Saturday, June 26, 2010

Is Your Organization Ready for Grant Writing?

Non-profit consultant and expert grant writer Derek Link addresses two of the most common objections to grant writing:

I’ve heard time and again from organization leaders and Board members either that; 1) “We don’t write grants because they are too much work;” or 2) the ever present stand-by, “The problem with writing grants is that the funds go away.”

If you’re saying these things, I suggest to you that #1 is half true; implementing grants is work, but whether a grant is too much work depends on what you are applying for. Argument #2 is simply shortsighted.

Let me dispel these arguments one at a time. The “grants are too much work” argument mostly relates to whether or not the grant appropriately fits the mission of the organization. I’d agree with this argument if an agency was only going after a grant to expand their budget and the activities fell far outside their mission. On the other hand, if an agency with existing funds could serve 100 senior citizens with hot meals; but given grant funding could expand and take everyone on their waiting list up to 150, would this be considered too much work, or just part of what the agency’s mission is all about?

The premise of the second argument, “grants go away,” is almost always true, but it is an invalid reason not to apply for the money. Why wouldn’t an agency like the one in my prior example take a three year grant to feed 50 seniors, even knowing that the money was going to end? Would the temporary nature of the grant be a good argument not to provide the hot meals for the 50 people? Or is not applying simply easier than making cuts at the end of the funding? A lot of good could be done in those three years; and during that time, a case could be built for finding the money elsewhere by demonstrating the need for the services and the efficacy of the agency delivering them.

The best reason for not grant writing is because it is outside the mission of your organization. Don’t be scared away by the expansion in services a grant will provide and don’t be deterred because at the end of the grant funding you may well have to cut your grant budget and maybe even reduce your staff. Grants do a lot of good for a lot of people, even it’s only a temporary infusion of grant funding. Yes, sometimes there are grant regulations to follow and special grant records to keep, but in the end, if grant writing supports your mission, your arguments against applying for grants should be carefully evaluated.


If your organization is ready to write some grants, consider participating in an online seminar or taking an online grant writing course through the Online Learning Center.

Check out the other grant writing resources at!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Detail Dilemma of Grant Writing

There are many things that make grant writing a challenging endeavor.  One of those things is something I call the "detail dilemma." Knowing how much detail to include about your need, your project design, your activities and your evaluation is not always obvious.  In fact, it is one of the things that new grant writers struggle with most.

On the one hand, you need to provide enough detail to make your plans perfectly clear to the readers and to thoroughly address the scoring criteria.  On the other hand, you usually also have a page limit pressing against you and keeping you from providing as much detail as you might like to include.

It makes it worse when the guidance from the funding source is nebulous.  I participated in a webinar this morning during which a funder was providing guidance for a grant due next week.  This one has no page limitation for the narrative (a very rare situation), and lots of terms like "describe thoroughly" and "provide detail about" in the RFP.  When asked for some guidance, the funder's representative simply replied, "Well, don't write too much, and be succinct, but you need to describe your plan thoroughly and provide enough detail so the readers will feel comfortable about how you addressed the scoring criteria."

Leave it to the government to provide a non-answer to a perfectly legitimate question. Sometimes you just want to yell, "Can't you give me a straight answer?"

So, what do you do?

Here's the advice I give to others (and the advice I try to follow myself):

  1. Assume that your reader knows nothing about your organization and what you do.  You need to provide enough detail for someone who knows nothing about you to understand a) who you are, b) what you are planning to do, and c) how you plan to do it.
  2. Provide more detail in sections that will gain you higher points. Remember, it's a numbers game.  It's a subjective numbers game, but a numbers game nonetheless.
  3. Provide more detail in the first several pages, regardless of how many points are allocated for the first section.  The first few pages that the readers see set the tone for their attitude for your whole proposal.  You need to start off strong sounding competent and like you have thought it all through.
  4. If you have no page limitation, or if you have more room left than you have already used, ask yourself, "What additional details I can provide that would help the readers select this project over another?"  Then add to your narrative accordingly.
  5. Read through your proposal to make sure it is focused on the scoring criteria.  Sometimes, writers fill their proposals with information they think is interesting, but that has little to do with what the funder wants to know.  I call this extra stuff "grant noise". Keep the grant noise to a minimum.  Focus on what the funder is asking and choose a simple project design. Sometimes pulling out all the "noise" helps you see where you need to add detail.
  6. Give your proposal to someone who has not been involved in the development of the project, and ask their opinion.  If there is anything that they think is unclear, add more detail to clarify the point.  This is definitely a time to "check your ego at the door."  Even if you think you said it clearly, if your friendly reader needed more explanation, the funder's readers probably will,  too.

Want more grant writing tips?  Try 101 Tips for Aspiring Grant Writers and consider taking an online grant writing seminar or course through the Online Learning Center.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Grant Writing is like the World Cup

Non-profit consultant and expert grant writer, Derek Link, shares his ideas about how grant writing is like World Cup soccer. His opinions about soccer are not shared by everyone here at Creative Resources & Research, but his grant writing thoughts are pretty much spot on.


I  never played organized soccer; which assumes that it is organized, which I cannot attest to by watching. I just don’t get it most of the time. I don’t understand why there isn’t more scoring, and why most shots aren’t even close to going in the net. I don’t understand heading or why they aren’t forced to wear helmets to do that. It gives me a headache just watching a header.

And then there are the guys lolling on the ground after getting tripped, which I must say that to anyone who put on a football uniform (American Football), or who played competitive basketball, or who ran through the catcher at home plate, grimacing like death is approaching on the ground while clutching body parts really looks a tad wimpy. I’d much rather see an Inspector Clouseau rebound after a good tumble onto the soft grass with a crisply delivered, “Of course I am all right”.

But, since I never played soccer, I can only compare it to what I know, grant writing.

The Warm-Up – I see the players jogging around, bouncing on their toes, swinging their legs from side-to-side. I do similar things to prepare for grant writing, I begin by making coffee, organizing my materials, reading a grant sample, booting the computer up, putting out the cat, etc.

First Half – It starts a little slowly with the sides testing each other - a little rough sometimes as the defenders try to establish themselves as tough guys (they usually aren’t the ones rolling around the lawn, they’re the ones who cause other guys to).

It’s the same with grant writing. I read the rfp, make a grant outline, organize my data, skirmish with my client about getting me more data, find some research - sort of testing the boundaries of what I know and what I need to learn fast.

Half Time – Now I haven’t seen a locker room scene with the soccer coach making great “Knute Rockne” speeches to the soccer players. My guess is that it doesn’t happen like it does in American Football with the coach exhorting the players to greater levels of courage and violence. It’s probably more like an English Tea, with round cafĂ©-style tables and cups with saucers and a gentle discussion about strategy and stiff upper lips while white-gloved masseuses give nice shoulder rubs.

So I treat grant writing half time the same way. I make more coffee, maybe have a snack, read about massage chairs in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, or eat lunch if the time of day is right. Sometimes, I will do a small household chore like take out the trash, or pick vegetables in the garden.

Second Half – Now the guys on both teams are getting tired and they’ve already had their high tea so there’s really nothing to look forward to. They tend to complain more to the referees in the second half. They also tend to lay down on the turf more curled and grasping shins hoping to get a penalty or a rest.

Grant writing is the same. By the second half, you’re tired and cranky and you’d rather lay down on the floor of the study than continue but there’s no referee to stop time so there’s nothing left to do but slog it out and finish. There are times when I’d really like to see a red card and get kicked right out of a grant, but there’s little hope of that happening.

Now that I’ve written this, I can see that the World Cup isn’t really that much like grant writing at all. But you do kick the narrative around until you’re exhausted with it, and the game is over. When the deadline finally comes, the referee blows the whistle and the game is over then there’s nothing more you can do about the result of all your work; you just hope it was good enough to put the ball in the net.


Now is a great time to register for an online grant writing seminar or course through our Online Learning Center.  Learn grant writing when it's convenient for you.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Value of a Good Grant Outline

Dr. Beaubien was my ninth grade English teacher, a stern woman with a love of language she managed to inspire in some of us; that, in spite of her inflexible, homework-laden methods.

Dr. Beaubien also placed a lot of faith in what she called the I-form method of writing essays. At the top of the “I” was an intro paragraph followed by three topic paragraphs followed by a closing paragraph. Nice, neat, and organized is how Dr. Beaubien liked her classroom and that’s how she liked our essays.

It’s quite possible that Dr. Beaubien is the person responsible for making me a grant writer. I learned early on the importance of a good outline for writing. Grants lend themselves well to developing an outline; although regretfully, I’ve never come across a five paragraph grant narrative.

The first thing I do when writing a grant is to make an outline of the narrative and add comments and key terms I want to use in the writing. I gather this from a close inspection of the request for application (rfa).

Outlines are a good idea for these reasons:
  1. A grant outline ensures that you follow the rfa or rfp guidelines.
  2. A grant outline helps you sort out your thinking about what you need to gather to write the grant.
  3. A grant outline ensures that you see the big picture so that your narrative all ties together neatly in the end.
Dr. Beaubien had it right, organize your writing. It takes some time and effort to create a grant outline, but there are places online where Creative Resources publishes Grant Outlines for writers to use like Whether you decide to create your own or buy one created by our expert writers, a grant outline is a great tool in successful grant writing.


For a limited time, to celebrate the launch of, you can get an outline for the current Full Service Community Schools grant competition (complete with expert tips and suggestions) for just $2.99!
Would you like to read some samples of successful grant proposals?  Visit

This post was written by non-profit consultant and expert grant writer, Derek Link.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Grant Research Includes Reading a Grant Sample

“Nothing succeeds like success” is an old proverb, but it applies well to grant writing today. Grant writers who want to be successful know what is wanted by the grant maker and one great way to do that is to read a grant sample of proposals that were successful in previous competitions.

Now you might be saying to yourself “Whoa! You’re talking about plagiarism," and I’ll say y’all are wrong about that. I’m talking about reading for the purpose of research only, certainly NEVER copying or creating derivative works.

Reading a grant sample is no different than serving as a reader on a grant scoring team. You learn a lot about how to write a successful grant proposal by reading the work of other successful grant writers.

Here are some of the key things you should look for when you are reading a grant sample.
  1. Program structure including who is served, what kind of services, how much service was deemed acceptable, etc.
  2. What kind of organization got the money, public, private, non-profit?
  3. Who was the target audience? Is there a preference for a certain demographic, geographic area, or municipal size?
  4. What is in the budget? What will the funder actually pay for and what are the relative amounts in terms of budget categories?

Of course there is a lot more to look for including use of language, use of graphics, and use of charts and tables. Remember that successful proposals were those that the readers liked and recommended for funding. That’s the group you want to be in the next round of funding!

Creative Resources and Research offers grant samples that our staff has collected for various competitions at We also offer some of our own successful proposals there (with identifying information about the client agency redacted).


Also check out!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Online Learning Center Teaches Grant Writing

Our Online Learning Center is now live! Learn grant writing when it's convenient for you.

Here's how it works:  You register for a one hour seminar or a full course. Then we send you more information about how to access the material.  If it's a seminar, you can participate live (or not) and you'll also have access to the recorded web session for six months to review at your convenience.  If it's a course, the online session materials will be released according to the schedule on the curse page (over a period of about a month), but it's all recorded, so you can go through the materials on your time, when it's convenient for you. You'll have access to all the online sessions for 6 months.

Like learning in the middle of the night?  No problem. Want to review the materials a little each day on your lunch hour? That's perfect.

Here are the seminars that are planned for the next several weeks.  Remember, the dates and times are for the live event, but you don't have to be available then to take advantage of the seminars:

  • Secrets of Successful Grant Writers - June 29th - 12 noon PST.
  • Writing an Effective Evaluation Section - July 7th - 12 noon PST
  • Logic Models - July 20th - 3:00 p.m. PST
  • Timelines - July 27th - 3:00 p.m. PST
 Here are the courses that are planned for this summer (with links to the course information pages):
With each course, you get the course materials (a recorded Webex session, links, handouts,etc.), access to an exclusive course discussion group, access to the instructor through weekly teleconference for questions, and for some courses you also get individual teleconference consultation time with the instructor.

Check out the Online Learning Center for more information and to register.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Learning to Collaborate

Some thoughts from our Grant Coach, MaryEllen Bergh, on schools and collaboration:

The Full-Service Community Schools Program Grant application has just been released so my thoughts have turned, once again, to the fact that schools just can’t take on all the problems of today’s children and their parents and, at the same time, focus on turning around a school labeled as “failing.” Schools need other agencies to share some of the responsibility.

Imagine a community school intentionally transformed into a neighborhood hub – open all the time to children and their families and, in this school, a range of support services is provided by community agencies to help students overcome the obstacles that interfere with their learning and success in school.

In order to create this system of comprehensive, coordinated support in a community school model, schools have to learn to work in different ways. Schools have tended to be isolated to a significant extent from direct intervention of other professionals; where they have had to work with other agencies, their relative size, statutory nature and high degree of control over what happens within their walls have often made them difficult partners (and I know many community non-profits working with children at school sites can attest to that!).

Educators and human service providers traditionally have been on different tracks. To collaborate, schools (and agencies) must be willing to negotiate on issues such as confidentiality, discipline, equipment, and transportation, to name a few. Many large educational initiatives (Safe Schools/Healthy Students, Healthy Start, 21st Century Community Learning Centers) insist on collaboration – often on the school site – and this has shifted the balance from control to cooperation. Principals and teachers realize that they need the cooperation of other professionals in order to reach the standards of performance by which their schools are judged.

Full service community schools are jointly operated and financed by a school district and a community-based organization. Each community school is unique based on what the neighborhood needs. Does the full service community school work? Preliminary research shows improved achievement, much better attendance rates, lower delinquency, and significant student and parent approval. Joy Dryfoos (well-known researcher and advocate of full service schools) states that the full service community school is a strategy – not a program – for “redesigning education to meet the needs of a modern, dynamic society.”

Learning to collaborate is a critical key in successful community schools. Collaboration benefits schools and community organizations in several ways:
  1. Working as a team leads to improved effectiveness, more efficient use of resources, better access to services and more productive partnerships;
  2. When schools and community based organizations cooperate to align resources with common goals, children and youth are more likely to succeed academically, socially, and physically;
  3. Collaboration among professionals provides opportunities to enlarge and deepen practice as school staff and community organizations learn from each other; and 
  4. Much more can be accomplished for children and families as a team than can be accomplished by any one organization in isolation.

Take a look at the Full Service Community Schools Program application.

For more information: Inside Full Service Community Schools, by Joy G. Dryfoos & Sue Maguire.


Visit for more great tips on collaboration and grant writing!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Virtual Collaboration

Here are some thoughts from our Grant Coach, MaryEllen Bergh, on Virtual Collaboration:

Collaboration is a process of participation through which people, groups and organizations work together to achieve desired results. Starting or sustaining a collaborative journey is exciting, sometimes stressful, and even new for many. Successful collaboration requires focus on the goals of the team and on the development of trusting relationships. These relationships allow people to overcome problems that might arise through the collaborative process. While most of our collaborative tasks are still done in face-to-face meetings, technology has enabled us to collaborate from afar. It has given us the ability to be members of a professional learning community that may include people from around the globe.

Is collaboration on virtual teams as effective as collaborative teams that meet face to face? Dr. Jaclyn Kostner (author of Bridge the Distance) found that virtual teams tended to keep their focus on priorities better than face-to-face teams and, in fact, virtual meetings were frequently shorter; however, the virtual collaborative teams failed more often. One of the reasons for this higher rate of failure, according to Dr. Kostner, is that virtual teams did not develop the relationships that allowed them to work as a team to overcome problems – they did not collaborate in any meaningful way. As organizations move toward using technology to facilitate collaboration among teams that are split by distance what are some ways that teams can collaborate better at a distance? Here are a few tips:
  1. Don’t multi-task at virtual meetings. Close your email, turn off your alerts and pay attention. The only time an entire virtual team can collaborate is when they are meeting. If you want your team to collaborate and be a team make sure that everyone pays attention and participates in team meetings.
  2. Meet face to face as often as possible. While the technology tools that enable us to communicate virtually save time and money, there is no better way to develop relationships than face to face. This may not be a possibility for teams that are at long distances apart. Make sure that you do allow some virtual time to get to know your team.
  3. Create office hours when team members can be reached. Collaboration among team members is an important way to create relationships and overcome the barrier of distance. Because it is so difficult to get anyone live these days, set up hours for each team member when they agree to be available, answer their phones, and take the time to work with the other team member.
Dr. Kostner was the spokesperson for a study conducted by Frost and Sullivan (Meetings around the World) sponsored by Microsoft and Verizon. The basic conclusion from this study was “The more collaborative organizations are, the better they perform. Conversely, the less collaborative they are, the worse they perform.” So if virtual teaming is in your plan, pay attention to creating a virtual team that collaborates well.

Would you like more of MaryEllen's insight?  Become a member of and visit the Coach's Corner.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Changing the World

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."  -Margaret Mead.

I had one of those awesome grant writer payoff moments yesterday.  I was sitting in an end-of-year evaluation meeting with a group of collaborative partners that has been implementing a grant funded, school-based violence prevention program for the last four years. The group was discussing the outcomes for the past year and plans for the next year.

It was an unusually lighthearted and joyful meeting.  Of course, there were many educators around the table and school is out for the summer, but even in that situation grant evaluation meetings are typically not that celebratory, at least not in my experience. However, this group had good reason to be proud. There was good improvement in our targeted outcomes in spite of the fact that the sites involved had been hit hard by budget cuts and had suffered several dramatic challenges late in the year (the death of a teacher at one school; the arrest of a teacher at the other).

As we were discussing the outcomes and fine tuning the plans for next year, the real magic happened. A student walked in the room bringing some copies to the meeting facilitator.  After the student left, one of the principals said, "Now she's a real success story!" and he proceeded to tell us how troubled that young woman had been and how many thought that she might be in real trouble and lost beyond the ability of anyone at the school to help.

Then he talked about the services provided to the young woman through the project - not just through the grant, but through the entire collaborative effort.  We learned that she had been assisted in various ways by at least  8 of the project partners in that room, and that the grant had helped coordinate those services so the community could actually wrap its arms around that young woman and walk her through the difficult time in her life. Then he told us how well she is doing now (including earning a 3.5 GPA!). The principal finished his remarks with the words, "Seriously, we saved a life."

I sat there listening quietly, but the truth is that it was a moment that took my breath away.  I couldn't speak because there was a lump in my throat. There is no question that moments like that are the real payoff in grant writing, and they are the reason I do it.

Most of the time, I work in isolation as I write.  I communicate with people as much as I need to to gather the information I need to put together a high quality proposal, but hours and hours are spent alone with my notes and my computer. The process is so separate from the ultimate result (changing lives) that it's very hard to see sometimes, especially when I'm backed up against multiple deadlines, and I'm tired, and my client is being difficult (yes, it happens at times).

Because I also serve as a program evaluator, I have the incredible honor of being able to see the result of my writing efforts. I get to see programs in place that weren't there before, services that weren't offered before, and yes, I get to meet people whose lives are forever changed for the better because of those hours I spent in isolation doing what I do best.

So, the experience yesterday will provide some good motivating fuel for my writing for a while.  When I'm tired of writing and I want to quit or I want to take a shortcut or two instead of giving it my best effort, I'll remind myself that I'm not writing, I'm changing the world.


Related Post: The Real Payoff

The Grant Goddess' Online Learning Center opens in a few days! Keep checking back here or visit to see the link on the home page.

Want to supercharge your grant writing?  Become a member at! You'll have access to a huge selection of grant writing, program evaluation, non-profit development, and research tools.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Yes, It May Be "Old School," but Plan Before You Write

I think the ubiquitous use of word processing computer programs has made people forget the importance of planning before you write.  In the old days of grant writing using a typewriter, you really had to think through your writing first because correcting errors was not very easy.  Even when it became easier to correct minor errors, you couldn't move paragraphs around or restructure the text without retyping the whole page or section.

So what did we do back then? We developed an outline before we started to write.  We did the research, fleshed out the ideas, and filled in the outline until we were pretty sure about what we wanted to write and the order in which we wanted to write it. Then we wrote a first draft - sometimes by hand, sometimes on the typewriter. Revising the first draft consisted of marking it all up and then carefully retyping the document with all of the re-writes and corrections made.

Sure, it seems like it's a lot easier to compose on the computer, and it's absolutely easier to make changes, but it has also created a generation of really lazy grant writers and program developers. Instead of really developing the ideas in a proposal and drafting an outline for a plan before writing, folks just start writing with a few ideas in place, knowing they can fill in the rest later. The result is often incomplete, disjointed ideas, and plans that don't make logical sense.

Also, even  though it's easy to make changes using a computer, reworking a 50 to 100 page program narrative with multiple complex design changes is definitely not easy. In fact it's easier just to hold off on the writing until the planning is complete and the ideas have been solidly developed.

Many of those early steps in the writing process - like outlining - may seem like a throw back to the old days of typewriters, but they are really not.  They are the cornerstones of idea development. They can make the difference between a really good grant proposal and a sloppy one.

Would you like some great grant writing resources that can help take your writing to a higher level?  Become a member of

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.