Friday, January 29, 2010

Is Your Non-Profit a "Closed" Organization?

Non-profit Consultant, Derek Link, offers some thoughts on the dangers of "closed" organizations:

One of the worst things a non-profit organization can do is to become a “closed” organization. First I’ll define what that means to me and then I’ll give you an example of how it looks in action. A closed organization is one that has become inbred and sort of nepotistic. Only familiar people are invited into the decision-making. The Board hasn’t changed in years or at the very least never includes anyone with a different viewpoint or who is strong enough to rock the boat. A closed organization can’t grow because it fears the innovation, requirements, and new attachments that growth requires.

So what does this look like in practice? I’ve seen a few organizational symptoms lately. Last week I was reviewing a nonprofit organization’s strategic plan. The plan looked fairly detailed at first blush, there were lots of items, neatly numbered, and there were various categories of things that the organization wanted to take action on. The problem was that all of the categories were things they already did and there was nothing new. The second problem was that the sub-items were all so general that it wasn’t possible to know what actions should be taken to actually accomplish anything. It was a 3 year plan that led nowhere. To make matters worse, it was a 3 year plan that ended last year and the action of the board was to re-authorize the same plan for the next three years! Obviously that Board is not including any new people and certainly not anyone who would question the status quo in order to propel the mission forward.

The second example is a non-profit that I have a lot of experience with because I sometimes volunteer there. Like most non-profits, the organization is always short of money but that is mostly because they don’t bring in any expertise in fund raising to implement any sort of organized fund raising plan. It’s always put this fire out then put that one out.

The leadership hasn’t changed over time and new members to the Board have not been added from outside the immediate circle of friends. In fact, I attended a Board meeting once when two new people happened to come in from the outside. They proposed that the strategy for fund raising wasn’t very good and they were actually shouted at by the Board President. These were people with concrete experience raising money so their concerns were based on real knowledge, but the closed system isn’t open to new ideas. The “interlopers” were driven away before the Board president’s veins had even receded from his forehead!

One symptom of a closed system is a Board that only cracks open the Board room door when it is in danger of fiscal collapse. Closed systems are locked in a death spiral that may be slow or fast, or it may simply spin in one place for eternity when the Board is wealthy enough. The Board members of the arts organization I volunteer with are wonderfully generous with their own money and time, but they aren’t wealthy. They periodically publish pleas for funding that are couched as dire warnings to the community that they are in immanent danger of going under financially. The appearance they give is that the only time anyone new is invited to participate is when they need money in times of crisis. That comes across as desperate and irksome to people who would enjoy being involved if a sincere invitation to do so were ever proffered.

So long as your organization has a solid funding stream then it may survive being a closed system, but as soon as that funding stream is compromised, it can come down like a house of cards. In the current economic environment, even some foundations with large endowments that have traditionally been closed systems are questioning the feasibility of remaining as such.

Join Derek for our BlogTalkRadio Tips from the Grant Goddess show this week (Friday, 3 p.m., PST).  He'll be talking about hjow to tell if your organization is a closed system, and what you can do about it. If you miss the live show, you can listen to the recording on demand.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Importance of Networking

Non-profit Consultant, Derek Link, shares some good strategies for effective networking:

I am not by nature a super-social person. Not that I suffer from any social-anxiety dysfunction or anything but I tend to be an inward-thinking person who tends to process and do critical thinking internally. I like to process first, express second. Many people process verbally first and unlike me, they love to be in social settings where they can process to their heart’s delight.

If you’re more like me, you need to force yourself to network. It’s important because most business connections are made this way. This places you in the less-than-comfortable position of meeting, greeting, shaking hands, and spending time with those verbal processors. The thing is, networking effectively is mission-critical if you’re in business - and this includes those of you in business as non-profit or school administrators. You must be out there, be known, pass out cards, do some verbal processing; if you don’t, you won’t be given any contracts that play to your internal processing strengths.

  • Practice being a “there you are” person, rather than a “here I am” person. Force yourself to make eye contact and make the first approach. Many people feel just as fearful as you do about making the first contact and they’ll be relieved that someone has taken the pressure off of them by making the contact.
  • Avoid alcohol in places where you are networking. If you’re kind of an internal processor anyway, you may find that drinking isn’t helping you open up, at least, not in ways that are helpful to building business connections.
  • Be sure to carry lots of cards with you! These can help spur conversation about your business. I can be bad about this so I am constantly putting a couple into my wallet since it’s everywhere I am except the shower
  • Take a verbal processor with you and dovetail off his or her natural gift.
  • Work on using some active listening techniques. Respond to what is being discussed with clarifying questions or summary statements. This helps keep your mind in the conversation and truly creates a connection to the other person.
  • Keep moving to contact as many people in the event as possible. Don’t stay in a mini-conference with one or two people, or with people you already know. Work the room!
  • You don’t need to talk only about business, networking can also be social, so if something cool is happening your life it’s OK to share it. remember, the whole point of networking is to establish relationships.

So don’t hesitate to find those opportunities to get out and shake hands. You want to be memorable so put on your best duds, polish that smile, and walk in the room with the “there you are!” attitude.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Does Philanthropy Serve the Common Good?

Non-profit Consultant, Derek Link, shares some thoughts on philanthropy:

I love when I hear that a foundation is changing its priorities.It tells me that someone is paying attention, that the Board isn’t asleep at the wheel, and that the Executive Director is in a learning curve about the needs of the community they serve. Changing priorities tells me that a foundation may be avoiding the trap of entrenchment in some ideologically-static mission.

Michael Edwards recently wrote an article, “Philanthropy Needs a Major Overhaul to Better Serve the Common Good” in which he asserts that, “The best way to reinvent philanthropy is for ordinary people to get involved in a way that does not reinforce the unhealthy patterns of the past.”

I can see from grant research why he would make such an assertion because I see many foundations that give away lots of money, yet all of it goes to a specific political or religious cause. The question isn’t whether the recipients of the money are doing nice things with it, the civil society questions should be, “Are those the most important things to be doing?” and, “Should the government be giving tax breaks for giving money away when it merely represents maintenance of social inequalities or blatant promotion of personal bias?”

Social change must be driven by social needs but when the wealthy foundations are rewarded for doing nothing more than supporting programs for the wealthy as when donations are made to a senior center serving relatively well-to-do seniors, or the wealthy children who attend schools of a certain religion, the social responsibility a foundation assumes by accepting tax breaks is undermined.

The idea that foundations should be established for the public good is fundamental to civil society principles. But if a foundation refuses to change its mission even when more pressing concerns are evident in their community, one must question the motives and the relevance of their existence and whether our government should be granting tax exempt status for organizations that are nothing more than proponents of a class, race, religious, or political point of view.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What's the Value of a Mini-Grant?

Mini-grants are grants for a relatively small amount of money.  Some people call a grant a mini-grant if it is for less than $1,000.  Others think it's a mini-grant if it is for less than $10,000. There's no formal definition, but you get the point, right?  Mini-grants are small grants.

Because they are small, they don't get the respect they deserve. Large grants of $100,000 or more are sexy and get lots of attention, and people clamor to complete proposals for the big grants, but some mini-grant awards are granted with relatively little competition. 

Why?  People look for a big dollar solution to multiple problems rather than multiple smaller dollar solutions. This is a mistake. It's like jumping off a boat into the ocean before you know how to swim.

Mini-grants are the wading pools of the grant world. They provide you valuable grant writing experience.  When you do well, you are rewarded with a payoff that can help you fund something your organization needs. When you fail, you learn a lesson without having invested hundreds of hours to learn it.  And with each failure, you get a little better.  With each mini-grant success, you gain a little confidence.

Then you move from the wading pool of mini-grants to the deep end of the big pool, and you apply for some mid-size grants. Success gives you the skill and confidence you need to fish in the big ocean of large grants.

The first grant I wrote was a mini-grant. It was a five page application, and I struggled with it for a week. The 30-75 page applications I write now contain most of the same components as that first mini-grant, but they feel different. The only real difference is that now I know how to "swim."

So, what's the real value of a mini-grant? Mini-grants can give you more than a few hundred or a few thousand dollars.  They can give you the experience and confidence you need to succeed with larger grants in the future.

That makes them very valuable.

Become a member of to have access to Mini-Grant Central in the new CRR Forum!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Don't Let Opportunity Slip Away

The charter member rate for membership in the Member Site expires in 7 days (January 31, 2010). Those of you who follow our blog know that I do not use it as forum for selling stuff.  We're pretty committed to keeping it as a useful resource for you.  However, I'm breaking my own rule in this case because of the incredible opportunity that will have passed you by if you miss the charter member rate.

We just launched the new website and the member site earlier this month.  We're offering membership for January ONLY at a ridiculously reduced rate of $5.95 per month (or $59 per year).  On February 1, the rate goes up to $9.99 per month, and in June, it will go up again to $19.99 per month. 

But those who join now at the charter member rate will never see an increase in their membership.  Never.

For just about the price of a Venti Mocha you can have access to an abundance of grant resources, tips, and training - and the collection of resources is growing every day.

So, do yourself a favor and take a look at everything that you get for your membership.

One more thing......On February 1, we'll be holding a drawing.  One of our charter members will receive a FREE annual membership.  That's right.  Join at the really low charter rate and win a chance to get a year free.  You can't beat that.

If you have any questions, just ask.

End on the Last Page

This is my one of my favorite grant writing secrets - not because it's brilliant, but because it always brings a quizzical look to peoples' faces.

Here's the deal. If you are allowed 25 pages of narrative for a grant proposal, you need to end your proposal on the 25th page. Everyone else will.  If yours is shorter, the readers will notice that you didn't use all of the space allocated to you and that everyone else did.  Then the readers will start flipping through your proposal trying to find what you left out.  Once they start looking for something missing, you're done - because they will find something missing, some detail that isn't clear enough.

So, if you find that you are finished with a grant narrative and you haven't ended on the last page, go back and add more detail to your proposal. Where could data make your case stronger?  What element of your program design could be described more fully?

Add enough detail so your proposal ends on the last page.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Relationship Between Evaluation and Grant Writing

While it's true that evaluation and grant writing are completely separate disciplines, there is an important link between them. Yes, report writing and grant writing both involve writing, but the connection is even more important than that and, unfortunately, it is often overlooked.

The connection?  Data.

The data you gather to evaluate your programs is very valuable for demonstrating both your need for additional funding and your capacity to implement programs effectively.

Even if there is not a grant proposal on the horizon for you, you should prioritize your data collection and evaluation activities very highly. Then, when a grant opportunity comes up that is right for you, you'll be ready.

When I teach grant writing workshops, I ask participants to imagine that they are grant makers.  You have $5.00 in your pocket to give to someone.  There are many people competing for your favor, and you are charged with a very difficult decision - who should get your $5.00?  You want to spend it well so it will really make a difference.  Everyone has a need, but some people have solid evaluation data to demonstrate not oly what they need, but to prove that when they implement a solution, it is successful in meeting the need they targeted. Wouldn't you want your money to go to those programs that have powerful evidence of positive impact?

When you get the grant, the loop gets even stronger because you can use some of your grant funds to support evaluation activities, which help you build an even stronger case in future fund raising and grant writing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Using the IRS Form 990 for Grant Research

By Derek Link, Non-Profit Consultant

The IRS requires that certain federally tax-exempt organizations file an IRS Form 990 as an annual mechanism for reporting income and expenses as well as other useful information. The 990 form provides information on the filing organization's mission, officers, Board members, programs, and finances including assets, expenses, income, and grants.

All of this information can be useful to non-profit organizations looking for grant makers likely to make a grant to support their cause. The 990 gives information that is especially revealing for the purposes of grant research. A list of grants is included for that year. This information usually includes:

1. Recipient Agency Name
2. Grant Amounts
3. Agency Address
4. General purpose of the grant

I recommend using the 990 to gather the following information about the grant maker:

  • The range of grants that the agency made that year. 
  • The number of agencies that are similar to yours that received grants and the amounts and purposes of those grants.
  • The geographic locations where the agencies were that received funding.
  • The specific purposes of the grants. Were any of them for the same purpose for which you are seeking a grant?

If the 990 information for the previous year appears to make a grant maker a good bet for funding, I recommend going back one or two more years to review those 990 forms to verify the information.I also recommend looking at the current guidelines and even calling the grant maker (if such calls are allowable) to make certain that the grant you wish to submit will be of interest to the organization.

My last tip is this - if a grant maker indicates that it does not accept unsolicited proposals, look in the 990 form to see who is in charge of the foundation and who sits on their Board of Directors. You may have a contact among those names, or you could know someone who knows someone who would make an approach on your behalf or arrange a meeting. “Six degrees of Separation” can be a useful principle in making contacts that can lead to an invitation to submit a proposal.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Grant Writing – A Romantic Misconception

By Derek Link, Non-Profit Consultant

The image of a warm fire crackling softly in the background, a golden retriever slumbering at his feet, perhaps even a hot cup of tea steaming beside the keyboard is the image of a grant writer’s days. No stress involved, just bucolic surroundings, creative narrative editing, just an aura of cerebral bliss, day-after-day.

Yeah, right. It’s more like a flue fire roaring, dog barking, cold forgotten teabag in a cup that was hot yesterday, piles of paper with scribbles and spotted with post-its, draft after red-edited draft scattered in loose piles on chairs and couches, and an impending deadline that is literally a deadline.

Grant writing, like most writing, can be romanticized beyond reality. Oh, there’s an art to it all right, but even art is mostly – as artists will tell you – about dogged determination and ongoing stubborn effort. Grant writing is all about striving with narrative to make it say what you want it to say in the way you want it to be said, and all within the confines of a page limit, a specific font size, and between margins of unbending width.

Grant writing is more akin to technical writing than to creative writing. Grant writing necessitates curbing your creative juices in order to stay on point and not stray off into irrelevant and space-stealing witticisms or flowery jibber-jabber. There is an element of creative writing to a grant because for the most part you’re writing about a program that does not exist yet, but effective grant narratives are mostly direct, expository copy in topic-specific, technical language.

I’ve had conversations with people about what I do and I tend to get this dreamy-eyed response from some of them. Their verbal response goes something like, “Oh, I’d LOVE to be a grant writer someday” as they mentally drift off to the study in fuzzy slippers. Their ignorance amuses me because I know the truth, but then I was there at one time myself.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I am not masochistic and making a living writing grants as some form of monastic self-flagellation. I do enjoy it, but it is definitely a love-hate relationship. I love the challenge and hate the deadline. I love the research and hate the restrictions.I love the competition and hate losing. I love the fact that there is a financial reward for the client (and me). I do enjoy grant writing, but the romance was gone forever as soon as I got my first edit and response from my grant writing mentor.

In my pre-grant-writing-career fantasies I had imagined finishing a sparkling narrative, pulling the crisp paper from the typewriter with a flourish and placing it respectfully upon the finished stack, putting a match to my pipe and puffing happily whilst sipping my steaming Earl Gray as Skipper wagged in proper canine admiration.

Sadly, there’s always someone who’s going to inject reality and burst the bubble. In my case it was a short, slightly sarcastic, practical-joker who could brilliantly dissect my narratives and never apologize for the lack of anesthetic. Alas, most unrealistic romantic grant writing fantasies are bound to end that way.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lessons Learned from Failure

Admitting failure is no fun.  Talking about it is even less fun. However, failure can be very valuable if it helps you avoid repeating it.

We have been fortunate to be very successful with grant writing, but there have been some failures.  Here are some of the most important lessons that we at Creative Resources & Research have learned from failure:

  • Attend the webinar. The Federal Register is the official word on grant requirements, but the RFP, and other forms of guidance (like the funder's bidder's conference or webinar) explain things that may not be clear.  We are currently in the process of helping a client appeal a negative funding decision in which guidance provided during the funder's informational webinar conflicted with guidance in the Federal Register. While the law is clear on the issue and we may very well win the appeal, a lot of discomfort could have been avoided if we had just attended the webinar.  A representative from our client's organization did participate in the webinar, but he didn't know what to look for.  We should have participated.  Next time we will.
  • Do some research into previously funded grantees. Sometimes a funder provides a long list of eligible applicants, but that doesn't mean those are all preferred applicants.  Take a look at previous grantees to get an idea of the types of organizations they like to fund. Recently, we participated in a mentoring grant competition that was open to schools and non-profit agencies.  Our clients were schools.  We were not successful.  After the fact, we realized that almost all (all but ONE) of the successful grantees in recent years had been non-profit agencies.  A little research would have saved a lot of effort.
  • It is essential that two people review the final document for submittal. People make mistakes.  they leave out appendices and required grant components by mistake, especially when they are under the pressure of a deadline.  It is much less likely that a mistake will make it out of your office if at least two people review the final application before it is submitted.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Top 10 Lessons I Learned from My Grant Writing Mentor

I have had several mentors in my life.  They have all taught me many valuable lessons. My grant writing mentor taught me some great lessons about grant writing.  While he didn't teach me everything I know about the work, he helped me understand the importance of many things that I might have overlooked or not taken as seriously as I should have.  To be honest, some of the things I learned from him were things NOT to do, but that's ok. A lesson is a lesson, right? Here are the top 10 lessons I learned from him (in no particular order):

1- Whenever possible, add detail. For example, describing a plan for parenting classes is not complete unless you have provided as much detail as possible - the curriculum to be used, how often it will be offered, when it will be offered (days and times), how many will be served, how success will be assessed, etc.

2- Don't write for free. People will often ask if we'll write the grant for the right to the evaluation contract.  Not only is that unethical, but it doesn't make sense.  Grant writing and evaluation, while related, are completely different disciplines. Also, the evaluation is a job in itself, so writing the grant for the evaluation contract is essentially writing the grant for free.  If I want to donate the service, that's one thing, but doing it because a client has given me no choice is another.  Besides, what other professional works for free on a regular basis?

3-  It's ok to turn away work.  If you're good, there will always be a demand for your services. Never take on a project out of desperation. If the project doesn't have a good chance of success, it's ok to walk away.

4- Don't be afraid of competition. If you're good, you have nothing to be afraid of.  The only way to get better is to stretch yourself, challenge yourself, jump into the deep end of the pool with the big boys and swim. My mother expressed it by saying, "No guts, no glory!"

5- Listen.  The first thing to do when talking with a client about a new project is to listen.  Listen carefully.  Listen for what they are really saying.  Listen for their real motivation. Listen to what they really need.

6- Don't let failure slow you down. If you don't succeed with a project, reflect on the failure only long enough to figure out what went wrong and what you can learn from it.  That's all.  Don't let failure steal a moment of time from a current project.

7- Work better than everyone else.  For some, that may mean working longer hours (showing up early, staying late).  For others it means following a particular successful procedure or organizational structure.  Whatever it is, just remember that you can't be better than everyone else in your field by doing things exactly like everyone else.  You have to set yourself apart, and once you do, don't stop doing it.

8-Tell the truth.  The temptation to exaggerate in grant writing is strong.  Resist it. You will regret dishonesty. It always seems to come back to bite you.

9- Respect the people who help you do what you do. The very best grant writers are not loners. Whether you have a support staff that helps you or a support system of colleagues and friends who help, respect them and realize how important they are to your success. You need them, probably as much (or more!) as they need you.

10- Walk away from the work to keep your writing sharp. Don't work all the time.  Take time for family, friends, reading, hobbies, and faith. Contrary to what you may think, more time at work doesn't necessarily make your work better.  This is particularly true for writing. You have to keep your mind fresh by walking away from the work sometimes.  And never forget what really matters - faith, family, friends. Balance in your life not only makes you a better person, but it also makes you a better writer.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Making Time for Grant Writing by Focusing on the Dream

I'm thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy today, and how our lives are so much different - and better - because of his courage and his focus on his dream. While there are many lessons we can all learn from his life, there is one that relates to grant writing that is on my mind today - finding the time.

I hear it from people all the time: "I'm just too busy for grant writing." "I'm too busy doing my job to even think about going for money to give me even more work." "There simply isn't enough time."

The next time you find yourself saying that you don't have the time for grant writing, I'd like you to take a few minutes to stop and think about the children who attend your school or the people served by your non-profit organization. Visualize how their lives are now. Then visualize how their lives would be different if the innovative programs you have been dreaming about were a reality. See the present.  See the possibility.

Now understand that YOU are the bridge between those two realities.  You CAN find the time to make the dream real.

If MLK Jr's legacy means anything to you, use it inspire you to do what he did - don't let a little personal inconvenience stop you from making a difference for others.

You CAN find the time.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Are You the Bear or the Salmon?

I just came back from a trip to the east coast for an evaluation conference. On the plane, there were a variety of videos played before and after the main movie.  One of them was a nature film about salmon swimming upstream to spawn and the challenges they face.  I was particularly interested in the bears.

The salmon were swimming upstream, struggling to make progress against the strong current, following an instinctual ritual that had been followed by millions of other salmon before. They kept swimming, regardless of what happened to the other fish in front of them - some made it, some were eaten. They continued to leap out of the water, persisting upstream through the rocky river, in spite of the danger of being snatched out of the air into a bear's mouth.

 Some even adjusted their fishing strategy and started stepping on salmon to trap them before going after them with their strong jaws.

Lots of salmon died.  All the bears were fed.

The salmon just kept doing the same thing that millions had done before them.  No change in approach or tactic regardless of the risk.  Some made it, but the cost was high for those who didn't. The bears assessed the situation, applied a strategy, and modified the approach if it didn't work.

As a non-profit or school administrator, which are you - a bear or a salmon?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Using Social Math to Help Your Data Tell Your Story

I'll admit it.  I'm the kind of person who gets goosebumps of excitement over a well-formatted data table. Pages of charts and graphs make me feel like something important has been communicated. But most people aren't like me.  In fact, pages of charts and graphs make eyes start to roll back into most peoples' heads.

This isn't just an evaluator's problem. Whether you are a school administrator or a non-profit executive director, if you have a story to tell, you need to find a compelling way to tell it. And you need to speak in a language that the people you want to hear your story will understand.

Social math can help you do that. Social math is a way of presenting data that connects it to something people can easily understand and links it to a broad social purpose.

I was at an evaluation meeting for the past couple of days, and one of the best sessions gave some great examples of social math that I'd like to share with you (thanks to Adrienne Dealy of the Communication and Social Marketing Center for these examples):

You could say, "Each year, over 91,000 infants under 1 year old are victims of child maltreatment." That sounds like a big number, but is it?  What does it mean? Using social math approach, you would add, "If their cribs were placed end-to-end, they would stretch for 78 miles." 

Wow. Now I get it.

Here are some more examples:

"Before passing legislation to regulate gun sales, there were as many gun stores in California as Burger King restaurants."

"If every person in the U.S. were to change their page margins from the default 1.25" to .75", we would save a forest around the size of Rhode Island each year."

"A gasoline refinery emits 6 tons of pollutants per day - enough to fill 25 balloons of toxic pollution for each child in a mid-size town."

When you're sharing your data, whether it is data documenting your need for assistance or data documenting your success, think about how you can make it meaningful for your intended audience. Remember, it's about them, not you.

Now go change your page margins and save a few trees......

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

If It's Not Right, Just Say No

I did a BlogTalkRadio broadcast on Saturday about two new RFPs that came out last Friday - Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools and Grants for Integrating Schools with Mental Health Systems. On the radio show, I summarized the details of each grant opportunity - deadlines, eligibility requirements, funding priorities, available funding, etc.

One of the details for Grants for Integrating Schools with Mental Health Systems is that grant funds cannot be used to fund direct services for students.

Since then, I've had two conversations with people who want to know if there is any way they could use that funding source to pay for a school counselor.  The answer was, "Not if that counselor is going to provide any direct services to students." Both then followed up with several questions asking if we could find a way to describe the counselor's duties that would be acceptable to get them funded, but then they went on to make their intent clear - that the counselor would be providing direct services to students.  My answer, "No."

When you have an intensive need, it's very tempting to try to make the square peg of what you need fit into the round hole of what the funder is offering, but it is never a good idea. Not only can it be unethical, but ultimately, it won't help you get closer to the achievement of your mission.

In the case of my example, I advised these clients to wait for the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program grants.  That source will fund school counselors.  It's a square hole made to fit the client's square peg.

Keep looking, you'll find the funding source that fits your needs.

If you find one that's not right for you, just say no.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Staying in the Present

Thoughts from Grant Coach, MaryEllen Bergh, on staying in the present:
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift; that is why they call it the present.” Eleanor Roosevelt.

I have been told quite frequently that the universe continues to put things in front of us until we master them. Being in the present moment is clearly something that I have to work on as that concept is quite often put in my path. I might find myself waking up in the middle of the night thinking “I should have done this…I should have done that…” on a grant that was just submitted (worrying about something that is past!) or plop myself right into the future about a recent proposal with a “What if the committee takes too long in review and we have to maintain the timeline?”…”What if we bid too high?...or too low?” (worrying about something that hasn’t even happened yet!). When I catch myself wandering off with these thoughts, I take a few deep breaths and acknowledge that the present is perfect and express gratitude for the opportunity to write that grant or submit that proposal.

Being present protects us from being completely consumed by worry. It’s hard to worry when you are looking at all the amazing things surrounding you in the right here and the right now (key word: amazing). When we are fully present we may find a new discovery or a novel way to describe a concept – one that may have been hidden by past or future thoughts. In the present we can get some clarity around our work because we have the freedom to focus…and we get to choose. There is no choice in the past or the future.

You'll find more wisdom from the Grant Coach in the Coach's Corner area of the member section.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Some Thoughts from the Coach on Setting Your Intent

Here are some thoughts from the Grant Coach, MaryEllen Bergh, on setting your intent to help you get things done:

Prioritizing tasks and setting your intent based on priority can help you remain focused on completing your project.

It always amazes me how unfocused I can be – overwhelmed by the amount of things I want to accomplish…immediately. Making lists and checking things off is one of my ways of dealing with tasks; however, instead of looking at what I have accomplished, I seem to look at what I didn’t get done.

When I take the time to breathe, I can access my inner coach and ask myself, “What do I really need to complete today?” Then I get clear about what I want, I set my intention for the day (I intend to write at least 1 section of this application…I intend to read 1 chapter of, “Thinking Write”…I intend to be fully present with my grandchildren today). Keeping this intention with me, I find it easy to remain focused on my priority for the day.

Get access to more wisdom from the Grant Coach in the Coach's Corner section of the member area.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Grant Writer or Grant Valet?

There are two types of clients I write grants for. There are clients who are so busy that they don’t have the time for one more thing so I am treated like a valet; and then, there are clients who are so busy they don’t have time for one more thing, but they make time to partner with me to develop an excellent narrative product.

Organizations hire external grant writers for a number of reasons such as, they don’t have the internal expertise to write grants or they can’t afford to add a grant writing position to their payroll.  The number one reason I find that organizations hire external writers is their desire for success.

We write grants all the time and when you have a talent to do something, and you do it a lot over time, you tend to get pretty good at it.  So our staff writers have developed their talents over time and through a lot of perseverance, education, reflection, and just plain mule-headed determination.

But my point here isn’t that we’re good –we are very good – the point is we’re also dependent on our clients to commit some real time and intellectual capacity to the exercise of writing a grant.The most recent case-in-point is a local non-profit organization (the Center) who we helped to write a large grant for some new programs.The grant was successfully funded and I attribute part of our success to the staff at this excellent community-based organization.

I did the writing, but a number of the Center’s staff provided feedback and crucial information throughout the process.They didn’t treat me like a Grant Valet; they didn’t simply toss me the keys and tell me to go off and write the grant for them.

My experience is that the “grant valet” attitude often results in an inferior grant so when you employ a grant writer, be ready to do some work. At a minimum, be prepared to do the following things during the grant process:

  • Identify a clear program you want to fund that aligns with your mission.
  • Be prepared to read drafts and give meaningful content feedback (not simply edits).
  • Ask your accounting staff to help prepare a realistic budget.

  • Keep the process flowing smoothly by returning emails and phone calls promptly.

I commend the staff at the Center highly for their work.  It’s reflective of a functional organization that not only delivers excellent programs but is looking to the future for new opportunities and has ownership of those opportunities before they’re realized.

Signing a grant writing contract and thinking that you’re going to hand off all the work like the car keys to a valet is a huge mistake.  Plan to commit some cerebral time during the process in order to ensure that your organization is accurately represented in the narrative.  You’ll end up with a grant that you can fully implement and one that is much more likely to achieve its objectives.

(This post was written by CRR Non-Profit Consultant, Derek Link.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Try a Change of Perspective

When faced with writer's block or any challenge that gets us stuck, our certified coach, MaryEllen Bergh, always has some suggestions for getting un-stuck. One of her suggestions focuses on changing perspective. Here's what she has to say:

Sometimes all you need is a fresh perspective. Try these 3 things to see things with new eyes:

1) Change your routines. It will very quickly open you to new perspectives. This can be as simple as changing the hand with which you hold your telephone or getting up on the opposite side of the bed.

2) Change your scenery. Take a few minutes to clean off your desk or bring in some fresh flowers.

3) Visualize yourself in someone else’s shoes. Step into the character of a mentor or someone you admire and see things for a moment through their eyes.

Become a member of to get more from the coach!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nonverbal Communication Makes the Difference!

Some thoughts on communication from our certified coach, MaryEllen Bergh:

Good communication skills can help you in both your personal and professional life. While verbal and written communication skills are important, research has shown that nonverbal behaviors make up a large percentage of our daily interpersonal communication.

According to Albert Mehrabian’s research, 7% of what we communicate to others is the result of the words we say or the context of the communication; 38% of our communication to others is a result of verbal behavior which includes tone of voice, timbre, tempo and volume; 55% of our communication to others is a result of our nonverbal communication – our body posture, breathing, eye contact, facial expressions, and movement. The value of Mehrabian research relates to communications where emotional content is significant, and the need to understand it properly is high. This is often applicable in management and business, where motivation and attitude have a crucial effect on outcomes.

Try these three ways to improve communication:

1) Be aware of non verbal signals.Pay attention to body movements, gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice. These signals send important information not carried in the words said.
2) Pay attention if the words and nonverbal behaviors do not match. Research has shown that when words fail to match up with nonverbal signals, people tend to ignore what has been said and focus on nonverbal expressions of moods, thoughts, and emotions. For example, someone might tell you they are happy while frowning and staring at the ground. You are not likely to believe what was said!
3) Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you are confused by the words and signals.

Want more information and wisdom from the coach?  Become a member of!

Monday, January 4, 2010

What do funders want?

When you start out on the path of grant writing, figuring out what funders want can seem very confusing.  Actually, it's not as complicated as it seems. Here's the answer to that elusive question, "What do funders want?"
  • They want to know they are funding an organization that has a vision that matches theirs. They don't have time to mess around with folks who are just chasing money, and you don't have time to chase the money at the expense of your organization's mission and vision.  Look for and find funding sources that want to fund projects like yours.
  • They want to know that their money will be well spent and well managed.That's why many foundations won't fund organizations that have been in operation for less than three years.  That's why they want to see your overall agency budget.  That's why they often ask to see audit reports.Think about it.  When you donate money to a charity, don't you want to know it will be well managed?
  • They want to fund organizations that have the capacity to implement the program they funded. If your overall budget is less than $1,000,000 a year, you will be unlikely to receive a grant for several million dollars.  Why?  Because you have not yet demonstrated the capacity to manage that amount of money successfully.  Even if you have a larger overall budget, if all of your programs have been local and small scale, you would be unlikely to receive a grant to implement a program nationally.  That doesn't mean you can't work up to it, but don't underestimate the importance of capacity.
  • They want to to receive proposals that answer their questions directly and succinctly. Imagine that you had $10 to give to someone to start a lemonade stand, and you asked for essays describing how the recipient would use the money to start a lemonade stand. When the proposals roll in, half of them address the questions you ask clearly and directly . Some of the others make the case for why a hot chocolate stand would be better, or how they would like to expand their very successful muffin stand, or something else. Some of the others address the question, but they go on and on about how many soda stands they have implemented, and how many bike routes they have built, and....and.....and....Even though they all took the time and effort to put proposals together, the only ones who have a chance are those who directly and succinctly described how they would use the money to start a lemonade stand.
  • They want to make a difference in the world - just like you. Even though they may not say it, funders want to recognize and feel your passion for what you do.  Addressing the questions in the application directly is important.  Competence and capacity and good fiscal stewardship matter, to be sure, but make sure the funders know that you have a heart, that you care about the work you do, and that you are making a difference in the world.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Is There a Formula for Grant Writing Success?

Maybe I'm being more reflective that usual because of the new year, or maybe it's because several  people have asked me about our success lately. The question on my mind is this:  What is the difference between super-successful grant writers like those at CRR (with funding success of over $100 million in less than 10 years) and those grant writers who struggle for every mini-grant or who spend decades writing and can't get far passed the $10 million mark? It can't just be luck. Is there a formula?

Well, yes and no. There is a certain amount of basic skill involved.  Good grant writers are, first and foremost, excellent writers. They are also excellent readers.  Reading an RFP (and reading between the lines of an RFP) is critical.

Good grant writers know how to follow the instructions, write succinctly, develop appropriate budgets, write good goals and objectives, build a compelling case for a project, write effective evaluation plans, and put together a comprehensive and complete proposal package. All of these skills can be taught and learned, but what separates the good grant writers from really great ones?

It's about the things you can't teach.

Great grant writers are extremely creative.  They can see connections between data and programs that others miss.

They are highly intuitive.  They have a sense for what a funder is really asking for, in spite of what is on the written page.

They are resilient. They handle failure and set-backs as well as success. And trust me on this-- if you do a lot of grant writing, you will experience some failure - not as much as those who aren't as good, but you don't get to be among the best without taking those failures and learning from them.

They handle stress well.  Deadline stress is a particular kind of stress.  Every person I have ever interviewed for a job says they handle stress well.  Then they get to experience our kind of deadline stress.  Some rise to the occasion and do their best work.  Others fall apart. Also, it's one thing being able to handle a single deadline for a single proposal, but it's another thing entirely to handle the stress of 5 grants due on the same day, followed by another 3 grants due two days after that, and so on. That brings me to the next characteristic of really great grant writers....

They are experts at managing time and multitasking. Writing only one proposal at a time feels like a vacation.

Want to know more abut what makes the difference between good grant writers and the really successful ones (beyond what I have said here)?  Visit the CRR online store and take a look at the CD or cassette of 12 Secrets of Successful Grant Writers.

It's not rocket science, but knowing the secrets can make the difference between being good and being GREAT.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Grant Writing Commitments for the New Year

Yes, I call them commitments, rather than resolutions. There's something more permanent about a commitment. If you keep your commitments to yourself the way you should be keeping them with others, they will last long beyond January.  They will become part of you.

Here are several ideas for commitments for the new year to fire up your grant writing:

1) Make time for grant seeking. Grant seeking takes more time than you think, especially if you do it right. Doing a quick search at or The Foundation Center is good (although that takes time, too), but the payoff really comes when you take the time to dig deeper. We have written a FREE white paper on grant seeking and grant research.  Send a message if you'd like to see it.  In any event, schedule some time at least several days a week to work on grant seeking.

2) Plan ahead for what you need. Take a look at your strategic plan and your organization's needs and make some decisions about what you need and the next steps for you.  That will help target your search. You'll also need to gather organizational data.  Start now.  Of course, what you'll really need is time.  Schedule it.  Yes, put it in your calendar.  Time to look for grants.  Time to write.

3) Give yourself time to write.  If you're working a full-time job, time is what you have the least of.  You're busy doing your job.  However, if you don't make time to write, you'll never get the success you want.  Schedule the time.  Close your door.  Don't take any calls.  Make it a priority.
4) Make the time to learn more about the art and the craft of grant writing. Read some books about grant writing (check out the sidebar for some of my suggestions).  Become a member of and take advantage of the many learning resources there. I don't care how good you are or how successful you have been, the only way to get even better is to keep learning.
5) Go the extra mile.  When you're working on a deadline, there's the tendency to take short cuts here and there. You skip an explanation or two.  You don't take the time to make that extra chart or graph.  You get by with one less revision. Unfortunately, in grant writing, that's a recipe for failure.  This year, commit to yourself to go the extra mile with each and every project.  Treat each one like your livelihood depends on it (because it just might!).

About Creative Resources & Research

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Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.