Author Archives: Stanley

Florence

Nice name, not a nice storm.

This blog is about the hurricane since I live in New Bern, NC. My wife and I evacuated on Wednesday to Richmond, VA where we had family. We came home Sunday afternoon to no electricity and piles of rubble and debris everywhere. Flood waters were not far away.

The picture is an 80 foot pine about 35 feet from our house. If it had fallen the other way, it would have destroyed part of our house. While we were fortunate, I feel bad because several houses in our neighborhood were flooded and many homes had trees leaning on them or through them. Fortunately, no one got hurt because many in the neighborhood evacuated.

The big debate of whether to stay or go happened on Tuesday when Hurricane Florence was a category 3. Some did not evacuate, although they had money and places to go.

A thousand theses can be written on why people choose to stay during a hurricane. I have been in category 2 hurricanes and it is stressful when trees are coming down outside. I have sat in a dark house wondering if the next tree to fall will come through the house or some debris slam through a window.

New Bern and the surrounding area will recover thanks to people across the U.S. who came to volunteer and many others through their donations. An interesting note: This afternoon, the remnants of Florence brought tornadoes near Richmond. The hotel we were staying in became a shelter for those seeking safety.

Grant Reporting

When a nonprofit receives foundation money, it is critical they provide a report to the foundation on how they spent the money.

Almost all foundations require some type of report. What is required and the due date is usually explained in the acceptance letter that comes with the check. Not reporting back to the foundation means no more funding from future requests. Also, the foundation can notify other foundations of noncompliance in reporting.

But, let’s assume the positive and the nonprofit staff eagerly read and understand the reporting requirements. As much care should be taken in preparing the report as writing the grant. Many foundations use the reports they receive as a measure of the nonprofit’s ability to operate effectively.

Even if not requested, a nonprofit should provide at least one story of someone, a family, or a community being helped by the funding. The report’s data and information should relate to the story, which should be the highlight of the report.

If the foundation does not require a report, send one anyway. Even if it is a letter, the foundation should appreciate the feedback. Reports are beneficial to the nonprofit for many reasons:

—  They continue the communication between the nonprofit and foundation.
—  The report assures the foundation that the money was spent for what it was meant to do.
—  The foundation can use the information and stories to showcase that their grants were helping people. Showcasing the nonprofit, too.
—  A report gives the nonprofit added points for getting future money

A timely and accurate report helps to build a relationship between the nonprofit and the foundation. This relationship can sometimes mean more than the money received.

Chapters and Chapters

Nowadays, many novels are written with short chapters of no more than four or five pages. I guess this is supposed to go along with the limited attention span of today’s readers. However, short chapters create a lot of chapters.

How long should a chapter be? More importantly, how many chapters are too many and what chapter number should the novel end with?

To the first question, I think that chapters are like sentences and paragraphs. Important tools a writer can use to keep the pace of the story and the suspense. I don’t agree with many publishers who think short chapters should be in thrillers to quicken the tempo and longer chapters used in novels such as romance and the literary to slow the pace. I think it really comes down to what is right for the story and a writer should not hold to any nonsense guideline.

Another excuse given for short chapters is that readers need a break from reading. Readers can find a break from reading even with long chapters. At some point, the story has a transition from one event to another, a change of scenery, or the departure/entry of a character. This is where I can stop reading and take my nap.

To the second question, do readers really pay attention to the chapter numbers? They will if they are superstitious, have a need to read only to a certain chapter number, or believe in the ending of odd or even numbers. But, this is another issue.

I just ask the reader not to blame the writer, who probably ended on a chapter number only because that’s where the ending came.

Who is the Nonprofit’s Executive Director?

A nonprofit operates or doesn’t based on their executive director. In many cases, the ED is the nonprofit.

There is rarely a deputy making the ED the only one managing the operations. Their morals and ethical values reflect directly onto the non-profit.

Everything runs based on their personality, style of management, and ability to solve problems. Also, the attitude of the staff will mostly reflect the attitude of the ED. Just like leadership in any organizations, small or large.

To write grants, it is important to know the ED because they are the “face” of the nonprofit. It is the ED carrying the nonprofit’s message to the public. They are the person that donors, foundations, media, and others recognize when talking about the nonprofit.

There are other people involved in the nonprofit who can influence operations. Such as the board president (ED’s boss) and other board members. However, they are not usually involved in daily, routine operations.

A grant writer should first have the same values as the ED, but also understand the influence that can be exerted from others.

Characters and Plots

I recently read in various writing articles and blogs that literary fiction is character driven and genre fiction is plot driven. This is nonsense. All stories are character and plot driven. At least the good ones.

What makes a story good is the balance between character and plot. Too much of either becomes mundane and not a real story.

As an example, if it is all about a character – that’s a monologue which is usually good only in standup comedy. Other characters are introduced, but just to support the monologue. Usually, the main character (protagonist) explains how they were a victim of some physical or mental abuse or misdeed and the mental stress it caused.

If the story is all about plot, there is no plot. Just a series of action scenes or events that take place (whether the characters are involved or not). The focus is on loud noises, violence, or someone/something running from/to some place.

Both types of stories become a series of repetitive scenes. This is fine for readers who just want to read something without an investment in too much thinking. Some readers enjoy the emotional ride they get and can forget about soon after.

I would rather look for a story balanced between characters and plot.

Plot is the main part of a story. Yet, plot comes from characters doing things. When there is a balance between character and plot, both share in driving the story along. Doing this type of writing may take an author more time to write. So, these stories are hard to find.

It is unfair to categorize all literary fiction as character driven and genre fiction as plot driven. Some good stories are found in both types when there is a balance between plot and character.

(In the picture, who is the character and who is the plot?)

Volunteers

A volunteer’s time and services are the same as money. Nonprofits should look for volunteers as much as they look for grants and donations.

It’s hard managing volunteers who can walk away at any time for no reason. A lot of nonprofit people do not talk to the volunteers and never know why they are there. Like the grant writer, I think one of the critical positions in a nonprofit is the volunteer coordinator.

The coordinator should know the nonprofit’s needs, know where to find volunteers, and be able to ask people to volunteer. When the volunteers show up, the coordinator should remember what they provided and what they liked by talking to them.

The executive director and staff should meet and greet the volunteers when they are volunteering. And, more than once. It’s important to know what will keep the volunteers from running away. Such as not to demand more services than they want to give. Nonprofit managers and staff don’t know what too much is unless they talk to the volunteers.

Make volunteering a benefit to the volunteer. Give them something in return for their services. Sometimes this is easy when a person needs to do community service, their company gives benefits for volunteering, or a person needs to update their resume. Other than these reasons, really, why do people volunteer?

I ask myself that all the time. Like many people, I don’t know the answer. Yes, people say they want to give back to the community or help the nonprofit that helped them. But, it’s not that easy. Nonprofit managers and staff should not bother looking for reasons. Just be thankful for the volunteer and say hello.

Can creative writing be taught?

Some people in the writing industry say no. They believe you are born with the ability to write creatively. If a person does not have this birthright, they shouldn’t try writing that novel. I think this is ridiculous, highly snobbish, and arrogant.

Creative writing can be taught and at any age. If a person has the motivation and desire, they can learn to write creatively and maybe even get published. Learning to write creatively requires two steps.

First is to learn how to think creatively. Such as imagining a traffic stop on the way to work and an elephant walks over to ask for a ride. Creative thinking is about imagining something different within something routine. It could also be about thinking a “what if” situation such as what if extraterrestrials took over the military. Sometimes creativity can come by paying attention to people in a store and thinking about what kind of life they could be living.

At this point, some people are saying “easier said than done”, but they are listening to the “no” people in the writing industry. A person can learn to think creatively through practice and guidance. Most writing teachers and books do not explain this process or consider the impact of skipping this step.

A person can learn the first step while starting on the second, which is learning to write what is created so it can be shared with others.

In the beginning, it is probably best to write it all out. It may not make much sense, but practice at writing and learning the writing rules will eventually make the creativity readable. At least the writing teachers and books can help with this step.

I think not teaching how to be creative is why so many writers-to-be struggle with their writing. Teachers and authors assume the person already knows how to be creative.

So, self-teach yourself. Maybe keep a journal/diary. Tell your dog or cat or cow what you’re thinking. How about right now getting a pen and paper?

Build the Project’s Funding First

Before I write a grant application, I build a spreadsheet with all of the project’s funding information (revenue and allocation or expense). I use the template pictured above. Once I know exactly what I’m funding, the writing goes a lot easier.

This template is only for a project, a subset of the organization’s mission. A foundation usually requests the nonprofit’s total budget as a separate attachment. Also, many foundations want to see operating funds separate from a project, not together. A grant application should be specific.

(Hint: many foundations fund a specific project rather than the more general operating funding.)

The critical part of building a project’s funding is the percentages. Foundations want to be a partner in a project, which generally means less than a fifty percent investment. What the percentage is depends on the foundation. I try not to go above thirty five percent in any category. But, this is only my guideline based on my opinion, which is not necessarily a good opinion or a valid guideline.

In any case, a nonprofit should be flexible when building a funding plan. Salaries can be included as long as they are for the project and the foundation allows salaries funding. If not, then I list salaries in Other Cash Support. Either way, I never have the foundation pay for the employee benefits. These costs give the impression of operating costs.

Besides the percentages, the other important part is the categories. The template has standard categories meant to be general, while being somewhat specific. Making things too specific can create confusion. A lot of foundations are okay with these categories.

Some foundations have their own budget template. I can complete their template with all the information from my spreadsheet. Plus, I have done the analysis that they may do to figure out how much of the project they are funding.

Writing a grant request is not easy. Getting the costs settled makes the writing less complicated. After all, it is mostly about the money.

Stories without a Published Home (showing half published, half not)

Sometimes after sending a story out for publishing and getting a lot of rejections, I decide enough is enough. For my sake and the story.

I feel guilty when I stop sending out a short story. It is a strange ending to what I created. No one will ever read it except me.

I keep my stories printed out and in manila folders. Inside on the left are magazines I sent the story to along with date and when it was rejected (or when I never heard back from the magazine).

One folder has red wine stains, another splotches of strong coffee, and still another drips from black tea. Some are peppered with food stains while others are not so anointed (it didn’t take as long to write them).

When I run out of room on the inside cover, I write the rejections on the back. At some point, I stop and file the folder and story away before I run out of room on the back and there’s nowhere else to go.

These stories I file away don’t sit far from the stories that were accepted. Maybe I’ll bring the old stories out and try again one day.

Special Grant Requests

As I posted before, nonprofits should always keep a conversation going with people who might support their mission. This year, I was involved in grant requests from two foundations. Both foundations solicited requests outside their application period and focus areas.

The first (foundation A) had a new director who wanted to expand the foundation’s area of interest. Maybe there were other internal motivations. The other (foundation B) received an unexpected endowment.

News for both grant requests came mostly through word-of-mouth. Foundation A representatives came to the area and attended meetings where they spread the word. Foundation B already had a grant request process, which had closed and decisions made. They notified those nonprofits who had applied.

Both foundations posted information on their websites listing what they fund, what they won’t, and guidelines. The normal stuff. However, this information was not complete and not really that clear.

I called foundation A and the administrator easily explained what they wanted in the application. Such as what to mail and who to address on the application. I also got some background information as to why this foundation was soliciting grant requests, which helped in the grant write up.

Foundation B had a special link on their submission webpage to get the application. However, the special focus areas meant several nonprofits would not qualify. Someone else made the call to the foundation and found out that everyone who applied under the regular application process was eligible, regardless of the special focus areas.

In both cases, everyone who found out about the special grant requests were eligible for money. Many nonprofits in the area did not apply either because they had not heard about these grant requests or never contacted the foundations to clarify what was required for the submission.

Lessons learned.