grant writing

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I know, the title is an old cliché. Don’t worry, I won’t use any more clichés. This blog is about adding photographs into a grant request.

Many grant applications have an “other” category, meaning the applicant has the option of providing additional information. (If given the opportunity to provide more information, always provide more information.) I add pamphlets or posters or something linking back to the project. I always try to include at least one photograph.

The photograph(s) should involve people doing something directly related to the project. If requesting money for a product, show how that product is helping people. If needing funds for a service, show people receiving that service. The photograph should show the nonprofit making an impact to those in need.

However, be careful with photographs. Everyone looks at them differently. Some photographs can hurt the grant request.

For example, a service like a soup kitchen should show many people being served and not an empty cafeteria with one person. If asking money for a product, show it being used and not sitting on a table where it could look insignificant.

For a renovation project I’m helping with, I show contrasts of what the building looked like and the progress being made. It is important to be truthful, but I do not show the best side needing renovation. Someone may think the building doesn’t look all that bad. Also, I do not show a close up of rotted wood. People may think the building is too far gone and the money will be wasted.

So, just don’t send photographs. Think as much about the photographs as writing the grant. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. (I didn’t say I wouldn’t use the same cliché.)

PowerPoint for Money

This is not to be death by PowerPoint (too many slides with too much text). This is presenting information in a different way that could be easily read.

Usually a nonprofit explains their needs through a grant application. Other ways can be through letters. A PowerPoint presentation gives the reader a different reading experience.

I have done many PowerPoint presentations in my Pentagon career. To be effective, a presentation should contain talking points, summaries, and general descriptions. I allow for white space on each page with few words, wide margins, and large fonts. Yes, it can be hard to describe a project and needs with this limited space.

One way is by listing all the project’s keywords, prioritizing them, getting rid of redundancies, and making them into sentences without adverbs, adjectives, or modifiers. When finished, I organize the slides such as I did recently (seven slides).

  • Self explanatory title with brief summary of the project (logo in top corner)
  • Introduction/Background (what the nonprofit does)
  • Importance of the project (impact to people and/or community)
  • Objective (where this project is going and how will it get there)
  • The Need (details about what is needed)
  • What the need will accomplish (relates back to the objective)
  • Summary with who to contact (it will be a sunshiny day in the end)

I do not mention dollars anywhere. Dollars allow for pre-judgements. The purpose of the presentation is to develop an interest in the project so the reader will ask for more information.

I make presentations that can be read. There may not be an opportunity to present it. A presentation can be given to people with influence over funding, such as politicians and government or business managers.

My presentation was to a politician who had influence with a foundation that excluded the nonprofit’s mission area. Maybe with a little push by the politician, a door could be opened, hopefully.

Getting Emergency Grant Money

Grant money is slow to get. There’s the application period, evaluation phase by the foundation, approval (hopefully), and then a period of time before the nonprofit gets the check. What if a nonprofit needs money now?

The “now” can be some catastrophic event like a hurricane, wildfires, or a virus that affects a lot of people. When this happens, foundations send checks out of cycle and without the need for much paperwork. Yet, there are “now” events that affect only one nonprofit.

This is why relationships are important. But, don’t run to a foundation asking for help when something happens. Evaluate the emergency situation, gather facts and data, reasons for the emergency, and plans for a solution. It is very important to lay out all this information before meeting with the foundation’s board members.

A grant writer should write up a complete explanation with a way-ahead. Most people understand that emergencies occur; however, they are not willing to give money that may not solve the problem. The key is assuring confidence the emergency is under control.

The emergency may not be in total control by the nonprofit staff and leadership. Yet, it should be enough that there is a reasonable chance of success. Foundations (like most people) enjoy honesty.

I wrote this blog because of a recent similar experience. A nonprofit I worked with was renovating an historic building. Of course, old buildings do not like to be renovated. When they are opened, they reveal surprises.

I convinced the nonprofit staff to step back and evaluate the situation. The building was still standing (yeah!). The immediate goal was to keep it that way. We are in the process of collecting photographs, getting help from a local architect, and presenting our findings to a local foundation. A work in progress, but things look hopeful.

Getting Beyond the Current Issue

Here comes the obvious: the coronavirus has impacted getting grants.

The rejections I and others receive usually explain how funding was redirected toward coronavirus issues. Or there are more requests because more nonprofits have lost donations and are applying. I think another big reason is the downturn in the economy and drop in investments. Foundations are understandably cautious about spending money. I would be.

Yet, this blog is about looking ahead in a positive way.

I’ve already written about how to work toward a post-virus future. This blog is about dealing with the frustration that nonprofit leadership and staff may express as grant requests are rejected and donations drop. It’s easy to say “Keep Calm and Carry On”, but it’s not easy to deal with lost income and rejection.

I can only offer communication as an option. In a crisis, people should talk. This includes those working for the nonprofit, volunteers, and grant writers. Discuss funding issues more often. Encourage each other to find new resource opportunities. Contact other nonprofits with a similar mission, even those in another state. Share information instead of competing for resources.

It is important not to let the rejections and frustrations take over. Not only for the nonprofit’s leadership and staff, but the volunteers and grant writers as well. Support each other. Maybe even invite some foundation members to join in a conversation of how to get beyond the current issue.

As Studs Terkel said, “Hope dies last.”