Saturday, February 27, 2010

How Can the Grant You Just Finished Help Make You a Better Writer?

The minutes and hours (and sometimes days) after a big grant deadline are typically filled with relief, rest, cleaning up reference resources, and putting life back in order before you get started on the next grant and do it all over again. What is often missing, though, is something that can really make a big difference for improving your grant writing in the future.

What is it?  Reflection.

Take some time after your next grant is submitted and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What went particularly well in this process?  Is it something that normally goes well, or was this different?  If it was a pleasant surprise, is there some way to modify your process to repeat this circumstance so it does happen again?
  • What didn't go so well in the grant writing process? What was the cause of this issue?  Is there something you can change to prevent it from happening again?
Writing down your answers to these questions (something like a journal) can be very helpful.  If you work with a team, addressing these questions individually and then coming together as a group to discuss them can also be very helpful.

Another suggestion is to pick up a copy of the grant you just submitted a week or two later.  Read it with the scoring criteria or scoring rubric at your side.  Make notes about what you improve. Make those notes general enough to apply to any grant you may write in the future, but also note the examples from this grant so it will be a good reminder for you as your review your notes later.

There are many ways to reflect on your work, but the act of reflection is critical if you want to continue to improve as a writer. It is worth the time.  In fact, if your livelihood depends on grant writing, you really can't afford not to.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lessons from Reviewing Grants

Non-Profit Consultant Derek Link shares the value of his experience as a grant reader:

Probably the most beneficial thing I’ve ever done as a grant writer is to volunteer to read and score grants. I highly recommend this strategy for anyone who wants to learn how to write a grant. Where else can you be educated, bored, entertained, aggravated, pampered, and condescended to all in one week?

I’ve been invited to read grants by state and federal government agencies. These agencies brought a group of us all together in one place – usually a hotel – and we’d be put up in rooms and given a stipend to cover our costs.

To read the grants we were given group training and organized into “triads”, groups of three as you may guess. One person with previous experience was elevated as the leader of the triad and usually had a larger room with a little dining area or a couch and chairs. This person organized the triad’s reading, hosted the scoring reviews, picked up and dropped off proposals and scoring forms, and generally attempted to ensure that the group accomplished what it was supposed to accomplish; namely, read and score a certain number of grants over a period of days.

Here are a few of the many reasons this experience is so instructive:

  1. You are given detailed training by the agency staff on the important points of the grant program. This is useful if you ever want to submit a grant to that program;
  2. The process entails carefully scoring proposals according to the agency criteria, then comparing your scores to the other members of the triad. Usually there is a predetermined tolerance for score meaning all scores must be within a specified range. When a score falls outside the range, the triad must “discuss” why a certain score was given and make adjustments to move the scores closer together. This can be horrific if a genetically recalcitrant person is part of your triad – I’ve experienced one or two very long weeks of grant reading with people who were never subsequently included on my Christmas card list;
  3. You get out of town, take a plane ride, meet new people, stay in a nice hotel (usually), and meet government employees (can be fun or fascinating);
  4. You’ll see some truly fabulous writing that may make you feel rather incompetent – and it doesn’t take a Steinbeck to inspire me (although he does);
  5. You’ll also get to see some truly hideous writing that makes you feel better about your own – I even feel better about my serial hacking of grammar (lamented by many would-be English teachers).

In summary, there are more pros than cons to being a grant reader so by all means go and do it if you’re serious about becoming a good grant writer.  In a compressed time and through hands-on experience you’ll get a great education about good grant writing.


Related Posts:

How to Be a Better Grant Writer (Part 1)

How to be a Better Grant Writer (Part 2)

The Value of Readers' Comments

Is There a Formula for Grant Writing Success?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Relax....and Tell your Story

Sometimes we talk so much about the technical aspects of grant writing that we forget to stress the most important thing - It's all about telling your story. It's the story of where you have been, where you are now, and most importantly, where your organization is going. Your ultimate purpose is to communicate your story in a compelling enough way to convince a funder to invest in you. Even in a large federal competition in which readers are assigning scores to sections of your proposal (sometimes they even assign scores to subsections), it's still about how clearly you can communicate a compelling story.

I have read grants that were technically quite good, but they lacked any feel of authenticity, any sense of genuine commitment to the cause or vision.  On the other hand, I have also read grants that had many technical issues, but communicated a powerful sense of commitment, competence, and passion for the vision.

Don't get me wrong. The best scenario is to tell a compelling story within the context of a document that is technically superior, but the primary purpose of communicating your story should always been in the forefront of your mind.

The best grants, like the best in any genre of writing, are the ones that read easily, like a story well told. You are left with a clear understanding of what is being proposed, who is proposing it, and why they are proposing it. Technical prowess helps you use language to bring the story to center stage, but it can't take the place of having a compelling story to tell.

So relax.....and just tell your story.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Stress Relief through Laughter

Whether it's grant deadline stress (something we know a lot about here!) or the general stress of living, one of the things Grant Coach MaryEllen Bergh recommends is laughter.  Here's her advice on the topic:

Life can be stressful and, in the current economic climate, we are dealing with challenging and serious concerns - individually and professionally - each and every day. I am here to tell you that there is a remedy that is fun, free and easy to use and it will improve your health, relieve stress, and improve your relationships. What is this magic elixir? It is none other than laughter.

Laughter is contagious! The sound of someone enjoying a good belly laugh infects everyone, even eliciting a tiny smile from the dourest sourpuss within hearing distance. Laughter makes you feel good and that good feeling stays with you even after you quit laughing – for up to 45 minutes, actually. Humor and laughter has helped me keep a positive, optimistic outlook even through sadness and pain. Laughter makes me feel lighter and, during the busy grant season when things can get a bit overwhelming, humor helps me relax and recharge; it relieves my stress which, in turn, improves my focus so I actually accomplish more. I love the laughter break!!

Laughter is also good for your health. Scientific evidence has shown that humor and laughter help people breathe easier and it massages the heart and other vital organs. It may also increase the release of disease-fighting cells in the immune system. Like the effects of exercise, laughter quickens the pulse and stimulates the cardiovascular system. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins promoting an overall sense of well-being and, in some instances, temporary relief from pain. In addition, humor can alleviate negative emotions -it’s hard to feel angry, sad, or anxious when you’re laughing.

Start now to bring more laughter into your life. According to Laughter is the Best Medicine (, here are some things that you can do right now to incorporate humor and laughter into your life.

  1. Smiling is the beginning of laughter. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling.
  2. Count your blessings. Make a list of the good things in your life. Keep a gratitude journal that allows you to focus on the positive. Negative thoughts are barriers to humor and laughter.
  3. When you hear laughter, move toward it. Sometimes humor and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but more often it is not. People are happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out.
  4. Spend time with fun, playful people. These are people who laugh easily – both at themselves and life’s absurdities – and who routinely find the humor in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter are infectious.

Would you like more tips from the Grant Coach on staying sane and happy in the grant world?  Become a member of!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Assessing Results: Are You a Quant or a Qualit?

In this post, Non-profit Consulant Derek Link offers his thoughts on balanced assessment and evaluation:

In the world of social entrepreneurship the use of metrics for assessment of results has sparked an ongoing debate. The lines have been drawn between mathematically inclined folks who like to measure things using quantitative data (called Quants) and those who want to describe the social impact of programs using primarily qualitative data (called Qualits).

I would refer to myself as a hybrid, a Quali-quant. For me, the argument about which type of data is better is meaningless unless the right questions are being asked. Once you know what you want to know; in other words, once you know what will best demonstrate that your mission is accomplished, the kind of data needed to measure that reveals itself.

And the type of data is usually not one to the exclusion of the other. Typically a result is explained best by viewing it through data binoculars, not through a data telescope. I use the example of a child who comes to school on test day. The Quant will want to examine the child’s test score to see whether he has achieved to an expected level, whether he has raised his achievement from previous test administrations, how he compares to his peers, and how his test scores aggregated reflect on the teacher’s ability and the school’s curriculum and instructional program.

The Qualits, on the other hand, will want to modify the interpretation of the test score with qualitative information. Perhaps the child arrives hungry because the family was late getting up and she never had breakfast. Perhaps the child is sick or was up all night due to family violence. These qualitative factors impact the ability of the child to score well but are difficult or impossible to quantify.

In the end, I believe it is a disservice to the process/program/organization to have an imbalanced approach to assessment of results. Start off by asking the right questions.


For more resources to help you with the evaluation of your programs, read some of the articles on our FREE Evaluation Resources page or view some of our free  recorded webinars on program evaluation. For an even higher level of support, become a member of

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Changing Lives through Social Entrepreneurship

There has never been a better time to do good and lots of bright minds and able business people are doing exactly that. Take the example of where the slogan is “where loans change lives”. The good folk at Kiva have developed an online tool that enables an average person to make a mico-loan to people in poverty with a desire to start a business.

Is that cool or what? You open an account and fund it, then you are able to loan this money to someone in the world. The loan is approved and monitored through what are called Micofinance Institutions, or Partners, all over the world.

One example of a Partner is Esperanza International founded by David and Vicky Valle. Dave was once a pro baseball player. This organization is working in the Dominican Republic and has made nearly 2 million dollars in microloans to over 8,300 individuals! The loan delinquency rate is a little over 2% which is remarkable.

Kiva has made over $117,921,960 in loans as of the writing of this bog post and has given over 170,000 loans around the world. Nearly 100,000 of those loans have ended. The cool thing is that these are loans, not donations, so the beneficiaries are committed to repayment! The average default rate on all Kiva loans is under 2%.

Cash is king for anyone that wants to start a business and investment capital is hard to come by in the best economies so Kiva is providing a “leg up” for the poor.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

How is Your Organization’s Operational Equilibrium?

This is the third and final post in a series of three posts on Organizational Equilibrium, written by Non-Profit Consultant, Derek Link. Parts 1 and 2 were posted on February 16 & 18, 2010.

Operations that are out of balance can compromise the accomplishment of the mission through waste and duplication of effort. In this post, the various activities an organization undertakes to carry out its mission are what I am defining as operations. Key factors that can lead to operational imbalances are 1) lack of adequate internal planning, 2) lack of collaboration, 3) inadequate feedback loops.

Strategic planning to accomplish a mission includes identification of critical success factors. Factors commonly include things like raising enough money, employing the right people, or recruiting the right Board members. In order to make sure that the organization has the capacity internally to accomplish its mission, all critical success factors must be identified then activities and feedback loops must be put into place to make sure each one is attended to. Missing a critical success factor can compromise the mission. For example, in planning to cook and distribute hot meals to seniors, nobody was assigned to gas up the van and by the time the gas card was located, the van taken to the gas station, and the food delivered, it all got cold or it spoiled.

An organization that operates in isolation may duplicate effort and thereby waste resources. Using the senior meal example again, what if an organization decided to deliver Thanksgiving meals to seniors this year but didn’t ask any other organizations in the area if they were going to do the same? Suddenly a senior may receive more than one hot meal on the same day while other seniors may have gone without. Collaborative planning can keep such operational imbalances from happening.

Disequilibrium in operations occurs when planning is inadequate and this can compromise the mission. A key mistake that causes operational disequilibrium is lack of feedback loops. Feeding seniors is a good thing but if food is delivered they don’t want, can’t eat, or which requires preparation they can’t accomplish, then food is wasted. But if nobody asks the seniors what they need, want, and can handle, then the mission is compromised by lack of feedback and an operational imbalance is created. In this case, the actual need isn’t being met because feedback from the recipients of services isn’t being collected and used to refine operations.

In order to have a balanced operation, the organization’s activities must be effectively executed, effectively coordinated, and accurately targeted. Organizations must engage in detailed planning that attends to every critical success factor. Organizations must collaborate with other organizations that have similar missions in order to make sure they are being efficient and avoiding duplication of effort. Finally, operations must be designed to meet the real need, not the perceived need. By attending to these three factors, organizations can successfully accomplish their mission.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Grant Writing Success Starts with an Abundance Mentality

Attitude really is just about everything when it comes to success of any kind. Grant Coach MaryEllen Bergh shares her thoughts on the importance of maintaining an abundance mentality in the grant world:

How can the way you think about resources (time, energy, people, money) affect your success? If you always think about what you don’t have (scarcity), you are not able to see what you do have (abundance) and you see only problems instead of solutions. Scarcity thinking is the enemy of change – for individuals and organizations.

People with a scarcity mentality tend to see everything in terms of win-lose. There is only so much; and if someone else has it, that means there will be less for me. The more principle-centered we become, the more we develop an abundance mentality, the more we are genuinely happy for the successes, well-being, achievements, recognition, and good fortune of other people. We believe their success adds to...rather than detracts from...our lives.

In any task that we undertake, our success depends on a variety of things but one key component that is frequently overlooked is having an abundance mentality. Viewing things from this perspective allows you to look at how something can be accomplished rather than why it can’t be done; you look at possibilities rather than problems. People who begin from abundance believe that there are enough resources available to reach their goals and also that their success doesn’t mean failure for others.

Scarcity thinking, on the other hand, is a belief that there is not enough to go around and that, as a result, we must settle for less. For example, instead of “We can’t ask for that much money, we are only a small district…they won’t ever give it to us” think “What can we achieve for students in our district when we are able to fully fund this program?” Instead of “Look at all the resources we need” consider “Look at all the resources we have.” Scarcity thinking is limiting but safe; we don’t have to move into new territory. A scarcity mindset gives us permission to excuse poor performance (“We don’t have the time or the money or the people to do this!”). While we need to think realistically about the alignment of resources used with resources available, an abundance mentality allows for innovative ways of thinking about the use of those resources and how we deliver services. The challenge is to override your fear and to recognize when you have moved into that scarcity mindset.

Abundance starts in your mind. The more you think that you have all the resources that you need to succeed, the more you will succeed. Thinking abundantly reveals possibilities and opportunities that might never have occurred to you if you weren’t open to the concept that there is enough for everyone. As individuals, we are often willing to challenge and change our belief systems, but we can’t go very far in changing the mindset of an organization if the leadership doesn’t see the need to change their patterns of thinking. What kinds of activities need to happen in your organization to change from a focus on scarcity to one of abundance?


Would you like more insight from MaryEllen?  Visit the Coach's Corner on the member site for multimedia resources and lots of wisdom and support from our Grant Coach. Click here to learn more about it and to sign up.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How is Your Organization’s Governance Equilibrium?

This is the second in a three-part series on Organizational Equilibrium, written by Non-Profit Consultant, Derek Link. Part 1 (How is Your Organization's Fiscal Equilibrium?) was posted on February 16, 2010.

Governance as defined on is, “a method or system of government or management.” Non-profit organizations are governed by a Board of Directors who by design set policy, monitor accountability, assist with fund raising, and give direction to the Executive Director. Good governance is a team effort but bad things can happen when the governance of an organization is out of balance; that is, if there are imbalances in power, control, or understanding.

I worked in an organization once which had a publicly elected Board. This creates an interesting conundrum for the executive of the organization because they must be astute politically in order to survive changes in the Board. One particular Board member who was elected was an extremely difficult person to work with. She was smart and gifted verbally so she was able to deter all of the other Board members from standing up to her. She was also mean and enjoyed being in a position of power. She would go on the attack in Board meetings and even on an individual basis with executives of the organization. She eventually lost her seat but not before she had wreaked havoc on the leadership of the organization to the extent that several senior executives left the organization rather than suffer her unpredictable decision-making and verbal abuse.

My point in this is to say that non-profit Boards get to select their members according to the dictates of their bylaws. This puts non-profit organizations in a unique position to select Board members that can bring necessary skills, talents, and connections to the organization. This feature of non-profit organizations is a strength and can lead to excellent governance that is balanced, agile, and intelligent.

The opposite can also be true. If a Board becomes a closed society unto itself and refuses to include members outside a circle of friends, colleagues, or even a circle of thought, governance can stagnate and the same mistakes may be made over and again. Opportunities for change, growth, or reform may be lost.

Another issue with governance can be a Board that depends too much on its Executive Director and cedes responsibility for its role – a Board that becomes the proverbial “rubber stamp”.

I’ve seen “rubber stamps” in publicly elected Boards and with non-profit Boards. Non-profit organizations are frequently established by one or two people who plan to run the operation and then recruit a Board mostly because they must have one, not because they seek to build strong governance. So the founders may seek people who aren’t going to rock the boat.

Governance that relies on a strong leader can function well over time if the Executive Director is a skilled, moral and values-driven individual and, if they don’t leave. Of course as time passes everyone will move on for one reason or another so if governance of an organization has depended on one person, it can leave the organization in disarray.

I’ve found over the years in organizations reliant on one person for governance that there tends to be a pervasive fear in the organization about the person’s health, age, ability to take better offers, and so on.

Keeping the long view in mind is important so try not to depend too much on one individual for governance leadership. Stable governance of an organization is produced by equilibrium of a strong Board and strong leadership.Non-profit organizations are in the enviable position to recruit Board members that create this equilibrium.


Part 3 in this series (How is Your Organization's Operational Equilibrium?) will be posted on February 20, 2010.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Grant Writing Secret - The Power of Language Mimicry

The persuasive power of mimicry has been well established in the fields of sales and marketing, yet professionals in education and the social services rarely use the strategy to get an advantage.  It can be a very powerful tool for success in grant writing.

Language mimicry in grant writing is all about using the same language of the scoring criteria in your responses to the criteria. I'm not talking about merely restating the criteria, but using the exact language of the criteria somewhere in your response.

Here's a very basic example: If the scoring criterion is, "The degree to which the applicant identifies and addresses gaps in services," you would not discuss "services that are missing." You would specifically use the language "gaps in services."  You would also claim  that your project "addresses these gaps in services to a very high degree," or that it represents a "superior approach to addressing gaps in services." Of course, the detail is important, but using the language of the criteria signals to readers that you are focusing on those criteria.

Unfortunately, what many people do instead of mimicking the language is to simply restate the criteria. "Our project has identified gaps in services and addresses them," is an example of simply restating the criterion.

There are several reasons why this strategy gives you a leg up:
  1. Grant readers become fatigued after reading several grants. Fatigue begins to set in with the third grant read in a sitting.  As they become fatigued, they start to look for key words.  What are those key words?  The key words in the scoring criteria. the later in the day your proposal is read, the more important those key words become.
  2. Not all grant readers are experts in the disciplines of the competition. This is most commonly seen in the area of evaluation.  The criteria may include a requirement that your evaluation use both qualitative and quantitative data, and you may have given examples of both qualitative and quantitative data.  However, most grant readers are not evaluators and I have seen examples of readers not being able to identify listed data sources as qualitative and quantitative.  You need to write "The qualitative data we will collect for evaluation purposes are....." and "The quantitative data we will collect...."
  3. In federal competitions, readers from other states may not understand programs in your state. For example, the criteria may say that the projects must include services for youth in schools going through a program improvement process.  Your state may have a particular name for that process that does not include the words "program improvement."  You cannot assume the readers will just know.
  4. The psychological research in the area of mimicry tells us it works. When you mimic the language of the scoring criteria, the readers view you as more professional and more responsive to the RFP, in the same way that physically mimicking the person you are talking to in a meeting gives the impression that you are more interested and focused on that person's needs.
Language mimicry is not the only thing you need to pay attention to in the grant writing process.  It is not even the most important thing to remember. However, it is one of those secrets that separates a good grant writer with a moderate level of success from the great ones with phenomenal success.  Which one do you want to be?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How is Your Organization’s Fiscal Equilibrium?

This is the first post in a series of three on Organizational Equilibrium, written by Non-Profit Consultant Derek Link.

In the present economy, many non-profit organizations would probably say their fiscal equilibrium is a bit off center. Some might even say they’re wobbling like a top spinning slowly down and dangerously out of balance.

If ever there was a time for your fiscal feedback loops to be utilized and re-evaluated, this is probably it. If your fiscal stool had only one leg, you’re probably already on the floor or headed that direction. Sources of funding have dried up rapidly as discretionary income of individuals and organizations has slowed to a trickle.

A wise fiscal plan for a non-profit does not count on one source of income. It’s wise to cultivate multiple sources including grants, donors, planned giving, annual campaigns, special events, merchandising, etc. Weaving together a sustainable intelligent fund raising design creates equilibrium, and paying attention to feedback loops - like timely statistics on income from all sources – can give you valuable information to ensure that efforts to raise money are targeted toward all possible sources.

Diversification of fund raising is crucial at times when donors are struggling (as they are now), and government is giving away lots of grants (as they are now). It’s wise to have strategies for both donor appeals and grant writing. Paying attention to feedback and planning ahead can give your organization something to grab onto when traditional fund raising methods are slow or closed completely.

Another key to financial stability is to have an audit conducted each year by an accountant who knows the non-profit world and can offer sound advice and feedback. This feedback loop not only provides an external review of your fiscal practices, it also adds an important level of accountability.

So in order to stabilize your fiscal equilibrium pay attention to feedback you’re getting right now. There may be changes and adaptations your organization needs to make in order to maximize your organization’s income during this turbulent economic time. By paying attention to your fiscal feedback loops, your organization can survive and thrive while less agile organizations fold up their tent and move along.


Parts 2 (How is Your Organization's Governance Equilibrium?) and 3 (How is Your Organization’s Operational Equilibrium?) of this series will be posted on February 18th and 20th.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Grant Writing Tools and News You Can Use

There are some tools on the website and news coming this week that I wanted to be sure to share with you.

Help with Writing Letters of Support for Grants - As you put together grant proposals over the next few months, don't shortchange your proposal by including poor letters of support. Recently, we posted a blog post on Writing Good Letters of Support for Grants that you should check out.  Because I couldn't get all of the information in a short, easy to scan post, I also recorded a webinar on the topic. The recording is free and will be available for viewing on demand (within the next day or so) on our Webinar Resource page. While you're there, check out the other grant writing webinars.

FY 2011 Proposed Federal Budget Update - On Friday, February 19, 2010, our Tips from the Grant Goddess show on BlogTalkRadio will focus on some highlights of the President's proposed FY 2011 budget.  We will speak specifically about what the budget proposes for education and social services. You can listen to the show live online on Friday, or listen to the recording later on demand.  We have many other recoded radio shows available at that link, too, on a variety of grant-related topics.  They are all free for you, so take some time to browse the topics. One last thing about the FY 2011 Proposed Budget Highlights - We'll be posting additional highlights, beyond those we discuss on the radio show, on our member site. If you are not a member, check out what you can get if you gain access to the largest collection of grant seeking, grant writing, non-profit development, and program evaluation resources on the web!

New Mini-Grants Posted on Mini-Grant Central - Some folks are interested in large state, federal, and foundation grants, but many others are perfectly happy writing for mini-grants (small grants ranging from $500 - $10,000). Mini-grants are everywhere, but they can be hard to find if you don't know where to look.  That's why we added Mini-Grant Central to the forum on the member site. I just added 10 more mini-grant sources this morning.  We added 12 last week.  The list will keep growing and growing. If you're interesting in mini-grants, membership is for you.

New Grant Tips iPhone App - Just three weeks ago, we released an iPhone (and iPod Touch) application.  Grant Tips includes over 100 grant writing tips organized into categories designed to provide support through all stages of proposal development. We have heard some great feedback on this tool, so take a look here for more information.

We are constantly adding new resources to the Grant Goddess website.  Take a few minutes and see what gold you can find there!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Writing Good Letters of Support for Grants

One of the most difficult parts of the grant writing process is getting good letters of support from project partners. Collecting lots of letters is not the point.  In fact, having a big handful of poorly written letters will actually hurt your chances of funding, rather than help.

The whole point of submitting letters of support with a proposal is to document your collaboration and the contributions to be made by various partners. If your letters do not accomplish that point, they are more of a hindrance than a help.

Here are some tips to help you write and gather great letters of support:

  • Don't use a form letter.  Yes, everyone is really busy, but using a form letter for all of your letters of support (just substituting the letterhead and the name of the organization) actually demonstrates a lack of collaboration, which is opposite to the effect you want. If you want to provide samples for your partners, fine, but be aware that some folks will just copy those samples unless you work with them very closely.  If your partners are unable to put together the kind of letters you need, it would be a better idea to write each individual letter for them and submit them to your partners for their approval and signature.  They can then make any changes they need before putting the letter on letterhead and signing.  They will be grateful for the help, and you'll get better letters.
  • Include the identity of the partner, the nature of the relationship, and the nature of the contribution. That's three core paragraphs.  The identity of the partner paragraph should include basic information about the agency authoring the letter.  The nature of the relationship paragraph should discuss the history of the relationship and how the parties are working together on the project in question. The history of the relationship would go here, too. The nature of the contribution paragraph should focus on what contributions the partner agency will make to the project during the life of the grant, or at least over the next year.  It should clearly delineate if the contribution is an in-kind donation of services or if the agency will be compensated for the contribution through the grant.
  • Quantify contributions whenever possible. Contributions can be quantified, but folks often hesitate to do so because they are afraid they will be asked to produce that donation in cash at some point.  That is not the case.  If you're that worried about it, say in the letter that the contribution is in the form of services, not cash. An estimate of the actual dollar value of the contribution is enough.  This is a letter of support, not a tax receipt.
  • Put the letter on agency letterhead. This makes it look much more official than a letter on plain white paper. Remember, in the computer age, letterhead can be easily created for free.
  • Include the signature of the organization decision maker. The signature of the superintendent or executive director is generally more valuable than the signature of a coordinator or project manager; however, if a letter from a lower level employee in the organization would be more inclusive of details about how the agencies work together, go for it! Remember, the content matters.
  • Make sure the letters match what you said in the narrative.  This is why grant planning and writing can be so challenging.  Your partner letters need to reinforce and support what you said in the main grant narrative.  That means your partners really need to play some role in the planning and know something about the proposal.  They don't necessarily need to see the full proposal before you can expect a letter, but they should at least know something about it. The more they know, the stronger the letters will be.
Taking the time to gather really good letters can make a big difference in your chances of funding.  Sometimes, the letters will make the difference.  Don't make the mistake of underestimating their value.

On Friday, February 26, 2010, we'll be hosting a Tips from the Grant Goddess BlogTalkRadio episode on this very topic. You can listen to the show live (and call in to ask questions, if you'd like) or you can listen to the recording of the show on-demand any time after the live broadcast at . Of course, it's free!

In addition, sometime within the next few days, we'll be posting a FREE webinar on the topic (Writing Great Letters of Support for Grants).  You can access it through the webinar page on our website.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Are You a Risk Taker?

Here are a few thoughts from our Grant Coach, MaryEllen Bergh, on taking risks:

Taking risks means daring to try new approaches or ideas with no predictable control over results or consequences; in other words, taking action when the outcome is unknown. There are very few things in life that come without any risk and quite a few of the most remarkable things frequently have a higher risk associated with them. For example, writing grants comes with quite a bit of risk but, if you are successful, amazing things can happen to support your organization’s vision. If you don’t take the risk, perhaps because you see that there will only be 8 awards in the entire United States, yet you know you meet the criteria and have an innovative design, you will never have the chance to be one of those eight awards!

The key to taking risks is to keep things in balance. Make sure that you do the research and the thinking necessary to make a smart decision about the opportunity but don’t over-analyze every possible outcome to the extent that you miss the opportunity. Ultimately, if the opportunity fits, just do it. If you didn’t have a wild success the first time, learn from your mistakes and try again. If you were successful, jump back in. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Organizational Entropy Part III: The Motion of the Mission

This is the third and final installment of a series by Non-profit Consultant,. Derek Link, on energy, mission, and organizational entropy. Part 1 and 2 were published on February 5 and 8, 2010.

Entropy threatens to bring the motion of the mission to a grinding halt. What are you talking about? Well, entropy is energy that is wasted in doing work. In a previous post, I compared it to the loss of energy that a pendulum experiences in the friction of the pivot point that over time will cause the pendulum to stop swinging and come to rest.

Is the motion of your mission about to be stopped by entropy? Is there wasted energy and resources that are causing friction? Are wasted resources becoming an issue that is reducing your credibility with donors or your ability to provide services?

The motion of the mission can be caused by various sources or kinds of entropy:

  1. Spending too much money on administration – Loss of motion in the mission is caused by confusion or reductions in services. As important as good administration is to the completion of your mission, it can’t become more important than the mission itself. 
  2. Lacking clarity on what the mission is – Loss of motion in the mission is caused by confused action among volunteers and staff as they pull in different directions producing strife among them when it becomes unclear about what “should” be done. 
  3. Operating without effective governance – Loss of motion in the mission is caused by confusion in leadership, poor communication, confused mission, lack of accountability, and lower confidence among the donor base.
  4. Mismanagement of finances - Loss of motion in the mission is caused by poor budgeting, disorganized fund raising, and inaccurate targeting of resources, or by missed opportunities, poor communication, and a lack of fiscal controls.

These are just a few examples of how the motion to the mission can be lost, slowed, and eventually come to rest.There is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine; it takes work to get the motion to the mission going, and it will take continual application of force to keep it in motion.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Arts - A Vehicle to Improve Student Achievement

Our Grant Coach and resident Art Expert, Mary Ellen Bergh, explores the question, "Can we afford to sacrifice arts education in our schools?"

At the beginning of this decade, for the first time in the history of public education in the United States, the arts have been officially recognized as one of the subject areas necessary for all children’s basic education. However, administrators, under pressure to improve test scores, have reduced arts education and arts programming in favor of increasing instructional time in language arts and math. In doing this, they may actually be eliminating critical links to academic success for many students. How does the study of the arts contribute to student achievement and success? And, why is it important to keep the study of the arts strong in our schools?

Brain research and multiple intelligences theories are providing evidence to support including the arts in a balanced curriculum. For example, brain research indicates that studying the arts may lay critical neural pathways important for later development. According to Eric Jensen (neuroscientist and author of many books on brain-based learning), when children learn to play the violin, the drums, or other musical instruments, “they seem to develop strong pattern extraction and develop abilities that are essential to higher brain functions in logic, math, and problem-solving.” Arts education can also offer teachers additional ways to reach all students in a manner that other instruction doesn’t.

A significant body of research provides evidence connecting student learning in the arts to a wide array of academic and social benefits, particularly for young children, students from economically disadvantaged circumstances, and students struggling to achieve standards. Arts activities have been shown to improve reading and language development, math, and cognitive skills (spatial reasoning, problem-solving and creative thinking). Research also shows that learning in the arts provides motivation to learn, positive attitudes toward learning and helps to create a learning environment that is conducive to teacher and student success.

If a broad education that includes the arts can provide students with the skills that positively impact academic success, schools must be given the opportunity to offer these programs. Good arts education programs require ongoing support from administrators, teachers and parents. Ensuring that the arts are part of a school’s culture requires effort, advocacy, and a persistent voice for the importance of arts education. Become an advocate for the arts in education! Contact your local arts organizations to develop partnerships to bring art and artists into your schools and work together to secure funding (grants, fund-raising, etc) to provide arts programs and professional development for teachers.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Organizational Entropy Part II: Is Overhead Entropy?

This is the second of a three part series by Non-Profit Consultant, Derek Link, on energy, mission, and organizational entropy. Part 1 appeared on February 5, 2010.

You’ll have to read my previous post Organizational Entropy Part I: What the Heck is Entropy? on entropy of organizations before this one, or it may not make sense at all - which it may not anyway, or it may not anyway if the first one didn’t make sense. Nevertheless, here goes, and damn the torpedoes.

I see lots of grants from foundations that seek to give away money but which DO NOT FUND “indirect” costs. In other words, whatever it costs your organization to run the program, tough, you will have to find funds for those administrative costs another way.

I always wonder to myself, what is the color of the sky that these organizations live in? I decided that sky must be a green one, one that rains money. Who pays for their administrative costs, I wonder? Why would they be opposed to paying for a little healthy administration?

So my question – you may have thought I’d drifted away from it for good by now – is whether spending money on administrative costs represents energy/resources that are essentially wasted? Can the work of an organization be done without administrative work? Would it be feasible to give grants only for the good work it is actually going to do but none of the support structure? How would an organization complete its mission if it were giving away shoes to shoeless people in Tanzania and all grant makers said every penny must be spent on shoes and/or shoelaces and nothing else?

Is not administration a necessary part of the work? After all, someone must go to Tanzania to assess the need for shoes, someone must negotiate with local organizations to assist giving shoes out in an orderly and effective manner, someone must inventory the shoes, someone must make arrangements for shipping, someone has to write and sign paychecks to staff, and endlessly so on. Why is this work considered superfluous entropic waste?

Perhaps the answer partly lies in the fact that some non-profits are paying huge salaries to their employees and consultants – ours excepted. It may be that grant makers have seen some of their precious resources wasted by conflagrant administrators. The decision to ban all use of funding for indirect costs may well arise from bad experiences.

To answer my own question, I must conclude that administrative/indirect costs can be entropy, i.e., wasted resources or energy; However, reasonable administrative costs are a necessary part of getting the work done and are supportive of accomplishing the mission. Inadequate administration can actually get in the way of getting the shoes from point A to feet B. Poor administration is probably entropy, busily gobbling up energy and resources of an organization.

Good non-profits make an effort to prove the efficacy of their administration.
The fact that grant makers feel the need to set policies restricting administrative costs dictates transparency and a high level of accountability among administrators and Boards. In order to convince grant makers that administrative costs do not represent entropy and in fact are a necessary part of the work mandates that all resources are clearly spent to support the motion of the mission, and are not wasted, thereby creating unnecessary friction.


Part 3 of this series will discuss specifically how organization's fall into a state of entropy.  It will be published on February 10, 2010.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

It seems like those of us in the grant world do a lot of waiting.  We wait for budgets to be finalized. We wait for funding forecasts to come out.  We wait for Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to be released. We wait for funding awards to be announced. Sure, we're busy with other things while we're waiting, but Tom Petty was right - The waiting is the hardest part.

One of things I've noticed is that the longer people wait for a grant award announcement, the more negative and skeptical they become. But here's the truth - a delay in award announcement is not necessarily bad news. In fact, federal grant awards always take months, and they are almost always made later than expected. There are all sorts of reasons why grant award announcements are delayed, and none of them have anything to do with your individual project.

So relax! I'm sure you have lots of other projects to work on.  Focus on those.  Resist the temptation to worry or indulge in negative thinking.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Organizational Entropy Part I: What the Heck is Entropy?

Here are some thoughts on energy, accomplishment of your mission, and entropy, provided by Non-Profit Consultant, Derek Link.  This is the first of a three-part series on the topic.

A few big ideas stuck with me from my days at the University and one of them is the idea of entropy. Entropy is a universal principle which is probably why it stuck with me - I love that kind of stuff. My professor said that everything in the universe is moving towards maximum entropy, or disorder. Energy is lost as entropy occurs and the eventual result of entropy is rest, equilibrium, stasis.

The easiest example for my brain to understand entropy is the idea of a perpetual motion machine, like a clock pendulum that once set into motion can continue to swing without any additional force being applied for eternity. We know this doesn’t happen and the reason why it does not is entropy. The friction of the pivot point of the pendulum, of the work it is creating in moving the clock, and even with the air it is moving through is dissipating some of the energy of the swinging and over time, this pendulum will come to rest, equilibrium. When it comes to entropy in non-profit organizations, the concept is important to understand because every bit of work done expends energy that is a byproduct of the work, rather than result of the work.

So how in the heck does this apply to your organization? Well, let’s say that your organization’s mission is like the pendulum. You apply some force to the mission; in other words, you give it money, time, effort, management, supervision, accountability, and governance. The pendulum of your mission begins to swing, the gears start to turn and work gets done. As long as you continue to apply energy to the pendulum/mission, it continues to do work, but if you stop applying energy to it, it will slowly expend all of the energy applied to it and come to rest.

In the case of an organization, energy can be expended on accomplishing the mission but some will always be wasted, that’s entropy. The key is to understand that keeping the pendulum swinging takes continual application of force or entropy will use up all of the energy applied and motion will stop.

If energy flows to it that isn’t directly related to accomplishing your mission, that’s entropy. I worked with a company on a project that would result in the production of videos. We had a non-profit partner and we had a great concept. The thing we needed was national distribution and a recognizable name so we could draw in corporate grants to get the pendulum swinging. We approached a national non-profit I had family ties to and voila, they said yes, we want to take part.

Then entropy set in. The national office of the non-profit approved the project but wanted us to raise an additional 1 million dollars for their overhead. This was equivalent to the entire project budget! If we accepted their participation, we had to accept that a lot of energy would be wasted and spent outside of our mission, so we politely declined the offer to increase the project entropy.

Some entropy is unavoidable, imposed by outside forces, and these things are usually shrugged off as “the cost of doing business”. Some entropy is avoidable so look around. Where is your organization expending useless energy as a result of doing the work? Find those areas and try to reduce or eliminate them. Doing so will mean that you have to apply less energy to your mission’s pendulum to keep it swinging strongly.


In part 2 of this series (appearing on February 8, 2010), Derek will discuss overhead and administrative costs.  In part 3, the final installment in this series (appearing on February 10, 2010), the topic turns to specifically how organizations lose the motion of their mission.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Federal Education Budget for 2011 - BIG News!

I just finished participating in the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools (OSDFS) webinar.   The purpose of the call was to go through current SDFS grant competitions and answer questions.  There was not much information provided in the webinar that is not currently available through the U.S. Department of Education Funding Forecast or RFPs that are already out (The webinar PowerPoint will be available through the Grant Writing Resources page on our website).

There were two pieces of information about this year's grant competitions that were important and worthy of note (then keep reading for the BIG news about FY2011):
  • There had been some confusion about the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling program for this year.  If over $40,000,000 is allocated for the program, the program includes both elementary and secondary grants.  If under $40,000,000 is allocated, the program will only fund elementary school counseling proposals.  The RFP notes that over $15,000,000 was allocated for new grants this year, leading folks to believe that only elementary school counseling grants would be funded.  On the call, the FPO clarified that $55,000,000 has been allocated for this year (inlcuding funds for continuation grants).  Because the continuation grants are all elementary programs, this covers the $40,000,000 legislative requirement for elementaries.  This means that the FY2010 competition is open to both elementary and secondary programs.
  • Also, we have been waiting with bated breath for news of the new School Climate grants.  We learned today that for FY 2010 these will only be available to SEAs (State Education Agencies), not LEAs.
Ok, that was big news, but here's the really big news.....

Assistant Deputy Secretary Kevin Jennings reported that the budget presented by the president yesterday for FY 2011 has some very good news for Education.  It includes a 6% increase for ED, and a 12% increase for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools (OSDFS).

In addition, OSDFS will be working to consolidate grant competitions to make it easier for LEAs to apply for and receive funds.  OSDFS will also be proting the funding of comprehenisve programs, rather small piecemeal programs (the current funding model). Specifically, they are planning to consolidate all of their little grant programs into four main programs:
1) Safe Schools/Healthy Students (which is, by the way, being revamped a bit in preparation for the big shift)

2) Emergency Management Grants (No information was provided regarding if these will be the same ones available now or new ones, or the same old ones with additions.)

3) Violence/Substance Abuse Prevention Grants (including those for higher education; Again, no news on how much of the current portfolio will be continued in this classification)

4) School Climate Grants (To be known as the Successful, Safe & Healthy Students Program - or something like that.  Mr. Jennings pointed out that these School Climate grants in FY 2011 will be available to both SEAs and LEAs (unlike this year, which is open only to SEAs).

Of course, all of these plans for FY 2011 depend on the approval of the President's proposed budget, and a lot can happen over the next several months as that process moves forward.  However, the preliminary news for Education is promising.

About Creative Resources & Research

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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.