grant writing

Grants: Just the Right Words Without Stressing Out

All grants limit the number of words in an application. Therefore, each word must count for something. The decision for a grant writer: what to put in and what to leave out.

When I write a grant, I answer the questions supported with data. I try to use words and phrases the foundation expects to be in the grant request. In the end, I want the reader to come away with a clear understanding of the project and that the nonprofit can successfully complete it. All this without leaving the reader with more unanswered questions.

This is certainly not easy to do and I attempt it with a lot of trying.

Based on the grant application, I use several writing techniques. One of them is like baking a cake. I write an outline (get out the recipe), fill in the data (bake the cake), and put in additional information (icing and sprinkles).

Another technique is to take keywords from the grant application and foundation website, use them as headers, and write a paragraph or two on each keyword. I put the paragraphs together like a puzzle into the correct section of the grant application.

Still another way is to take the grant question, strip out the key words, and focus the write-up on these words only. Afterwards, I put in the words the foundation wants to see. In the end, I make sure I did not duplicate any information or data.

Most important, a grant writer should not feel pressured to put in something about the nonprofit that does not relate to the grant request. Nothing should be forced.

Even after writing many grants, it is still difficult to get the words right in the limited space allowed. I keep trying.

The Changing Criteria for Grant Applications

I have been researching grant applications and found that many foundations are funding only COVID-19 issues. However, I did find some foundations who are not only continuing their regular grant process, but have broadened their acceptance criteria to allow for more applications not related to COVID-19.

As an example, I recently wrote a grant request for a nonprofit who did not qualify a few months ago. The foundation changed the criteria by dropping some of their restrictions. Also, they extended their deadline allowing more time to apply.

With donations down, it is important for nonprofits to find other revenue streams. I always keep an eye out for those foundations that have similarities to a nonprofit’s mission, but do not generally meet the selection criteria. There’s always a chance that these close-but-not-close-enough foundations will change. And many do make changes during upheavals in the economy or other events (like now).

If the foundation’s website does not show any updates, call them. There are some who have changed things around without updating their website. (See previous blog posts about maintaining relationships.)

I usually spend just a few minutes a day researching grants. That way I feel it is less like a job, which is important since I’m supposed to be enjoying this.

Opinion piece: I saw many nonprofits had to close because the government did not consider them essential. Even though the nonprofits were addressing critical social needs in the community leaving people to suffer. What is essential and what is not has not been clearly thought out.

The Future is Coming

COVID-19 is changing priorities and deadlines for many grant applications. While there is money for the coronavirus, most of it will not help most nonprofits. Like small businesses sinking into bankruptcy, nonprofits are headed that way, too. Unless they manage their future.

One of the reasons grant deadlines have been delayed and priorities altered is that foundations are looking at their investments. Money will be tight due to the downward trend of the economy. Yet, like the recession of 2008, things will improve.

I am encouraging the nonprofits I work with to contact the foundations helping them in the past. Seek out and continue the relationships. During downturns and with reduced funding, foundations want to reduce risk. They are more likely to provide for nonprofits they funded in the past rather than recent ones.

Nonprofits can do more by looking for in-kind donations and volunteers. Plan for a lack of funding and seek non-funded options.

There will likely be despair. Yet, this is a right-now situation.

If you are a nonprofit who has been around for a few years, your mission has become important to many people. The positive impact to the community has been felt. Seek out businesses, government, and organizations who want to make sure the nonprofit does not fail. I hope the government and organizations help small businesses, too.

Who is Miscellaneous?

Every budget seems to grow a miscellaneous category like a zit needing to be popped. For grant writers: pop this category (yeah I know this is corny).

A miscellaneous category grows out of laziness of the creator or the years have not been good to the list (people created categories as the need arose). Miscellaneous categories can also grow to hide what the nonprofit is spending money on. None of these are a reason for a growing miscellaneous category.

If this category is large enough to be noticed, it gets noticed. People wonder what is in it and questions are asked. When I receive a nonprofit’s budget, I go to the miscellaneous category first.

Many nonprofits do not have useful categories to stuff their budget numbers in; causing a long list of categories ending with a bigger miscellaneous. My first challenge is changing a nonprofit’s budget categories, at least for the current year. If they let me, I redesign the budget like rewriting a short story.

I take the budget details and create a new categorization that allows for more summarization while making sure I keep the identity of the money received and spent. This is the important part: Keep Everything True.

When done, I have popped the miscellaneous category (I had to end with a corny comment for no real reason).

P.S. If anyone wants more details on how to do this, let me know by comments or email.