Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rest in Peace, Mr. Escalante

Like many others, I was saddened to learn this morning of Jaime Escalante's passing. I vividly remember being inspired by his story, both as it was portrayed by Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, and as it unfolded after the film was released.

Mr. Escalante found himself at the center of a controversy that still surrounds California schools today. What's the problem?  Low student performance. Huge achievement gap between minority students (who are the majority in most of our urban schools). Overwhelmingly powerful unions. Overburdened teachers. Apathetic teachers. Parents who are completely disconnected from the education system because they are either focused on survival or dealing with their own personal issues.  Inadequate school funding.

Sound familiar? It should.

Mr. Escalante dealt with it in a way that I deeply admired, and that had a profound effect on my own career in education.  He lit a candle. He ignored the naysayers, and the union, and all the negative forces around him, and he did everything he could to make a difference in the lives of the youth he taught. He not only had high expectations for them (a buzzword that has become so overused that most people don't even know what it would really look like in the classroom anymore), but he demanded excellence from his students - and then he put his money (a.k.a. his time) where his mouth was, and he provided the support they needed to meet his demands. To paraphrase Gandhi, he decided that he would be the change he wanted in the world, and it almost killed him.

When the movie first came out, I had mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, who could not be inspired by his selfless and inspirational teaching and the results he got?  On the other hand, I was a bit offended by the implication that teachers should have to give up their personal lives, huge amounts of time with their families, and even their health in order to be successful at their jobs.

As time went on, I began to understand that something is terribly wrong with a system that would demand such incredible sacrifice on the part of a teacher, yet I know teachers who give as much as Mr. Escalante every day, even to this very day.  Make no mistake about it, he was, and is, not alone in his dedication, his ability to inspire children, and his belief that he can make a difference by lighting his candle and making change in his classroom, with his students. In spite of this, all of the characters you remember from the movie telling him to work less and laughing at him for believing that those kids could really achieve are still around even though the faces and names have changed.  They are all over the state, in every school and district, and the system has ground to a halt largely because of them.

They play a game of blame, insisting that everyone else is responsible for the failing state of our schools- especially the children and their families. They show up at exactly their contracted time 30 minutes before the bell in the morning and they leave at exactly the time their contract says their day is over. I have seen them stand up in the middle of student presentations at after school sessions and walk out because the clock chimed "contract" and it was their time to go. They keep such a close eye on their own rights, time, and compensation that they have completely lost sight of the children who depend on them. Yes, I know they would angrily object to my characterization, but I have seen them for years in my work in the schools, I have met them, I know them.  They can't hide from me.

I am hoping the day is coming when they can't hide from the rest of California anymore, either.

The unions are so powerful in California that people are afraid to speak out because the second they do the unions cast them as a teacher-hater.  Politicians who attempt real reform are quickly beaten back.  Social security may be the third rail of politics nationally, but there is no doubt that meaningful school reform and standing up to the unions to accomplish it form the third rail of California politics.

Mr. Escalante taught his students about the importance of las ganas. You have to really want it. To accomplish anything difficult, you have to really, really want it.  You have to work hard at it.  You have to sacrifice for it. That's what our schools need.  Advocates who are willing to work hard to make a change because they really, really want it.  And not just a few, but thousands of advocates.

Some will do that work in their classrooms, but we need others who will do it as school leaders in the front offices of schools, as district leaders in the district offices, as trustees in the board rooms across the state, and as parents everywhere, in all of those settings.

The time has long passed when we should have started recognizing effective teachers with higher pay and job security, and that we deal with ineffective teachers (and administrators) by helping them on their way to a new profession.

I don't know when the tipping point was reached - that point when unions, and apathy, and self-interest took control of our schools out of the hands of effective teachers, administrators, parents, and local communities - but I know that it's time to take it back.

Mr. Escalante showed us what it looks like when a teacher has las ganas to make a difference. We know it's possible.  I wonder what our system would look like if thousands of us across the spectrum let that desire loose, too.

It is my hope that Mr. Escalante's legacy will be that others, who may have been inspired by his life but not inspired enough to change and act, will reflect on his contribution to education and decide to pick up the torch and keep the movement he started moving forward.  If one man can make such a difference, imagine what all of us could do.

Rest in peace, Mr. Escalante.  We will miss you....and thank you.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Time Management Tips for Grant Writers

Effective time management is one of the most valuable skills a grant writer can have. Grant writers live under the constant ticking of the deadline clock, and our progress is often impeded or supported by factors (a.k.a. other people) over whom we have no (or very little) control. Learning to manage time in the grant writing process can make the difference between success or failure of a proposal and, by extension, between success and failure of a grant writing career.

Here are some tips for time management:
  • Develop a time line for the project.  It can be very helpful to take the time to write out a time line for the project, including tentative deadlines for yourself for various stages of the process. The more people there are involved in the process, the more important a time line becomes.
  • Front load the time line. Get as much accomplished as you possibly can during the first week or two of the time line.  That's the time to gather as much data as possible. Sketch out the big ideas.  Do any research you need to do. Get a solid outline constructed. This pre-writing period is one of the most important, so don't skimp on it.
  • Make a list of data and information you'll need from others to complete the project.  Share the list with those who can help you. It doesn't have to be a complete list, and things will definitely pop up during the process, but remember that others can't read your mind.  If you need something from them, put it in writing.
  • Get the budget sketched out early and finalize it as soon as possible.  It is much easier and quicker to write a complete draft of the narrative when the budget has been finalized.  It also prevents having to go back into the narrative to adjust activities that you thought you were going to be able to fund, but that you couldn't fit into the budget.
  • If you get stuck on the narrative, take a break and work on something else.  The budget narrative, forms, or appendices are good choices.
  • Develop a prepared guide for writing good letters of support (including some samples) in advance that you can give to project partners at the beginning of the process. Get people started thinking about letters at the first planning meeting. As soon as your design components are clear to you, put a summary in writing and distribute it to your partners so they can get effective letters of support started. Feel free to refer folks to our blog post on Writing Good Letters of Support or our free webinar on Writing Good Letters of Support for Grants.
  • Assign someone the responsibility of collecting letters of support and signatures. If at all possible, this should not be you.  Not only do you need to focus on writing, but the process of collecting letters is extremely time consuming. If it has to be you, dedicate an hour a day, from day 1, to the task so it doesn't get put off until the very end.
  • Get the first draft done as soon as possible.  Remember it's a draft, so it doesn't have to be complete.  It doesn't have to have all of the data inserted. The sooner you get the first draft done, the more confident you will feel, and the easier it will be to see what information and data you are really missing, if any.
  • Schedule your time line so you are completely finished with the narrative at least three days before the deadline.  If you end up with less time at the end, your proofreading process will be rushed and the likelihood of errors making it through to the final draft goes up dramatically.
  • Remember that the back end of the process always takes longer than you expect.  I'm talking about proofreading, reviewing the draft to ensure that the narrative matches the letters of support, finalizing the budget and budget narrative (including double- and triple-checking your numbers), and assembling the appendices. Plan for this. Do as much of it in the pre-writing phase as possible.
  • Get plenty of rest and eat right.  While this may not seem like a time management tip, it really is. Research has demonstrated that people are less effective when they are tired. Working late into the evening will not be as productive as the morning hours when you are well rested.  All grant writers have experienced late nights, and sometimes they can't be avoided, but you should avoid them when you can (unless, of course, you are one of those folks who works best at night). From the 10th hour of work onward, your effectiveness declines rapidly.
  • Once you have developed a process that works well for you, stick to it. I'm not talking about superstition and sticking to a process because you think it makes you lucky, but developing a set of processes and procedures that are smooth and effective.  If you write many grants each year, having a standardized process will allow you to focus less on the process and more on the writing - and that will pay off for you.
Do you have any time management tips that have worked well for you? Please, share them!


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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Basis of the Debate over Philanthrocapitalism

Non-profit consultant and expert grant writer, Derek Link, shares some information on the debate surrounding Philanthrocapitalism in the non-profit world:

There is often a separation between donors, those of us who give money to causes in order to feel good about helping, and the doers, the volunteers and staffers who do the work of organizations that receive the money. Philanthrocapitalism challenges this model through the creation of organizations that don’t simply distribute donated wealth, but which actually engage in commerce to create wealth for distribution.

The debate over the concept of Philanthrocapitalism challenges the fundamental underpinning of charity, that nobody should become wealthy by doing charity work; for in doing so, that person is personally benefitting from charity dollars. Mother Theresa is perhaps the most visible patron saint of self-sacrificing charity work. She gave most of her life to the poor in India, living among them each day. People like Mother Theresa contribute to a fundamental belief that to do good one must sacrifice, that in order to understand the needs of those you serve, one must feel their pain, and live with the mission at some level.

The Philanthrocapitalism paradigm is challenging the natural order of the charity world. Many people engaged in charity work are employed at low wages and they accept these sacrificially out of commitment to the cause. They sacrifice higher paid jobs in the for profit world to serve a cause. The incursion of capitalists into the world of philanthropy is unsettling to those who think a non-profit executive or consultant earning $200k or better per year is in effect robbing valuable resources from the cause.

The concerns about the potential for corruption of civil society ideals via Philanthrocapitalism are understandable because most non-profit organizations still rely on the trust and goodwill of donors. Non-profits do not want to be painted with the broad brush of recent capitalist corruption. Just witness the hotly debated compensation levels of Wall Street executives and how that has damaged the image of the free market capitalists.

What would happen if the compensation levels of non profit executives were to become widely known? This is public information, just not considered newsworthy yet. The average struggling American worker may feel justifiably outraged that their donated dollars are making people wealthy instead of providing the services they donated toward.


Related Posts:

Changing Lives through Social Entrepreneurship

Is Your NonProfit a Closed Organization?

Does Philanthropy Serve the Common Good?


Visit for grant writing and non-profit development resources.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Top 3 Things I Love about Grant Writing

Grant writing is definitely not a boring profession.  There are challenges, but there are also some big benefits.

Here are the top 3 things I love about grant writing:

  1. Creativity - I love the who process of taking a few ideas, fleshing them out, and creating a detailed program design.  In fact, for the me the process is a lot like staring at one of those abstract holographic pictures.  At first, it just looks like colors and shapes - no order, nothing else there.  Then, after you have started at it for a while, a 3-dimensional image leaps from the background and you see it.  At that point, it is so clear to you, that it's hard to even see the picture without the 3D image anymore.  That's what grant writing is like for me.  At some point in the process of planning, reviewing research, collecting data, and talking to the client, the picture of a solid design clarifies.  At that point, putting it in writing is the easy part.
  2. Making a Difference - I have written about this before.  I also provide program evaluation services.  There are very few things in this life as satisfying as going to conduct some evaluation activities and meeting the people who get a direct benefit from the grant you wrote.  At one time there was nothing but an idea in your head, and then there are real people whose lives are better because of your work.  Wow!  It doesn't get much better than that.
  3. Time Flexibility - Make no mistake about it, grant writing is work, but if you work for yourself, you can manage your time as you choose.  For example, this is a really busy time of year and I have lots of writing projects to work on, but I didn't want to work today.  I wanted to stay home with my son, take care of some blogging. do some recreational reading.  So I did.  If I want to take off during the middle of the week to go to a baseball game during the day, I can.  I know this is a benefit that self-employed folks in many fields can claim, but I really like it.
There are lots of other things I like about my work, but those are the big three.

What about you?  What do you like most about grant writing?


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Friday, March 26, 2010

Grant Writing Tip - Take Your Research Beyond the RFA

Here's our weekly Tip from the Grant Goddess..... It's all about taking your research beyond the RFA. Take 5 minutes to improve your grant writing skills.

For more grant writing tips, check out!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Faux-Ethics Debate on Percentage Contingency Fees in Grant Writing

Non-profit consulant and expert grant writer, Derek Link, shares his thoughts on the controversial topic of grant writing contingency fees:

Paying grant writers a percentage of the grant funds is often presented as a black and white issue in the nonprofit world. Whether paying a contingency fee is ethical depends on whether the percentage represents a reasonable amount of money for the work involved; the same principle that applies to a flat fee for services. I argue that if a contract for services is negotiated ethically and it results in a reasonable level of payment, there is absolutely nothing unethical or sinister about the practice of percentage contingencies. I suggest to you that a contingency arrangement can actually increase grant writer accountability.

Fundamentally, paying a percentage fee would only be ethically wrong if it were ethically wrong to pay for a grant writer’s services. It is self-evident that the amount of money paid to a writer should be proportionate to the work involved. A flat fee would be unethical if a grant writer were to accept a guaranteed grant writing fee and then do a poor job of writing the grant. It would also be unethical for a grant writer to accept a flat grant writing fee for a grant that they were fairly certain the organization would not receive.

A reasonable contingency percentage is very ethical because the writer has to do the best job possible to get the grant funded. The writer is also not likely to accept a grant that has a low likelihood of funding because on a percentage, the writer takes all the risk! If the grant isn’t funded, they don’t get paid! What is more ethical on the part of a grant writer than that?

The bottom line in any contract for services is reasonableness. The reasonableness in consulting fees is based upon the market and upon the value of the work. Only a non-profit administrator gets to decide what’s reasonable and their Board should be reviewing these decisions. If a grant writing contract results in a fee of $5,000 being paid to the writer for say, a $95,000 proposal, would it be a more ethical fee just because it was guaranteed to be paid whether or not the grant was funded? I say absolutely not, there is no nexus between ethics and reasonableness, and a flat fee for services.

I once heard of contingency fees being charged in the field by a consultant that I felt were out of line and unreasonable. This consultant was not successful and the natural market forces drove her out of the business. Such abuse is probably where the ethics of the practice has come into question; however, to paint contingency fees with a broad brush as unethical is just silly and unfair.

Many grant writers work diligently with agencies to obtain funding for them on contingency arrangements. This is helpful to agencies with cash flow problems. It is up to each non-profit to establish contracts for grant writing services that are reasonable and representative of the market rates in their area no matter what the form of payment.

I’ll go one step further in my argument by suggesting that the entire debate is faux-ethical in nature. American Association of Grant Professionals (AAGP) member regulations state that, “Members may accept performance-based compensation, such as bonuses, provided such bonuses are in accordance with prevailing practices within the members’ own organizations and are not based on a percentage of grant monies.”

The AAGP regulation that approves bonus (which is a contingency) proves their regulation against contingencies as faux-ethical. AAGP means to argue that nobody involved in the process of giving a bonus is whipping out the calculator to determine the bonus amount as a percentage of the grant funds received to determine reasonableness? A bonus amount based on “prevailing practice” amounts must be calculated on something or how could it be supported as mathematically reasonable?! A percentage contingency fee and a bonus contingency are no different, they are both performance-based.

The AAGP needs to stop treating Executive Directors as mathematically-challenged greenhorns who need to be protected from city-slickers with unreasonable contingency contracts. Unethical fees can be charged in any format and I trust that ED's know what is exorbitant when they see it.

The issue of percentage fees simply can’t be painted as black or white; come on folks, I was born on a Sunday, but it wasn’t last Sunday.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Five Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Grant Objectives

Here are the most common objective writing mistakes:
  1. Not establishing a target. Simply saying that your participants will “show growth” is not a target. How much growth, according to what measure?
  2. Not identifying how growth will be measured. If you say that there will be a 20% growth in parent knowledge of how to help their children at school, you need to cite your measurement tool. I would also recommend that you be much more specific in how you set the target. Are you talking about 20% growth in the number of parents who reach a cutoff score on a particular assessment or are you referring to a gain of 20 percentage points in the average score of parents on the assessment you identify? Those are very different targets and they are measured differently. Do you see what I mean about being specific?
  3. Not identifying a timeline for achievement of the objective. You have set a target, but you also need to give a timeline. Will it be achieved each year? Each quarter? By the end of the project? The further out your timeline is, the more important it is to also establish short term benchmarks.
  4. Setting a target that is too rigorous. Many people think that they will be most likely to get funded if they set the their targets really high or if they target 100% achievement. The problem with that is that a) you may get the grant, but you have doomed yourself to failing to meet your objectives before you even start; and 2) grant readers are more sophisticated today than they were 15 years ago. They are on the lookout for objectives that are not possible to achieve.
  5. Setting a target that is too low. Other folks go the other direction, and they try to set a really low target so they will definitely be able to meet it. This is commonly done by establishing a target that measures a percentage of a number. For example, to say that there will be a 50% gain in the number of parents who show growth on a particular assessment could be a very low bar to meet, even though it sounds high. If only 2 parents showed growth between pre-and post assessment prior to your grant, you could meet that objective by showing a gain of one parent who showed growth (total 2 parents) after the grant is funded. Don’t try to cheat. Think about what results you want to achieve and what services you are willing to implement to help you get there, and set your targets accordingly.
You might also be interested in:

Five Tips for Writing Good Grant Objectives


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Monday, March 22, 2010

A Fool and His Grant Are Soon Parted - Follow the Instructions

I am continually surprised by intelligent, educated people who think they know better than the funding source. In a recent grant competition, folks from an organization approached me and asked if I would serve as evaluator for a project they are proposing.  They further requested me to write the evaluation section of the grant narrative.  I agreed. It is not uncommon for an evaluator to write the evaluation section.  In fact, if I'm going to be conducting the evaluation, I really prefer to design the evaluation myself.  It's difficult to be stuck with a non-evaluator's often flawed evaluation design after a grant is funded.
So, we got started.  We did some planning.  They wrote most of the narrative.  I wrote the evaluation section.  When they sent me a draft to review, I noticed that they had organized the narrative accoring to the selection criteria, but not in the order directed by the RFP.  I pointed out (politely, of course) that the RFP said specifically, "Address the scoring criteria in your narrative in the following order....."

I didn't like the order in the RFP, either.  The funder clearly had just rearranged the criteria from the previous year to make sure no one just submitted the same proposal, but the rearrangement made little sense. Normally, the order goes something like this:  Needs, Project Design, Management Plan, Evaluation.  If there is a Project Quality section, it goes either before or after Project Design. However, in this RFP, the order went like this: Project Quality, Project Design, Needs, Management Plan, Evaluation. It makes more sense to discuss your needs first, and then move on to how you plan to address those needs, but that's not what was specified in this RFP.

What's the number piece of advice on grant writing I always give?  Follow the directions.

The narrative that was sent to me for review was not compliant with the RFP instructions.  When I mentioned it, I was told that they knew some people in that governmental department who told them that it would be ok to write the narrative in any order that made sense to them.


There's another instruction in the Federal Register - the legal authority for federal grant announcements - that is important.  Announcements in the Federal Register usually say that if you are given any advice that contradicts the instructions given in the Federal Register, the written instructions in the Federal Register should always be followed.

So, no matter how smart you are, or how smart you think you are, follow the instructions.


Watch our free webinar, Top 10 Tips for Grant Writing.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Grants for Individuals – A Funding Sasquatch?

Non-profit consultant and grant writing expert, Derek Link, provides some clarity about the availability of government grants for individuals:

I get phone calls, emails, and tweets from people who need a grant for something they want to do like open a coffee shop. These contacts come from individuals, private citizens, who are not affiliated with a non profit organization. These well-intentioned folks just have an idea and need some money to implement it.

The problem is that grants for individuals are kind of like Sasquatch - Many people believe they exist, but nobody I know has ever seen or captured one. Because of this I put grants for average individuals into the “myth” category, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it just means I’ve haven’t seen any that give money to start a business. The two individual grants I am aware of are, 1) college grants that you apply for through a college financial aid office, and 2) grants for high level research scientists.
I know there are people who would argue with me and they’d probably take me out to their garage to show me plaster impressions of RFP’s and/or whip out a photo album with fuzzy pictures of big hairy grant checks. But until I see the beast for myself, I will remain a skeptic.
The main reason I am hesitant on this subject is that I have a suspicion the people perpetuating the myth are making money from it. I suspect these people are the unsavory characters I’ve seen on television who work hard at selling books full of free government information.
I know I am sounding a little like Simon Cowell after a weak American Idol performance, but that’s because I don’t like snake oil salesmen. It bugs me when people are misled by a false promise of easy money. Good opportunities take hard work in my experience, and they’ve only come knocking after I was well-prepared for them.
If you want to be a business owner, prepare yourself. Go to classes about being an entrepreneur, read blogs about business, read the Wall Street Journal, join the chamber of commerce, etc. And while you’re preparing, save some money so when you go and ask for help, you’ll have credibility because you have some skin in the game.
If Sasquatch is out there, it’s going to take some looking. Get online and do some research on government websites where they have free information about grants. Try where all the federal grants available are listed, go to a federal business assistance center, go to the chamber of commerce, and if all of these sources don’t turn up an individual grant for you then, write a business plan and look for investors.
Having a dream is great! Finding someone to finance the dream is almost as hard as finding Sasquatch.

Interested in grants for your non-profit organization of school?  Contact us at!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Move Beyond the Low Hanging Fruit of Funding

Something that is easy to obtain in business is usually called the low hanging fruit. Of course these days, there’s not much fruit left on the trees and the low hanging stuff is always the first picked. This post is about how you reach the fruit that’s higher up and harder to harvest.

It’s easy to pick low hanging fruit because it’s there within easy reach, you don’t have to seek it out. These are the volunteers that give lots of their time, the donors who write regular checks, the agencies that give you grants every time you ask, and the corporations in your area that give you regular donations. These are you low hanging fruit, and it’s good. You don’t have to climb any trees to find it.
But how can you move beyond the low hanging fruit?
  • Get a ladder – Sometimes you need to go where the fruit is. Meet with people, get out there, network, shake hands, kiss babies, be known.
  • Don’t pick one side of the tree – Fruit grows all over the tree. Remember that there are companies, associations, foundations, wealthy private donors, and online fund raising functions. Get all the way around the funding tree.
  • Don’t forget to care for your trees all year – Care and feeding is crucial to ensure there’s a good harvest each year. Feed them, fertilize them, prune them, try to keep pests away.
So, to wrap up this long-winded metaphor.....when you are tending an orchard of donors, there’s more than just low-hanging fruit to be picked during your campaigns, but harvesting it is going to take some extra work!


This post was written by non-profit consultant and grant writing expert, Derek Link.
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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Grant Writing is NOT......

I have been reading a lot of grants lately, and working with other grant writers.  I've seen good writing and not-so-good writing.  Rather than give you another list of grant writing do's and don'ts, I thought I share some things that grant writing is not.

Grant writing is not.....a scavenger hunt. The readers should not have to hunt through your narrative to find the key features of your project design. It should be well-organized and clear.

Grant writing is not.....creative writing.  If you have been reading this blog or listening to any of our Tips from the Grant Goddess shows on BlogTalkRadio you know that I often talk about the creative side of grant writing; however, that is different than creative writing. Grant writing is based on providing the information the funder wants. Don't make the mistake of saying whatever you want to say, regardless of what has been asked.

Grant writing is not.....the same for all funding sources.  I run into people all the time who say, "Yeah, I'm a grant writer, too."  Upon further conversation, I learn that he has written a few small foundation grants, sometimes successfully.  Recently, a potential client chose to go with another writer who had lots of experience with small private grants, but almost no experience with large federal proposals, and absolutely no experience with the particular program in question. As the deadline approached, the client learned the hard way that there are different kinds of grant writing.

Grant writing is not.....all about you. The writer should be invisible so the message can take center stage. This is not the time to impress the reader with your education or your ability to spin a fancy yarn. Remember this...if the reader is thinking about how good your writing is (or isn't), he's not focused on your message, and that's not good.


Related posts and articles:

Working with a Grant Writer: You Get What You Pay For
Do I Really Need a Grant Writer?
Is Grant Writing Success Really Just About Luck?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Including Data Analysis in Your Grant Evaluation Section

I know, I know.  Data analysis is not everyone's favorite topic, but it's a topic you can't ignore if you want to be successful with grant writing.  Not only do you need to be able to analyze your data appropriately to accurately and effectively describe your need for the project in the needs section, but you also need to describe how you will analyze data as part of your evaluation plan.

I have read many grant evaluation plans. Most do a decent job of describing what data will be collected and how/when it will be collected.  The majority also discuss how the data will be used for program improvement purposes.  But when it comes to talking about how the data will be analyzed (one of the scoring criteria in most government grants, and many private ones, too), that's when most grant writers fall apart.

There isn't enough time here to discuss all of the detail you need to know regarding data analysis ( I sense a series coming on?), but let's start with three basic concepts in analyzing the data that you should address.

Data Collection - Like I said, most people cover this pretty well in their evaluation plans.  You need to include what data you will be collecting, how you will collect it, when you will collect it, and who will collect it.  If new instruments (surveys, etc.) are going to be developed, you'll need to describe that process, too. Think through the whole process from developing or acquiring the instruments through getting the data into your computer for analysis.  Yes, I did say, "into your computer for analysis."  The days of tallying surveys by hand on paper are over.  Accept it.

Descriptive Statistics - This is a fancy way of saying that you'll use the data to describe something.  Descriptive statistics include frequency counts, percentages, means, etc. You'll use descriptive statistics to describe the population you served.  You'll use them to describe your basic outcome data (survey results, etc.).  Of course, whenever possible, you should disaggregate your descriptive statistics by important subgroups to make sure you painting an accurate picture. Most of the time, descriptive statistics are all you need for a basic program evaluation, but not always.....

Inferential Statistics - O.k., here's where we separate the men from the boys....or the women from the girls...or the real evaluators from the pretenders. Inferential statistics are used to help you make judgements about the data beyond what can be said by looking at the descriptive data alone. Inferential statistics help you determine the statistical significance of the changes you see (the likelihood that the changes occurred as a result of your treatment, rather than by chance).  They help you predict things, too. If you ever studied anything beyond descriptive statistics in school, you entered the world of inferential statistics.  It's a scary place for some, but it's the only place to go if you really want to show causation (that your program really made a difference), and isn't that what evaluation is all about?

If you need a refresher course on research methods, the Research Menthods Knowledge Base is a great place to start.

The Program Evaluation Resources page has some links to interesting articles on data collection and analysis, as well as a link to two free webinars we have posted on evaluation basics.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Grant Writing is a Service

Nonprofit agencies pay for professional services all the time. I’ve worked with animal welfare agencies that hire veterinarians and Internet technicians and I’ve worked with disability organizations that hire instructors and therapists. Executive Directors (ED) will budget for those services and of course they only employ professionals to do the work. They would never dream of allowing a volunteer to fill in for a veterinarian if they weren’t a licensed vet.

Sometimes when it comes to paying for a grant writer ED’s cut corners, and often anyone with time and a computer will do. Is this something you do as an ED?  Perhaps that’s because you have not been successful at writing grants in the past, so you could feel that securing grants is a matter of throwing proposals against the wall until something sticks.

I can assure you that a professional grant writer is worth the money. A well-crafted narrative can make all the difference in a funding competition. In the current economic times, there are a lot more organizations submitting proposals than ever. In order to secure a share of the money these days, you want your proposal to stand out because it’s outstanding, not because it looks like a amateur wrote it. When I’ve read grants in the past as part of scoring teams, a poorly written grant stands out like a sore thumb.

Grant research and grant writing are very time-consuming activities. I know, I pretty much do them all day, every day. While that’s my job focus, an ED has a lot of other things to do, not the least of which is the care and feeding of their Board and donors. I am amazed that ED’s find any time to write grants at all. I don’t know, but I suspect most of that writing happens in the wee hours of the morning propelled by Starbucks.

I want to suggest to Executive Directors that your time might be better spent on planning fund raising for other legs of the funding stool, events, and donor cultivation. You might be a good grant writer, but those of us who work on grants full time still have an advantage. I’d suggest to you also that hiring a grant writer is not shirking your duty, it is a wise use of time and resources.

A good grant writer can increase your bottom line and relieve you of the task so you can do more of what you’re best at, connecting with people! Grant writing is a professional service and paying for professional services in support of the mission can be a wise investment.

This post was written by non-profit consultant and expert grant writer, Derek Link.
Related posts and aticles:
Working with a Grant Writer - You Get What You Pay For
Good Grant Writers are like Wedding Planners
Do I Really Need a Grant Writer?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Grant Research - Square Pegs and Round Holes

Non-profit consultant and grant writer, Derek Link, writes about the trials of grant research:

I used to think that grant writing was the hardest part of grant work, but now I know the harder job is grant seeking. I spend a lot of time looking for grants as part of grant research contracts for nonprofit organizations. It is grueling work. There are so many considerations to look at and so many factors to consider before making a decision to approach a funder with a request. Even with a good search engine, it’s a little like going to the mall with your girlfriend to find that perfect something…for someone.

The rigor of the search process is sometimes hard for a client to understand. They’ll give me a project they want funding for and say something like, “Here find a grant for this video project. I know there’s TONS of money out there for X.” The implication is that finding grants will be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, anyone with Internet could find it!

So I embark on my research looking for organizations that will fund the topic, the format of the project, the intent and scope of the project, the geographic location of the project, and so on. I look for funders who are accepting applications, who still have money after the crash, who haven’t changed their fields of interest, who weren’t victims of Madoff.

Often, I’m holding a square peg and about 99% of the holes out there are round ones. It’s a mistake to hammer the grant request in, and it’s damaging to the funding process in several ways:
  1. A grant project usually represents the energy and ideas of a group or an individual. They’re excited about it and want to move it forward, but only grant money will allow the project to happen. When a bunch of bad leads are followed, time is wasted on writing letters of inquiry and proposals, energy is sapped from the project, and eventually most people give up on finding a grant entirely
  2. Funding agencies, on the other hand, do not appreciate getting applications that are irrelevant to their mission. They offer grant opportunities to fund their mission, they will only fund your project if it aligns well with their mission. So if they are funding round pegs, don’t try to fit a square one into the opportunity. Some funders simply refuse to accept applications because the bulk of applications they received when holding an open solicitation were way off base and simply wasted their staff’s time.
So, make sure that your project fits the funder before making any approach. Due diligence in grant research is the only way to identify a good match between your project and a funder’s mission, and it’s a grind folks!


Learn more about grant research by viewing one of the free grant research webinars at

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Form a Grant Planning Committee

Non-profit consultant and grant writer, Derek Link, offers some advice about forming a grant planning committee:

For those of you brave enough to read a post with such a seemingly reckless title, one that could severely curtail our readership, forfeit RSS feeds by the millions, and perhaps even be banned in certain Western states, please keep reading you intrepid seekers of grant knowledge.
What I am suggesting is that if your organization needs grants, forming a planning committee will enable you to do several important things:

1) Bring potential collaborative partners to the table – Successful grants these days – large ones in particular – often require that there are collaborative partners. This is because there can be overlapping and competing interests. Funders are worried that grant money will be wasted on poorly targeted or duplicative efforts.

2) Accurately targeting needs for grant funding by spending enough time around a table talking, to truly understand an issue from diverse perspectives. Sometimes the answer to a problem is sharing existing resources not seeking new ones.

3) Break past agency turf wars by spending enough time with leaders from other agencies to form solid relationships. Everyone wants the client to win, but sometimes agencies hold their mission so tightly they drive off potentially helpful collaborative partners.
There are other good reasons for forming a planning committee, and there are also cautions. Here are some key don’ts:

1. Don’t accept members who won’t send a decision-maker to the meetings.

2. Don’t keep members who don’t/won’t make the commitment to attend every time you meet.

3. Don’t birdwalk – Make meetings N.E.A.T. (Nature-Expected Outcomes-Agenda-Time).

4. Identify the common priorities using a needs assessment.

5. Don’t keep meeting if common ground can’t be established.

While another committee and another set of meetings may initiate a reaction similar to a carnival tilt-a-whirl, a grant planning committee can yield well-targeted, productively collaborative grant applications.


Click here for more great grant writing resources.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Working with a Grant Writer - You Get What You Pay For

It has happened three times so far this season. We start working with a client on a project.  Before a contract is signed, they notify us that they have decided to go with another writer who will do the work for a lower fee.  Each time, I remain gracious, reminding the client of our success rate and our relationship, and I invite them to call if they need assistance.  Then I let go, and move on to others.

Last month, we got calls from the first two (with just a week before the deadline) telling us that their "bargain grant writer" bailed out on them at the last minute, and asking if we would take on the project. For one of them, we did, and we successfully met the deadline with a quality proposal. We were unable to help the other one because we just had too many proposals on our plate at that time.

Today, we heard from bargain shopper number three. This time, the client has been working with the new consultants, but after receiving two drafts, it became clear that the product was not going to be good.  So, with a grant deadline just 6 days away (counting the weekend), the client called and asked if we would take on the project. This is a long time client and normally we do everything we can to help, but this time, the answer is "no." Why? We have quite a few projects in the hopper right now, including another one due on the same date as the one the client wants us to take on.  Decisions have to made, and I choose to reward the loyalty of those who didn't allow themselves to be lured away by big promises and lower fees by focusing on their projects when time is tight.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to get the best possible deal for your organization. In fact, I think it's your duty as a public servant to do so.  However, the "best deal" is not always just about money.  In the case of grant writing, you also need to consider success rate, experience with the particular grant for which you are applying, and experience in field you work. If your proposal is about health care services and you hire someone who has never written a health care grant (or maybe has written just a couple) and has no experience in the health care field, you will get what you pay for - the grant writer's on the job training.

In these tough budget times, everyone is looking for ways to cut corners.  Just remember that if you don't get the grant, have you really saved anything?  And if you do get the grant written by the more experienced writer, wasn't the slightly higher fee worth every penny?


Want more information about working with a grant writer? Visit our Grant Writing Resources page.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Good Grant Writers are Like Wedding Planners

Non-Profit consultant and grant writer, Derek Link, shares some thoughts on deadlines:

Deadlines are stressful and that’s what a wedding date is for a wedding planner. Each grant also comes with a deadline date and that makes grant writing stressful for the writer and his staff. Many grant applications are complicated documents that necessitate great attention to detail in order to produce a cohesive proposal. Paying attention to detail under the pressure of a deadline is hard! A good grant writer must also be a good organizer, sort of like a wedding planner, without the cake.

Here are a few glitches that can and do come up all in alignment with Murphy’s Law which says if things can go wrong, they will go wrong, and at the worst possible time.

1. Online submissions are always subject to the vagaries of the Internet, the website host, your internal network, your computer, your software, and power failures. A crash in any of these can cause you to miss a deadline.

2. Paper submissions are subject to internal network problems, computer problems, software problems, copier problems like running out of ink or hideous accordion-folded, roller-munching paper jams.

3. Any kind of submission can be impacted by key staff getting sick, faulty review of application docs that suddenly become clear at the last moment, lack of expertise with software or online submission programs, failure of the applicant to register for the online system in time to be approved and receive access, and even - dare I say it - clients who neglect to get key documents signed and returned until the day of the deadline.

In the end it’s crucial that the deadline is met because a tardy grant is a dead grant. It is important to know where the potential pitfalls are in advance, especially if you are motivated by the adrenaline-laced rush of procrastination. Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby in the Procrastinator's Success Kit said, “A perfect method for adding drama to life is to wait until the deadline looms large.”

Grant drama is as inevitable as wedding drama so be sure you know where the pitfalls are and then put contingency plans in place.


Do you know about the awesome resources available to you through the Member Site?

Monday, March 8, 2010

What Schools and Non-Profits Can Learn from Business About Achieving Goals

I met with the executive director of a local non-profit organization last week. His organization has been grant dependent for years and has a very, very small private donor base. He knows they need to increase communications with the community and build the donor base, but there just isn't time.  The staff is busy providing services. There is no fund development plan, and every time he starts to move forward with private fund development, he makes progress for a while, and then gets distracted by another grant deadline or yet another administrative fire to put out.

I've hear this story so many times that I wish I had a dollar for each time I heard it.  I'd have a nice retirement account built up. I've heard the flip side, too....folks are so busy with private fundraising, donor courting, and program services that they have no time to write grants.

Running several businesses has taught me a few things (often as a result of mistakes I've made, but learning is learning, right?), and one of those things is that there is truth in the phrase, "Failing to plan is planning to fail."

Here's the lesson for schools and non-profits that successful businesses do automatically:

  • Set a measurable performance target.  What do you want to accomplish? Increase your donor base?  By how much?  By when? Raise funds through multiple sources to support a youth program?  How much? By when?  You get the point. You may need to set multiple targets, but don't set too many. You won't be able to maintain focus if you have more than 3-5 goals. If there is one target that is really important, stick to that one.
  • Devise a strategy to meet your target. The problem with most schools and non-profits is that they have been able to continue functioning for years regardless of not meeting outcome targets, so they are not very good at devising realistic and effective strategies for meeting outcomes. Businesses close down if they consistently fail to meet performance targets.  So, devise your strategy as if your job and/or your agency depended on it.  Get some expert advice. Enlist your entire staff.
  • Develop short term and long term action plans to implement your strategy. Assign responsibilities and timelines. This is the list of activities that must be completed to fully implement your strategy. Be very specific.
  • Develop short term benchmarks to make sure you stay on track. Don't just set an annual goal and wait until the end of the year to see if you met it or not. You simply must set interim benchmarks to determine if you're making progress so you can modify your strategy, if necessary.
  • Use your action plans to drive your monthly, weekly, and daily activities. This is the action part.  Make no mistake - if you are not doing something just about every day to get you closer to your goal, you probably won't meet it, and you'll be scratching your head at the end of the year as you make more excuses.
  • Stay focused. Not only do you have to stay focused, but you have to keep your staff focused.  You need to monitor your part of the action plan, as well as the components of the plan for which your staff are responsible.
  • Review your progress frequently. Take time at least monthly to see where you are with the implementation of the plan. Progress updates on the plan should be a standing item on every staff meeting agenda.  It's your job as a leader to keep the staff focused and to demonstrate the importance of assessing progress and changing course, if necessary. If you never talk about the target and the plan, don't be surprised when they quit working toward it.
 This really is how successful folks get from point A (the current situation) to point B (wherever they want to go).  Learn from this and jump on the success bandwagon.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Grant Writing Tools You Can Use

Every now and then we like to post about the amazing grant writing tools we have to help you be successful.  Most are totally FREE.  Those that aren't free are very inexpensive. Please feel free to share these tools with your friends and colleagues. Grant writers need all the help they can get.

New Text Message Tips. This is really new for us.  We're sending out grant writing tips and grant sources via text message. There are four different groups you can join - you can join them all or juts the one or two that interest you the most. The tips are totally free, but if you don't have an unlimited text plan with your mobile provider, standard text message rates apply. We're sending out 2-3 messages per week for each group, so you won't be inundated with texts and we do not sell third party advertising so you won't be flooded with ads, either. Here's how you sign up:
  • Text GRANTS to 313131 for grant writing tips.
  • Text EDGRANTS to 313131 for grant sources relating to education.
  • Text KIDGRANTS to 313131 for grant sources for youth programs.
  • Text NONPROFIT to 313131 for non-profit development and fund raising tips.
Free online webinars. Right now, we offer free recorded webinars on the following grant writing topics:
  • Top 10 Tips for Grant Wsriting
  • Collaborating with School Districts on Grants
  • Writing Good Letters of Support
  • Grant Research: The Basics
  • Effective Grant Research
In addition to these topics, we have other webinars on various program evaluation and non-profit development topics.  All are between 20 and 40 minutes long (most are about 30 minutes) and all are available for viewing on demand.

BlogTalk Radio Tips from the Grant Goddess.  Every Friday at 3:00 p.m. (Pacific) we air our 30 minute  online radio show, Tips from the Grant Goddess, on BlogTalkRadio. If you miss the live show, you can listen to the recordings on demand at any time. There are currently over 35 shows archived for listening at your leisure.  Some of the many grant writing topics covered in these shows include:
  • The Art and the Science of Grant Writing
  • Tips for Effective Collaboration
  • Budget Development
  • Writing Good Letters of Support
  • Grant Writing: The Basics
  • Grant Seeking
  • Developing a Logic Model
  • Selecting Evidence-Based Programs and Practices
Grant Writing Resources Page. This page has quite a selection of great FREE grant writing resources and tools, including articles and links to other sites with good grant writing resources.

Past Blog Posts. Take some time to go back through the archive of blog posts here.The posts you find are different than the articles we put on the Grant Writing Resources Page. With the exception of news posts, most of our posts are about grant writing tips and techniques that you can still use long after they were initially published.

Grant Tips iPhone App. We took the time to put together an iPhone application with 101+ grant tips to help you succeed with your grant writing.  Currently, the app is available for 99 cents in the App Store. You can get more information here. Pretty soon, the FREE version of the app (Grant Tips Lite) will be available.  It will have only 50 tips, rather than over a hundred, but the other features will all be the same. Stay tuned for more information as we release the new app.

Membership at Everything I've told you about so far has been free (or very inexpensive). A membership at costs only $9.95/month (or you can save some money and get an annual membership for $99/year). On the member site, you'll have access to the largest collection of grant seeking, grant writing, program evaluation, and non-profit development resources available on the web! The content is not duplicated from the free site; it's all developed just for members. We launched the member site in January 2010 and it's growing every day.  But here's the rub --- the early bird rate of $9.95/mo is only good until the end of May.  On June 1, the price will go up to $19.95/month.  Lock in your lower membership rate now!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Five Tips for Writing Good Grant Objectives

Writing good grant objectives is not rocket science, but I have seen it trip up more than a few writers. Think of your objectives as the cornerstone of your project design.  They are linked to your needs and your solutions, and they play a prominent role in the evaluation section. It is definitely worth the time to make them as strong as possible.  Here are a few tips to help you out:
  1. Make your objectives SMART. That stands for Specific, Measurable Achievable, Realistic (I've also heard Relevant used here, but I prefer Realistic) and Time-bound. 
  2. Use measures that are available to you. Unless there are specific measures that are required by the funding source, write your objective with measurement tools that you have available at your site.  While you should use existing assessments whenever possible, this might be the opportunity to add new assessments you have been considering using anyway. Just be careful not to commit yourself and the organization to the implementation of a new battery of assessments in addition to the implementation of a new program.
  3. Make sure each objective has all its parts. The most effective outcome objectives are written as standard behavioral objectives.  Each should have four parts:
    1. What will be measured?
    2. When will it be measured?
    3. How much growth do you expect?
    4. How will you know that the objective has been achieved?
  4. Distinguish implementation objectives from outcome objectives. Implementation objectives define your targets for implementing the program (e.g., Fifty program participants will be enrolled by June 30, 2011, as measured by intake records.) and outcome objectives define your ultimate achievement targets (e.g., Forty students will complete the program each year, as measured by achievement of a passing score on the XYZ exam.). Think of it this way: the achievement of an implementation objective proves that you are implementing the program (doing what you said you would do).  The achievement of outcome objective proves that the program works.
  5. Review the formal evaluation requirements of the funding source before finalizing your objectives. Since you will be required to demonstrate the degree to which you have achieved your objectives and you will be required to provide specific data to the funding source as part of a national, state, or organizational (if you have a private funding source) evaluation, it makes sense to try to tailor your objectives to the data that will be required for the formal evaluation.  Not only does this streamline your planning and help with implementation, it also demonstrates your understanding of the needs and requirements of the funding source.

For more grant writing tips, check out the Grant Writing Resources at or download our Grant Tips iPhone App.  You can also text the word GRANTS to 313131 to receive grant writing tips 2-3 per week on your mobile phone (Tips are free, but standard text message rates from your mobile carrier may apply if you don't have an unlimited text plan.).

Friday, March 5, 2010

Is Grant Writing Success Really Just About Luck?

As a successful grant writer, I've actually had people say to me, "Wow! You sure are lucky!"  My first thought is, "Gee, that luck sure did take a lot of work!"

I'll admit it.  There is a certain amount of luck in the formula of grant success, if you define luck as the impact of factors over which you have no control.  There are many things you can't control in the process. You can't control the readers.  You can't control if your readers are well informed about your field or not.  You can't control if your readers are tired, alert, happy, sad, cranky, or enthusiastic when they read and score your proposal.

In spite of that, there are many things you can control. The better your proposal, the more likely you are to be "lucky." And a better proposal is all about skill and hard work. The more you refine your skill, the less vulnerable you are to luck.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

An Unusual Grant Scenario

I was hired recently by an organization to write a grant for a program they developed over a year ago. They applied for this same grant last year, but they were not successful.  The design section scored very well, but the needs section, management plan, and evaluation section did not score well.  In fact, those sections were scored very poorly.

My interest was piqued as I reviewed the readers' comments.  Why?  Because this was an unusual scenario.

The most typical scenario when a grant is not funded is to see high scores for need, low scores for evaluation, and moderate scores for design.  Why is this?

Most applicants score high on need because they know their needs well. They have gathered their data and they really know why they want and need the grant.  Most applicants score low on evaluation because most people don't know much about evaluation. It's like the grant world's second cousin.  Everybody knows there is an important connection to it, but not many have taken the time to really get to know it.

Scoring well on design, but poorly on everything else means that they know what they want to do, but they are unclear on why (needs section) and how (management plan). Or maybe they are clear on those things but they don't know how to express it well.  In reality, it doesn't matter.  If you can't make it clear to the readers, you won't be funded.

The good news is that I can help these folks.  They have an excellent, clear view of what they want to do.  They really do know how to do it; they just need help with expressing it in writing.  A needs section is easy to write if there's a lot of available data (and there is).  As for evaluation, I'm a professional evaluator as well as a grant writer (did you know that?) so we'll nail the evaluation section.

The lesson from this unusual grant scenario is that you must pay attention to all sections of your grant proposal.  All pieces of the puzzle need to fit together well. That requires attention to all sections separately, as well as to the way they connect to each other.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Facing the Blank Page (or, Beginning to Write)

MaryEllen Bergh, our Grant Coach, is a master at helping people move beyond the blocks to success in grant writing. Here are some of her thoughts on getting passed writer's block and starting to writing process:

Beginning to write is frequently the most difficult part of the writing process. You are looking at that blank page and no words come to you. How can you free your creative mind when you are stuck before you even begin?

The grant deadline is looming…you have done all your research and have copious notes for project design and expected outcomes. You’re ready – really ready – and there is the blank page that says “1 of 40”. You realize that at least 20 minutes has gone by and you haven’t started yet. What can you do when you’re staring at that blank sheet of paper with visions of sugarplums dancing in your head? When this happens to me (oh yes, I have extensive experience in this scenario!), there are several techniques that I use.

One of my favorite strategies (introduced to me by Kelly Stone in Thinking Write) is to visualize the words flowing out of my brain like water, streaming down my arms, through my hands, and onto the keyboard. When I am really seeing those words flowing freely, I like to begin with the “story”. Who is my client (or “who are we?” if you are writing for your organization) and what makes them unique?

Next, I take a few moments to visualize the proposed program. What will the design look like…feel like…what activities do I see? If I am not able to easily visualize the design, I sometimes draw a graphic that helps me clarify the big picture. Now I am moving through the next section. As this is one of several drafts, these first pages may look entirely different when finalized; however, this process always gets me “unstuck” and provides the motivation and focus to get started.

Remember to celebrate the creativity that is takes to make the blank page come to life!

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.