Category Archives: grant writing

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?

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).

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?

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.

 

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.”

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.

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)

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.