Category Archives: grant writing

Writing Grants is Writing

I blog about creative writing and grant writing because I do both and I see a lot of similarities.

In creative writing, a writer needs to know how to write. This may seem obvious, yet many people take on grant writing without believing there are writing rules to follow.

Before drafting a grant request, the writer needs to achieve a level of understanding about writing. Such as how to use active voice, minimize the number of adverbs, and how to compile sentence structure.

Once there, a grant writer can improve their writing by re-reading what they wrote and being critical of their words. After this, the grant writer should get others to read what was written. A grant writer needs to accept critique and be open to criticism from themselves and others.

Of course, understanding writing and how to critique applies to all types of writing. This is important for a grant request because it involves funding for a nonprofit. A writer can use an intended way that is clear and simple or put something on paper just to get it submitted in time.

Ignoring the rules about writing leads to a grant request that might not make sense and a waste of time for everyone. If a writer puts in the effort and work to write a grant request, they should want to make sure other people can understand what was written.

Write Grants Only

I’ve written about this before, but it needs emphasizing and further explanation.

Grant writers should stay away from being board members or in charge of anything except writing grants. If a grant writer wants to be on the board, they should not write grants.

It is an issue of priority and authority. The grant writer must focus on a nonprofit’s most critical needs. As a board member, authority gets in the way of the priority and unfortunately changes the needs.

There are politics on any board, and members can change the priorities to benefit some strange purpose. Being on the board, a grant writer is too close to these authorities. Away from the board, the grant writer has more leverage to prevent strange decision making.

Most importantly, a grant writer needs to be objective (neutral, unbiased) and being on the board can affect this position. As an example, on the board, a grant writer is a voting member, which can alter priorities.

I write this because I made a mistake of writing grants and later agreeing to be on the nonprofit’s board. I have since resigned from the board (for several reasons) and will go back to what I originally wanted to do, which was writing grants. Being on the board and writing grants is not an experience I will repeat.

For the grant writer, what is the goal? If it is to get money for the nonprofit, stay there.

Some Grant Writing Tips (Here’s the rest of it, Part II of 2)

Another Opportunity
If a foundation states they do not accept unsolicited grant requests, do not send them a grant request. Do not call. Instead, send them information about your nonprofit. This should be no more than a page and a half with attachments.

Include a few glossy brochures with pictures that explain the mission and purpose of the nonprofit. The best thing to send is testimonies and pictures of the people who the nonprofit helped. I then wait for the foundation to contact the nonprofit, if they do. If not, I do not bother the foundation again.

I have had success using this method. Over half the time, the foundation sends a grant request.

Don’t Waste Time
Some nonprofits focus their effort on applying for grants they have little chance of getting. The top U.S. foundations (with the most money) accept less than five percent of the grant requests they receive. Many of them look for wide impact on a national level. A lot of them fund projects in third world nations.

A grant writer should look for foundations associated with a business in the local area. If a nonprofit is in a rural area, find family foundations. People are more likely to give in an area they know well.

The biggest problem is applying to foundations that fund projects not in the nonprofit’s mission. If the foundation states they will not fund it, they will not fund it.

Organization
Keep every detail about every grant request sent out. Use a spreadsheet and avoid complicated software programs. Note deadlines, acceptance dates, and when to expect a check. If rejected, call the foundation and ask why. Record this, too. This database can be important for future grant requests.

Some Grant Writing Tips (Part I (II in 2 weeks)

Who is the Foundation?
Before writing a grant request, the writer should study the foundation to get a good understanding of their culture, mission, and goals. It is not enough to read a summary of what grant requests they accept. Research the bios, look at media sources for additional information, and read everything they have on their website. Yes, this can take several hours or more. At the end and if they allow it, call the foundation administrators with no more than one or two questions.

Motivation
A grant writer has to build excitement in their grant requests. Show the devotion everyone in the nonprofit has for the mission and goals. Write out any key words sprinkled in the foundation guidelines that stand out and want to be included in the request. Include these words in the grant request. Make sure the nonprofit’s grant request matches what is important to the foundation. No match, don’t apply. (Later, see waste of time.)

Social Media
When writing a grant request, the information and data in the request should not deviate from what is published online in a nonprofit’s website, Facebook, or other social media. If a nonprofit is fortunate to advance toward the final round of selection, a foundation will likely research a nonprofit’s online presence. There should be no deviation because, what is the truth?

An Opportunity
If a foundation offers a webinar, always sign up. This is where they offer tips and hints on writing a grant that is usually not found anywhere else. A webinar means, “Hey, we’re trying to help you.”

Big Egos in a Nonprofit

Some people have too big of an ego to be involved in managing the operations of a nonprofit. Egos are fine for businesses, agencies, and other organizations that are made up of paid staff. In a nonprofit, most of the people are volunteers and teamwork is essential to keeping people from running away.

I see the most harm done when egos exist on the board or in the nonprofit’s management. Board of Directors are responsible for identifying the mission, providing oversight, and raising funds. The Executive Director and other managers are responsible for fundraising, managing the paid staff, and day-to-day operations.

While the lines between the two are clear, they become blurred when big egos dominate. Board members become micromanagers on the staff or the executive director and staff work as if the board does not exist. Both ways damage the nonprofit’s ability to be successful.

Harm to the nonprofit appears in high turnover rates, loss of donor funding, and errors in meeting the mission goals. Even worse is when the egos reside on the board and management at the same time.

Unfortunately, there are no clear, easy solutions. There are mediators for nonprofits, yet someone has to initiate their involvement and pay them. Most nonprofits suffer through the turmoil. Board members serve two year terms and the executive director and staff with big egos usually burn themselves out and leave.

A grant writer should be prepared for this situation and stay away from it. I realize this is a poor solution, yet an honest one. The only people who can change the situation are other board members or staff who need to step in and confront the egos. However, it is sometimes easier to just leave.

The difference between a nonprofit’s paid staff and volunteer board members

A nonprofit has two groups who work toward meeting the mission goals. The Executive Director (ED) and maybe some staff workers run the daily operations. All are paid employees of the nonprofit.

Overseeing them are a board of directors made up of a President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. There could be other board members, too. All board members are volunteers with the board president being the ED’s boss.

Having a volunteer board overseeing a paid staff creates a unique relationship. People who volunteer to do a job and those who get paid for the job can have vastly different motivations for doing that job.

Both groups will have a sense of duty toward the success of the mission. Yet, they may see achieving that success based on what inspires them. Is it a personal feel-good of community service or a desire to pay the bills at home?

Both inspirations can be good or bad. They are just seeing the mission accomplishments in a way they believe based on why they are there.

I am a board member of a nonprofit. Although I see myself more of the grant writer than a board member. To write grants, I work with the Ed and paid staff. We all try to ignore that I’m a board member. Grant writers should avoid being a board member.

Instead, a grant writer should be aware of the different motivations between volunteering and being paid. This awareness is important when combined with people’s personalities and egos.

At a minimum, grant writers should meet regularly with the ED, talk to the board president, work with the nonprofit staff, and smile at the board members. Focus on the success of the mission. Everyone else is doing that, just maybe with a different purpose.

Diversified Income

Nonprofits should receive money from as many different sources as possible. These sources include private donations, churches, other nonprofits, foundations, businesses, communities, fund raising events, and government agencies.

The more sources the better for a nonprofit since no source is a guaranteed income. However, it is not possible to work on all of these sources because each takes a certain amount of time and effort. Priority is needed.

Everything ends up being a choice of two methods. Getting a lot of money from a few sources or a little money from a lot of sources.

Getting a lot of money from a few sources means each request is generally long, complicated, and littered with traps. Competition is usually high with the funding organization wanting to trim out as many applications as possible using any excuse. Most of these sources are government agencies.

Using this method of few sources allows a nonprofit to focus more on these applications, giving them some upper level of chance. Yet, requesting a lot of money from a few places also means one denial can be catastrophic.

The other method of submitting to a lot of sources, means a lot more work. However, competition is usually lower and the submissions are not as cumbersome to complete.

This method requires being organized. There are more people to know and more time expended. However, one failure has a small impact. Also, getting a little from a lot means greater success since the source is not expending a large portion of their funds.

It all is a matter of personality. The first method is a greater risk with a higher payoff. The second method is less risk with a lower payoff.

Personally, I would always take the second method. It’s more work, but more assurance of success.

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.

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.

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.