from, but the best is to simply re-read what was written. Over and over.

Ask questions about each separate thought as if someone is reading it to you and you have questions about each separate thought. Don’t be upset if you yell at yourself for writing some nonsense. It just needs to be rewritten.

In the picture, who represents grants and who is about creative writing?

Small Notebooks

I always carry a small notebook and a pen with me whenever I leave the house, the place where I have a lot of pens and papers. If I take my wallet and car key, I take my notebook and pen.

There are a lot of things I write in my notebook. Like how much I spent for gas when the receipt doesn’t print out, a list of places I need to go to when running errands, and the odd idea that comes into my head for no reason at all.

Everyone who wants to write, and those who do, should always carry around a notebook to write things in. They may be reminders, ideas to explore, or a memory to write about later. At the end of the day, the pages could end up in the trash. Yet, a lot of times there is something salvageable .

 

Quote: Writing is finding order in chaos. Reading is the act of meditation.

 

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.