grant writing

Out-of-cycle grants

A secret of many foundations is they sometimes issue grants outside their normal grant cycle. These out-of-cycle grants are usually by invite only based on the relationships between board members of the foundation and the nonprofit.

I’ve written before about building relationships and nowhere are they more important than these types of grants.

Out-of-cycle grants generally have no restrictions or deadlines. They are open grants based on the foundation wanting to help the nonprofit. This help could be the result of the nonprofit’s success in local catastrophes, continued support to the community, or an opportunity for the foundation to make an impact that reflects back on itself.

Nonprofits should submit to a foundation’s grant submission process. However, the nonprofit’s board and executive director should also pursue out-of-cycle grants by building relationships with the foundation board members.

If someone wants more information on out-of-cycle grants, add a comment with your contact information.

Teamwork on a Grant

The majority of my grant writing I do alone. Certainly not my choice. I gather information and data from the nonprofit, ask for help, get a “no,” and write the grant myself. However, I recently joined a nonprofit team to write a grant.

It was great. A leader was assigned (not me), people were energetic about providing information (almost unheard of), and my workload as a volunteer was significantly reduced (yeah!).

I didn’t mind putting the grant package together or doing some of the narrative writing because the team members helped. This is what volunteer grant writing should be about—the paid staff helping the person not getting paid.

Of course, not all teamwork is great. Teams can be as dysfunctional as some families. I think the key is motivation. Everyone should feel they are contributing to the final product.

While working on a grant, most of the time I look to the nonprofit staff to help. I don’t ask them to be team members because they may run away. I ask them for information and data. I try to get them to read over what I wrote. I make them secret team members. It’s a secret to them that they are on a team.

I think teams have a greater chance of success to get a grant than one person doing everything. More mistakes are made by one person. Also, only one viewpoint gets presented. Yet, nonprofits usually have one person doing all the grant writing. This can be the executive director, paid staff like the volunteer coordinator, or a volunteer.

Everyone has talent and fault. One person is good or bad in one area and another the opposite. I prefer the team concept because I am certainly do not always have the right solution.

What’s Important in a Grant Application

Most foundations have a priority of what is most important to them in a grant application. The easy way to find out their priorities is to call the foundation and ask the staff members. Yet, this doesn’t always work. Either there is no way to contact them or they don’t explain their priorities clearly. There are other ways to find clues to the priorities.

For online applications, most of the fields limit the number of characters. The more characters allowed, the more details the foundation wants to see. A grant writer should spend more time on places where a greater amount of information is required. Yes, there’s more to write about, but what is written should be data, information, and details of the project.

Another clue can be found in the application guidelines. Many foundations repeat words that they believe are important. Those words should be the theme of the grant request (mention them several times).

Whether I talk to someone at the foundation or not, I still research the foundation looking for blogs, articles, or comments by recipients of previous awards. There can be a wealth of knowledge written about the foundations and board members (decision makers). I do not pay much attention to previous awards.

For many foundations, like most organizations, things change from year to year. Sometimes the foundation makes different types of awards each year. In any case, the past does not generally foretell the future in grant awards.

The most important thing about writing a grant is for the writer to get to know the foundation as much as possible. It is a lot easier when the writer does.

How to Write Project Titles for Grants

The project title for a grant application is as important as the rest of the application. Not only does it determine the theme of the request, but most online applications use the title as the file name. This makes the title the first thing people read before opening the request.

However, it is not easy to write the perfect project title (for most of us, it’s not easy to write any title for any body of written work). To start, most online applications allow fewer than 50 characters for the project title (about 8 words or less).

To write a project title, the writer should focus on two things:

  • Alignment with the foundation’s priorities. If a foundation member sees the title as being something they might not fund, they may not read further.
  • Reflect what the grant request is about. A foundation member (like anyone) does not want to read a project title and see later that the request is about something different.

In addition, the title should not be a list of keywords. There should be an action verb uniting words explaining what the money will buy with the result of that action. Try to avoid generic words like “feeding the hungry” or “sheltering the homeless,” unless this is all the writer can come up with. Try to be more specific.

I’m not providing examples because all project titles are subjective. The best a writer can do is create one that is compelling and makes a statement that what follows is important.

The project title should be the best the writer can do. Afterall, there’s the rest of the application to be filled out.