Author Archive: Stanley

How I learned to write grants

When I worked for the U.S. Defense Department, each fall I helped build the defense budget for the next fiscal year. Me and thousands of others. The process we used was identical to writing and submitting grants.

It began with military organizations (like a nonprofit) identifying their unfunded needs. I summarized the unfundeds in issue papers, which had almost the same format as a grant request. I submitted the issue papers to the comptroller organization who considered funding the request (like a foundation would).

After many years, I learned to marry the unfunded needs with current politics and projected Defense Department requirements. In the issue papers, I put in key words the comptroller organization and politicians were looking for and addressed the new priorities of the administration. I altered the unfunded needs only enough to be acceptable to the comptroller organization. Yet, not enough to change the submitting organization’s ability to complete the mission. I use this process today.

The most important thing I learned in the Defense Department, which I apply to writing grants, is that the process is not about numbers and words. It is all about people and relationships. Whenever there is money involved, there are a lot of competition. The perfect issue paper or grant request may not be enough.

A nonprofit should communicate with a foundation with more than some pieces of paper. Like it was for me in the Defense Department, many times personal contact can determine success or not.

Let me know how you, as a grant writer, started your career or livelihood writing grants.

Writing Needs Editing and Vice Versa

Over the years of writing and editing, then more editing and more writing, I learned to get rid of words that I wrote and just did not fit. I send them into oblivion with a push of the delete key. Or, into a parallel universe where my better alter-self turns them into the best seller I missed making them into in this universe.

I see editing as a learning process many writers go through to know when words should be replaced with something that may or may not be as good as the original. Yes, second guessing defines writing and editing.

I hear the mantra, “Don’t be married to your words.” But, can the original, that your ego said was once great, be worse than what your pride is telling you to get rid of? That is the dilemma.

I try to create something that is the best I could create at that moment in time. Since I am always learning; what I wrote in the past reads a lot better after I edit with what I know in the present. This is what I keep telling myself and, most of the time, it is true. Editing is my mantra.

So, I have gotten better at getting rid of words that I liked but did not fit in with the story. It has been a process.

Long ago I used to work my story around words that I liked rather than deleting the words and continuing with the story. I eventually lost the argument with myself and decided to take the words out. Yet, I could not delete them, so I saved them in another document.

Looking back at what I saved brought me to my next phase of editing. Now, I just delete the words and move on.

Too Much Money

Some nonprofits rely on donations and the occasional fund-raising event to cover their expenses. They maintain the same level of funding each year that is enough to meet their needs. Then, either the need changes or a board or a staff member decides they want additional funding.

I am cautious about submitting a grant for a nonprofit who never submitted one before (or it has been a long time) and their funding has been steady for years. Additional money is not always a good thing. Once they receive the money, the nonprofit must spend it and the process to do so (tracking, reporting, etc.) can be overwhelming.

Increasing a nonprofit’s funding above their normal operating budget should be carefully planned. When submitting a grant request, I usually do not let the funding increase the nonprofit’s budget by more than a third. Past this amount, the expenditure of funding becomes increasingly difficult to manage for a nonprofit. Sometimes more people need to be hired. (A substantial increase is also more difficult to justify in a grant request.)

Besides managing the money, excess funding can lead to personnel conflict among board members, staff, and volunteers. However, a nonprofit can benefit from submitting a grant. The submission process forces them to get organized.

Any major funding changes to an organization, nonprofit or a business, can lead to disaster if not planned carefully. A grant writer should consider the impact additional funding will have on the nonprofit and advise the nonprofit if you have concerns. Sometimes it is better to not increase funding and look at other resources, such as in-kind donations, to satisfy additional needs.

Why Don’t Agents Respond to a Querying Author?

After critique groups and a professional editor, I finished editing my young adult, science fiction novel and decided to query agents before I attempted self-publishing.

Of the eighty agents I queried so far, forty percent did not respond. (Twelve percent of the rejections did not come from the agent, which is a topic for another blog post.)

I have trouble understanding why agents do not respond to a writer’s query. Yes, some agents get a lot of queries and may not have the staff to help them sort through the submissions. Yet, there are software programs that make it easy to at least email a simple, prepared rejection form.

This leads me to assume (maybe wrongly) that the lack of a response from agents is either laziness or a lack of respect (i.e. snobbery) toward writers.

When I read agents’ comments, they give the appearance of liking authors. They also encourage and advertise writers to submit a query. Then, why does an agent not send a response when rejecting a submission?

Maybe agents do not like sending rejections. But getting nothing is worse than getting a rejection. A nonresponse is a rejection with added rejection thrown in. It sends a message that not only is the submission not wanted, the writer should not have sent it.

I can go on with assumptions and guesses. In the end, I remain puzzled as to why agents would show disrespect to writers by not responding to their query. I could call some of the agents and ask them why, but they say not to call them.

I’m not letting it bother me. After eighty queries, I’m more worried about this self-publishing world I’m headed into.