grant writing

The Problem with Name Dropping

In an application, some grant writers list names from the past and present that are associated with the project. The writer, sometimes with the nonprofit’s encouragement, see the names as important and recognizable.

But are the names important and recognizable to the foundation? Usually not.

Even if a foundation member recognizes a name, they may not think the person was that great. The named person becomes a disadvantage in the application. Also, listing names takes up limited word space. Space that could be used to explain the project.

A list of names does not explain a project. Also, a biography will not help, but only take up more space. Name dropping is not worth the real estate in an application that could be used to provide information and data on the project.

Some nonprofits push name dropping. They believe, “These important people were associated with the project; therefore, the project is great.” The nonprofit puts more importance on names than accomplishments. If that person was so important to the project, why don’t they or their ancestors help raise money?

Another disadvantage of name dropping is that foundations could view it as trying to influence them. Influence needs to be carefully considered and it is rarely done well. Do you like to be influenced?

The only positive view to name dropping is when the grant writer lists current people who expressed support in the project and have done something. Such as a mayor or a council person. The title and position become important.

In a grant application, this is not a time to rely on the dead, their ancestors, or those alive who might not remember or have the resources for the project. A grant application is about the future, not the past.

Balancing Act

A nonprofit should balance their funding sources between donations and grants. They need to use equal effort in achieving funds from both.

I have worked with many nonprofits and almost all of them rely on either donations or grants for the majority of their funding. Yes, they get involved in the other funding source, but most of their focus is on the one. This can be dangerous if funding stops for that one. There is no fallback position.

Nonprofit managers focus on donations or grants mostly because it is easier for them and they have been doing it for years. The managers have a system worked out, contacts made, relationships built, and a history to use from.

Also, the other way looks difficult and needs to be learned.

Mostly, I see personalities driving the decision of which source to use. Those who are more social and extroverted will look at donations because it means speaking engagements, picture taking, and attending events. Those less interested in asking people for money will rely on grants.

Both types of people could be successful for years using one source of funding, until something stops the one funding source.

Changes in the economy or society can stop donations and not affect grants or vice versa. To prevent a loss of funds, nonprofits should make the effort to learn and use the other. Having a diverse line of funding is always good. They also provide more opportunities for funding.

The nonprofit I’m working with relies more on grants than donations. I’m working on changing them. But it is difficult because they have rarely held fundraising events or asked the public for funding. They ask, why change when grants are being approved? Because one day the grants may stop coming.

(I’m their grant person.)

Asking Again for Money

I’m applying for a grant that the nonprofit received last year.* I wrote last year’s grant, too. The easy thing would be to copy and paste last year’s information into this year’s application since little has changed in the foundation’s guidelines. Also, last year’s application worked, so why change it? This is the wrong thing to do.

A year has passed and progress has been made. (If no progress, then there are other issues to be fixed before asking for more money.) Also, the foundation members are likely to be the same people from last year reading the current application. If they read the same words, they could assume no progress had been made.

Each grant application should be treated as new and not a presentation of the same information. Not only has progress been made with the project, the world has changed economically and socially.

The one item to add in the current application is how the relationship between the nonprofit and foundation has developed positively since the previous funding was provided. Hint: The nonprofit should have taken the opportunity and developed a dialogue and relationship with the foundation.

There are some things that can be repeated in the application, such as the project title. Changing the title to make it seem new is never good. Some nonprofits do this since foundations may not fund the same project again. Be honest.

Also repeat the nonprofit’s mission statement. This provides a sense of consistency and sameness, along with assurance that the nonprofit is stable.

For this grant application, I’m using last year’s only as a guide. Having made progress on the project helps.

*Note: A report on spending all of the previous funding must have already been sent to the foundation.

Professional versus Volunteer Grant Writer

There are two types of grant writers—someone paid by the nonprofit and one who is not (a volunteer).

I’m a volunteer grant writer which means I provide my services without compensation. But I know professional grant writers who each formed a company and are paid for their services.

Professional grant writers are paid either hourly or by a set fee. Whether the nonprofit gets the grant or not, the grant writer gets paid. The other way is for the grant writer to get about ten percent of the awarded amount. If the grant is not awarded, the grant writer does not get paid.

There is a long list of pros and cons for these two methods of pay. The grant writers I know are paid an hourly rate. I was involved in one situation where the grant writer was paid a percentage of the award.

Personally, I would rather pay the grant writer up front for their services. I feel the nonprofit has the best control of the grant writers’ work such as selecting the foundation. In the other situation, the nonprofit had almost no input into the application and the grant writer only submitted grants to places they were fairly certain of success (and getting paid).

Yes, it seems easier with a greater chance for success to pay a grant writer a percentage of the award amount. But reality can be much different after the grant is awarded. Having control might be easier and not all grants are good for the nonprofit.

Of course, whether a nonprofit pays for a grant writer or not depends on whether they have the money to do so. Many times, the nonprofit’s staff and management write the grants. In another blog post, I’ll explain why bringing on a grant writer, paid or volunteer, is as necessary as paying a volunteer coordinator (and doable).