Friday, August 27, 2010

How Did I Learn Grant Writing? - Derek Link

Non-Profit Consultant and Expert Grant Writer, Derek Link, provides the first contribution to our How Did I Learn Grant Writing?" series:

Often people ask, "How on earth did you learn grant writing?"  Obviously it isn’t one of the careers that a high school counselor suggested and I’d wager it’s not one of the careers indicated by any career assessments.

My entry into the world of grant writing started when I took a job in which I was expected to write “Continuation Applications” for federal grants the agency secured before my tenure in the position. Fortunately, the consultant who wrote the grants originally was under contract to assist with evaluation and I was soon under his grant-writing tutelage.

My new mentor liked my writing style which tends to be direct and to the point.  After his contracts with our agency ended, he asked me if I was available to moonlight with his company as a freelance grant writer, so I asked my boss if he’d object to me doing that.  My boss gave me the green light and before long my nights and weekends were spent at the computer pecking away at grant narratives.

Now I don’t want to give you the impression that I was some grant-writing prodigy, some technical-writing-Mozart sitting blindfolded at the computer whipping out successful narratives: I most certainly wasn’t!  My mentor was a brutal and brilliant grant editor and he wielded a micro-cassette recorder as he read my narratives providing biting, insightful commentary which I often swore at (I’m not proud of it but it’s true) as I listened to the comments revising my writing again and again.

Another key thing I did to learn grant writing was take a grant writing class.  The class I took was rather basic, especially after my recent experience in writing grants but it did reinforce some important concepts and practices vital to becoming successful.  The grant writing course taught things like organization, writing style, voice, use of data, integration of the RFP outline, etc.

So in summary, my process to learn grant writing involved a number of things including:

  1. I had a job that required me to write grants.
  2. I had a great mentor.
  3. I had the motivation to persevere in the learning process.
  4. I took a grant writing course.

The intellectual exercise of writing a grant is still a great challenge.  Being able to hold the whole program in your mind as you write ensures continuity and clarity and requires you to be fully mentally present throughout the process.  I find grant writing to be a strenuous mental exercise. Learning to write grants will kind of make your brain sweat.


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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Grant Writing Success through Thoughtful Planning and Preparation

Grant Coach MaryEllen Bergh knows a few things about achieving grant writing success through planning and preparation. In this post, she shares some of her valuable knowledge and experience with you:

A successful grant proposal is one that is thoughtfully planned, well prepared, and concisely packaged. When you have found a funding source that is a good fit for your proposed project, the temptation is strong to immediately begin writing; however, your proposal will be much more effective if you take some time up front to plan.  Thorough planning helps you determine where to start, where you want to go, how to get there, and how to know you have arrived. Grant writing success requires that you communicate your proposed project effectively and in enough detail so the funder has a clear understanding of all the components of your project, how it fits their funding priorities, and how you will carry out your program or service over the project period. Writing successful grant proposals requires preparation, attention to detail and a great team with passion and perseverance. Here are 3 tips to prepare for a successful grant proposal:

  1. Gather your proposal team. Most successful proposals are written by teams. The team members each contribute specific expertise, so that the organization can prepare its proposal more efficiently.
  2. Read the funding guidelines. The most important step in writing a successful grant is thoroughly reading the funder’s Request for Applications (RFA) or Request for Proposal (RFP) before you start. Since you will be responding to the guidelines established by the funder, you want to make sure that each member of the team understands the funder’s priorities and instructions for submittal. If the RFA includes a reference to a website or publication, it is often helpful to read that as well.
  3. Complete a proposal outline. The outline gives you and your team a roadmap to follow. Establish a timeline for gathering information and input needed to complete each section of the proposal.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Best Ways to Learn Grant Writing

Let's face it.  Grant writing is not rocket science, but people are always asking me how they can learn grant writing.. I consider it a craft because it includes elements of both skill and art, but anyone with good basic writing skills can learn to be a decent grant writer.  Of course, there are some notable characteristics and "secrets" of really successful grant writers, but those, too, can be learned for the most part. The most important thing is a willingness to learn.

So, what are the best ways to learn grant writing?

I learned grant writing by jumping in and writing one.  I was fortunate enough to be successful on the first try, but I would have kept trying anyway.  After a while, I found a grant writing mentor, an expert in the field who took me under his wing and taught me the craft. I learned many things from him beyond writing. While I strongly encourage people to take grant writing seminars and workshops, I didn't take my first one until I was already a professional grant writer.  The individual attention, instruction, and support I received from my mentor was exactly what I needed.

If you don't know someone you can ask to mentor you, you may want to take a grant writing course first.  That will increase the chances that you'll meet a mentor (your instructor) and it will provide you with the basics of what you need to know to be successful, allowing you to maximize your time.

There are many grant writing workshops you can take; however, if you are serious about really learning the trade, I recommend that you take a full-blown course.  Our Grant Writing 101 course is an example of a comprehensive course that will give you an excellent foundation.

Once you have the basic foundation, the best way to improve your skill is to write.  Write grants.  Write many grants.  I suggest that you start with mini-grants.  They are quick and easy and you'll get to experience some success quickly.

As you move on to larger grants, be sure to review the feedback from the funding source (regardless of whether or not you were funded) to learn from your mistakes as well as what you did well.

If you focus on taking advantage of the available learning opportunities, you'll be able to learn grant writing in no time.


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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grant Writing Success is Just the Beginning

Hearing that your organization has been awarded a grant is exhilarating!  You want to tell everyone.  You want to celebrate your success.  Then it hits you ---grant writing success is only the beginning.

That's right.  While you were focused up to this point on all of the work involved in getting the grant, the real work hasn't even started yet.  The "real work" is all about turning that vision into reality.  It's at this point that you learn some valuable lessons about grant writing, and now is the time to make note of those lessons so you don't have to learn them again, again, and again.

Here are some post-award lessons clients have learned that have helped them to be better grant writers:

  1. A realistic implementation plan and time line are important.  It sounded like a good idea at the time to say that you would get everything going within the first six months of the funding period, but now that you have the money, you understand how impossible that is.  It would have been much more helpful to have a realistic plan and time line to begin with.
  2. Accurate estimation of salary costs can save many headaches later.  Many grant writers like to squeeze more room into a tight grant proposal budget by including salaries at the low end of a salary schedule.,  The problem with that is you rarely hire people at the low end of the schedule.  If there isn't enough wiggle room in the budget to be able to cut elsewhere, you can run into some real trouble when you don't have enough money to hire all the people you said you would.  It makes more sense to use accurate salary estimates and develop a realistic program from the beginning.
  3. Planning the goals, objectives, and evaluation activities to fit the funding source's requirements would have been helpful.  Doing a little bit of extra homework up front to align your project objectives with the required performance measures of the funding source (if there are any) can save many hours of extra work later.  The same goes with evaluation data collection and reporting procedures.  If the funding source has some requirements, learn about them before you write the proposal.  Then you won't have to be scrambling and revising later.
  4. Communicating with all of the project partners and stakeholders in the grant development process saves a lot of explaining later.  Board members don't like to be surprised by things that are in grant proposals - especially when they are asked about them in the community.  Keeping everyone in the loop and involved during the proposal development process saves time and effort later.
A little bit of advanced preparation can help your grant writing success be something you can really celebrate!


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Monday, August 23, 2010

Grant Writing Success – A Non-Profit Walmart State Grant

Non-profit consultant and expert grant writer Derek Link shares a grant writing success story:

A couple of years ago I was contracted to write some grants for a non-profit organization named Challenge Aspen in Colorado. My grant research led me to the Walmart Foundation’s State grant program and I was soon on my way to a grant writing success story.

The grant proposal we submitted secured a grant of $30,000 to support an important outdoor Challenge Aspen Military Options (CAMO) program for disabled female veterans. The program supports courageous women striving to re-build their lives after being disabled in the wars.

There were a number of important factors that contributed to this grant writing success:
  1. Challenge Aspen does great work and documents what they do.
  2. Challenge Aspen has a staff and a budget which ensured the work would get done that the $30,000 was targeted for.
  3. There was a clear mission and measurable objectives for the proposal.
  4. Challenge Aspen staff provided the documents I needed in a timely way and they gave me excellent feedback to ensure that the narrative accurately reflected the needs of the program.
  5. Challenge Aspen had a competent grant writer (moi!)
Each grant writing success story involves a partnership between a functional non profit organization and an expert grant writer. It is always a joy to write for a non profit that is dedicated to its mission and can prove its effectiveness!


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Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Can’t Be Dones (CBD’s)

I would not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.
Frances Willard (1839 - 1898)

I have run into my share of resistance to change in my career as a consultant. In fact, I don't know a successful consultant who has not been forced to address this issue at some point.  Non-profit consultant and expert grant writer, Derek Link, shares his thoughts today on the "Can't Be Dones," those who consistently resist change:

Have you worked with someone who counters every idea for change with, “It Can’t Be Done”? I’ve found sometimes that people mistake their experience for wisdom when all they’re really doing is applying all previous failures to thwart new ideas.

You see “Can’t Be Dones” have become timid about trying new things for some reason. New ideas scare them because they’ve been around long enough to witness failure, perhaps lead others into it, or be led into it themselves. Sometimes, they’re just tired out and should probably retire, or get an attitude transplant.

“Can’t Be Dones” like it when things are in homeostasis, they’re comfortable there. It may not be that they’re happy with the way things are, but it’s a level of discomfort that they’re comfortable with and accustomed to, so it’s not worth changing something and possibly making it worse.

I’ve witnessed the “Can’t Be Dones” at work and their vocabulary around changes is always the same:
  1.  “So-and-so tried that ten years ago and it didn’t work.” (not willing to examine why it didn’t work, or how this is different, or they may have no clue about either and don’t care).
  2. “That won’t work here” and it’s usually because someone else won’t go for the idea, align with the change, adapt to the situation. (Not that the Can’t be Done is opposed, just other people).
  3. “Shouldn’t be done” That’s a bad idea because it conflicts with tradition, customs, norms, morals, values, color of the building, rules, regulations, laws, Celtic lunar rituals (whatever, there will be a reason, and it doesn’t have to be a good one).
  4. “You need to build consensus first.” This is a smokescreen for, “I will never join the majority; so, you feelin’ lucky punk?”
A lot of energy can be wasted on trying to get “Can’t Be Dones” to move in the direction of change. I suggest that you get everyone to move past them and they usually do one of two things, 1) They eventually grumble along behind the pack like a cranky kid who’s tired and didn’t want to go on the hike to start with, or 2) they will resist the changes by stopping on the trail, digging in their heels to test your commitment to moving forward.

It’s important to understand the thought processes of a “Can’t Be Done” and to try to engage them early and often in the process of brainstorming changes. Once in a great while through relationship-building in this manner, they can be brought over from the dark side of resistance. When the CBD’s refuse to join the hike, just be ready to drag them along the dusty trail of change kicking and whining.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Eight Things a Grant Sample Can Teach You

Writing a grant is always a challenging exercise. People who aren’t grant writers always ask me if I can’t just take a previously written grant sample and rewrite it for another client. They think grant writing can be more efficient like building a successful template and then rearranging the pieces for a new competition. It sounds logical, but it simply doesn’t work.

The “bear” of grant writing is that each grant MUST be a unique creation. It is for a specific client with a specific set of needs, and those needs dictate a specific set of remedies, that are dictated by the specific talents and resources of the specific agency making the application, and on and on…

In short, there is no one-size fits all grant template. “Well,” one inquisitor pressed, “surely when it is the same grant competition for the same client, the grants must be almost identical” (after all, he was thinking, their address and phone number haven't changed). NOT necessarily so! Even the same grant competition revises the request for application (RFA) each year before it is issued to better represent the desires of the issuing agency. So no, resubmission involves a whole lot more work that merely changing the dates on an application.

So what about the title of my article and how does all this apply to grant samples? Well, the point of collecting and reading grant samples is not to copy a previously successful grant because as I’ve already stated, the formats will be different, the requirements will be different, and probably everything else you will write is going to be different.

Here are 8 things that grant samples CAN provide you that are very valuable:

  1. You can learn a lot about the style of language that is effective in your writing.
  2. You can learn ways to show data in tables and graphs that emphasize the right things.
  3. You can learn how other applicants portrayed concepts or processes in a graphic that might be useful to telling your story.
  4. You can review evaluation plans that might inform your evaluation design to make it more comprehensive.
  5. You can see how the various sections of the grant were addressed, numbers of pages used, integration of data, research cited, etc.
  6. You can learn more about the topic of the proposal including applicable research, funding statutes, applicable regulations where indicated, etc.
  7. You can learn about specific populations and regions of the country where grants are given and approaches to the grant purpose that you may not have thought of but which might be applicable to your situation.
  8. You can also learn formatting, style, tricks of word processing that save space, utilize non-narrative portions of the application to clarify and extend concepts.
There are many great benefits to reading successful grant samples and these are just a few. We work hard to collect as many grant samples for each type of competition as we can and we read through them to educate ourselves on best practices and best programs. It has been a worthwhile effort on our part as our clients can attest.

Get help with your grant writing.  Check out a grant sample or grant outline.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Grant Writer Recharged and Writing

Derek, our non-profit consultant and expert grant writer, is back from his vacation and ready to get back to work:

My vac’s and hol’s* are over for now and I definitely feel recharged by the beauty of the Faith Valley where I was fortunate enough to spend a few days. People not from Northern California may think that beaches, surfers, bikinis, and Hollywood are an accurate representation of California. Many people outside California do not know that Northern California exists at all, or if they do, they may think that San Francisco is representative of our little piece of Paradise.

I know it’s probably irrational to let you in on the truth, mostly because you may want to come here to live, thereby overpopulating the place with ATV’s. But I trust your ability to comprehend the value of the place pictured here, and the rarity of being able to experience such an unspoiled environment and to care for it properly.

If you do plan to come visit the places pictured here, please treat the place with the reverence it deserves. By that I mean, pack out your trash, be careful with camp fires, don’t shoot anything, catch and release what you can’t eat, don’t strip limbs off trees to cook marshmallows with, etc. In other words, just be a good human please, and if you don’t, my mother will probably be castigating you publicly in the meadow with a fury known only by the few who have survived it.

Here are a few pictures:

Faith Valley, Alpine County, California, USA – (One of three connected valleys, Hope, Faith, and Charity – Interestingly, this picture looks a lot like the one that Veronica chose for my previous post and strangely, she has never been there!)

A coyote – (Wiley-looking ¿quĂ© no?)

A Faith Valley sunset – (ahhhhh…)

I’ll be using these pics for my desktop background for a month or two so I can quickly go back in my mind to the peace and serenity of that place, the breezes blowing the sage, the Chickadees chattering while busily cleaning insects off the pines, and the screech of the Marsh Hawks chasing away the Bald Eagle who dared to soar through their territory.

Back to grant writing now – and happily so - recharged as only Faith Valley can make me (well, maybe Kauai too).

*Canadian for vacation


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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Grant Writer Stalked by Client

I knew it would happen eventually. It was just a matter of time before my public presence on social media would push me over the line from happy grant writer and evaluation consultant working in the solitude of her office to victim of a stalker client.

It happened quietly one day last week. I was busy writing a report and I took a break for a few minutes.  During that break, I updated my Facebook status, checked Twitter, and responded to a comment on my blog. Then I heard the little twinkle sound my computer makes when I get a comment to a Facebook status update.  When I'm working, I usually ignore them until later, but since I wasn't engaged back into my report writing task yet, I took a look.

It was my client.  She wanted to know why I wasn't working on her report. That's when I knew my life had changed.

Part of the skill of a good consultant is helping every client believe s/he is your favorite and most important client (in this case, my stalker actually is one of my very favorites). They want to believe (and, truthfully, you want them to believe) that you have nothing else to do other than their work, and you certainly don't have anything more important to do than their project.  I've had a client text me after midnight on a Saturday night asking when he'd see a draft that was promised for Monday. Of course, I sent a return text with a polite response that indicated there was no higher priority in my life than his project.

There's no escaping it.  The very tools that have allowed me to communicate better with my clients and get the word out about my services also make it easier for my clients to express their needs, desires, satisfaction, and (gasp!) dissatisfaction.

And it makes it easier for them to stalk me from the comfort of their homes or offices.

Now that I know I'm being stalked, I have to be more careful about my social media and other online habits. It's not enough to get the work done, but now I also have to avoid the online appearance that I'm not working.

To my stalker (and you know who you are and I'm sure you're reading this) - I wrote this after hours late at night and electronically scheduled it to be released this morning.  As you read this, rest assured that I am busy working on your project, and only your project, the most important project I have on my desk.


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Monday, August 16, 2010

Grant Writer on Vacation

Derek is on vacation, but before he went on vacation, he wrote about it.  I (Veronica) want you to know that my vacations are nothing like his. I think I could learn a thing or two from his philosophy about really getting away from it all for a few days.


You may wonder – or not – what a grant writer does on vacation? Do they tow their editor along with them? Are staff instructed to send out urgent messages about new RFA’s? Do they splurge on buying a dozen grant samples to read poolside whilst sipping umbrella-drinks?

While all of that sounds reasonable (unappealing) and must be considered (not for a second), the answer for this grant writer is NOT. No editor, no grant samples, no rfa’s or rfp’s, no laptop either (the only exception would be an umbrella drink).

For my Vac’s and Hol’s (Canadian lingo for vacation) I’m going to the mountains, to camp, in the wilderness, near a stream, in a valley, where coyotes howl and night and where Native Americans long ago lived and dropped the odd arrowhead to be found.

I am always a writer, so I will be taking along my latest Moleskines to write and sketch in, and books to read, “Elements of Style” (still trying to develop one) and perhaps a recreational book or two I am in the middle of reading. Of course I will bring a cooler with some cold beer, dry ice and food, sunscreen, a hat that I can only wear with dignity in such a solitary landscape, and several changes of clothes.

The high mountains in August are cool, clear, and the peacefulness of the environment is good for a writer’s soul. Days with no television or radio, the only human intrusion is the occasional truck going up the road and the odd jet flying overhead somewhere with angry flight attendants. They should really try soaking up what they’re zooming over sometime, just not when I am there please.

Yes, my batteries are going into the shop for recharging on my Vac’s and Hol’s. My brain will not be in neutral, it will shift into another gear less burdened by the cares of the world and more open to inspiration, listening for the spirit of the Creator in a place still fresh from His hand.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What is a Grant Writer?

Non-Profit Consultant and Expert Grant Writer, Derek Link, answers the question "What is a Grant Writer?" in his own unique way:

So many times, in response to the standard “guy” question, “So, what do you do?” I get this deer in the headlights response to my answer, “I’m a grant writer.”  The predictable follow-up question is, “Really?  What’s a grant writer?” 

Most people (not all) have heard of grants but most people think it’s a gift-wrapped gold bar that Uncle Sam sends out to undeserving people who make obscene artwork.  So I explain what a grant is first.

What is a grant?
Basically, a grant is an effort on the part of the government to solve a problem, improve a condition, demonstrate the validity of an idea, and sometimes – it’s true (I wish it weren’t) – pay back a political favor. 

The government goes about this by organizing a grant competition.  This competition is assigned a budget and the size of the grants is usually pre-determined, and so the budget allocated to the program determines the number of grants to be given out.  Applications are developed and made available, deadlines for submission of applications are set, and criteria for scoring the applications are created. 

When all of the applications come in, they are sorted and checked to make sure the writers followed all the rules, those that did not are tossed into the trash can and the rest are scored.  The highest scores win the dough, everyone else gets zilch and has to wait for another round of competition.

What is a grant writer?
After I get the person to understand what a grant is, then they often must be helped to understand what the application entails.  This is when in the conversation they glaze over and their minds stray off into “I like pizza” mode.  So I usually cut it short with “A grant writer writes the applications for grants,” which is really all they wanted to know and more than they wanted to know all at the same time.

Guys usually ask you what you do because they’re trying to gauge your level of success to see if you’re someone they can relate to, aspire to be like or perhaps give a dollar to.  But being told that someone is a grant writer is impossible to quantify. 

Being a doctor or a lawyer implies one is making a substantial income but a grant writer is such an unknown that people who care about that stuff – and guys often do – really have a hard time wrapping their head around what it means.

I like that part of being an inscrutable grant writer, apparently savvy about the mysterious inner-workings of government, apparently owning the ability to help others access a trickle of the government wealth, and having an occupation with no common point of reference with which to determine my income level. 

I am a Grant Writer. With this title, I can remain somewhat of a social-class enigma at events and social functions (at least until I go out to the parking lot and fire up my ’97 Honda Civic).


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Monday, August 9, 2010

In the Grant Writing Business, the Customer is Always Right...Even When He's Not

We got some really good news this weekend.  I learned that one of the federal grants I wrote last spring was funded. This was not the only good news we have received or will receive from the latest grant writing season, but it was particularly satisfying because of how much this client really needs the program we wrote.

Because the client is in such need to get the program going, the program administrator hit the ground running today to get the budget in the system and get the program up and running as soon as possible.  His plan hit the skids, though, as soon as it hit the desk of the head of the fiscal department who informed him that the amounts we had budgeted for personnel and benefits were too low.  So, he set up a conference call between me, the fiscal person, and himself to try to work it out.  I gave the best advice I had for revising the budget quickly so they could get going.

Then my client (the program administrator) said something interesting.  He said,"I don't know how this happened because I know we gave you the correct numbers when we were in the grant development process." That's one of those moments when what you want to say and what you know you have to say are different. What I wanted to say was, "Are you kidding? I can prove that we used the numbers you sent.  I have the old emails...."  But no, that's not what came out of my mouth.  I knew this was a "fall on your sword for your client" moment.  I really hate those moments, but I said it anyway, "I'm really sorry.  I can't explain how we made such an error, but I can certainly help you move forward from here and I'll do my best not to put you in this position again."

Like in every other business, in grant writing, the customer is right, whether or not he really is.  Preserving the relationship is the important part, not being right.

This has been a particularly hard lesson to learn for me because I really, really like to be right.  Don't get me wrong - I have no problem standing up to my clients when they need some corrective direction in the planning or evaluation processes, but those of in business for ourselves need to be able to discern when it's appropriate to correct the client, and when it's appropriate to help them look better with their own organization so the relationship can continue smoothly.


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Friday, August 6, 2010

To Do Lists Keep This Grant Writer on Task…Sometimes

Making a list of things to do at the beginning of the day is usually a useful exercise for me, especially when I am extremely busy like now with web work, or when I am in the middle of grant writing.

If I don’t make myself a list, I find myself blundering about chasing windmills and perhaps not finishing something important or failing to finish something from the day before.

I like my lists and I draw a blue line through finished tasks with a highlighter as I complete each one. It makes me feel more competent to finish things and be able to cross them out throughout the day.

Of course there are days like today when things not on my list intrude and rudely insert themselves into my neatly ordered agenda for the day. I have fourteen things on the list today and I’ve only crossed off two of them. And besides my walk I have worked steadily. I’m not sure what all I did or why it was so important, but I got it done and it’s not on the list and now I am a little panicked that I haven’t made nearly as much progress on what I decided was important at the start of the day.

What to do, what to do? I could refocus and begin a new eight hour shift working into the night, but I’ve already eaten the last piece of fruit in my lunchbox and the rest of my provisions are far away in my kitchen.

So I’ll probably have to start with the same list (-3 now, this blog post is another item HA!) tomorrow that I am finishing with today. I don’t feel as competent as I do on days when there is only one leftover task.

But that’s life isn’t it? Sometimes things just go the way they’re expected, sometimes good planning is interrupted by new realities, and sometimes, work simply has to end in order to answer the call of the grumbling stomach and drive home for some chips and salsa.

This post was contributed by Non-Profit Consultant and Expert Grant Writer, Derek Link.


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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Don't be like Barney Frank

O.k., I can think of lots of reasons why you should not be like Barney Frank, but the reason on my mind today has to do with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Apparently, after learning that the new law exempts the SEC from Freedom of Information Act requirements, many folks are upset about what's in the new law, so Barney Frank has agreed to hold a hearing to discuss the issue. Call me crazy, but isn't the discussion supposed to happen before the law is passed? In fact, Mr. Frank has given several different accounts of how that provision got into the bill and how much he knew about it.

I, like many other Americans, have been appalled at how our Congressional representatives seem to be OK with voting on bills without reading them; however, I am truly amazed that an author and sponsor of a bill would not have a better handle on what's in the bill.

Because this is a grant writing blog, yes, I will share with you how this relates to grant writing and why I'm warning you not to be like Barney Frank.

First, whether you have hired a grant writer to write your grant proposal or you have assigned it to some folks within your organization, keep in mind that you, Mr. or Ms. Executive Director or Superintendent, are responsible for what is in that proposal. That means that you need to know what is in it and you should have been at least somewhat involved in the collaborative process of having the conversations that led to the development of the program described in the proposal. Pointing your finger after the fact and saying that you a) didn't know what was in the proposal or b) didn't think anyone would object to what was in the proposal makes you looks both a) stupid and b) out of touch with your staff and community.

I know some of you may be thinking, "But wait a minute!  Our organization is so big that there is no way I can review every grant proposal and be involved in every proposal planning process!" Personally, I don't think that's a good excuse.  That's why you get paid the big bucks; however, you should at least have a close supervisory relationship with someone who is keeping a close watch on the process so you can monitor it.

I can't tell you how many times I have attended Board or community meetings to make an evaluation presentation on a grant-funded program, only to hear the Executive Director or Superintendent actually admit to the Board and/or community that they didn't know something was in the grant.  They usually hint that it must have been the result of a rogue grant writer's visions.  What?  You signed the proposal, for goodness' sake! Don't you pay attention to what you sign?  If the proposal was submitted at the last minute and you signed before seeing the final product, didn't you at least know what was supposed to be in it? Did you see a draft?

So, please read grants that you submit on behalf of your organization.  Please be involved in the planning and writing process.  Please have collaborative discussions with staff and community partners about your plans.  Otherwise, you'll look like Barney Frank, and nobody wants that.


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Help! Grant Writer Drowning in Paper!

This post was written by Non-Profit Consultant and Expert Grant Writer, Derek Link, but I must admit that his desk looks quite tidy compared to mine. The issue he struggles with is the same one I struggle with, except that the piles of paper on my desk are threatening to take over. This is how it always is at the end of the grant writing season.  Now I have the joy of cleaning it up. Enjoy Derek's thoughts.  Can you relate?


It’s hard not to get buried in an avalanche of paperwork as a grant writer. Sometimes my desk starts to look like a paper recycling operation. I collect so many pieces of information necessary to the work, grant samples, a grant outline, pieces of research, books, booklets, digital disks, notes, charts, graphs, tables - some of it hard to find, and some of it needed once for one sentence, and then never used again.

The trouble is that when I do some research and toil away to find some precious piece of information for a grant, I tend to place a value that piece of paper that it may not merit. After all, if I can find it once, I can find it again, so why am I in angst about throwing it away? The truth is that my filing skills are not going to make it any easier to find in a file cabinet anyway. I’d be much better off doing another Google search or creating a bookmark for the location.

I’m afraid that my computer desktop looks a lot like my physical desktop much of the time. I place things there that I am working on and then before I get them filed away neatly and logically where I can find them the next time I need them, I am on to the next task and these files sit there sullenly until I get annoyed at the clutter and throw them in the virtual trash can.

I know I should be more organized and diligent about keeping order in my papers and megabytes but I don’t often have the motivation to do those things. I used to have a secretary to hand things off to. I’d say to her, “File this please”, and she would, and when I needed it again, she would know where to find it. It was magical.

But alas, for many years now I have been my own secretary and on Secretary’s Day I am not tempted to treat myself for my excellent work. In fact, if I could find a stack of pink slips, I’d give my inner secretary one.


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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rantings of an Opinionated Grant Writer

I try to keep the posts of this blog positive and informative, and I do my best to keep my whining to a minimum, but today I have a few rants to put out there in the world.  Maybe someone will be able to learn from them.

Every now and then someone tells me, "Veronica, maybe you shouldn't be so outspoken about your opinions.  Won't you risk losing business?"  Maybe, but I like to remember what Bill Cosby said -- "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is to try to please everyone."

So, here are the rants running through my mind today:

  1. Why do the people doing the best work in the community seem to have the hardest time to getting money to fund their work?  I see it over and over again. Small non-profits that are really doing amazing work who struggle to stay afloat while large organizations with tremendous waste seem to have more cash than they can use. Of course, I know the answer to the question.  There is much more to the funding equation than just doing good work. And never forget the other explanation:  Life isn't fair.
  2. Speaking of tremendous waste.  I have a client (a public agency) that is giving $700,000 back to the federal government at the end of a four year grant period because they have a lousy fiscal accounting system and they didn't spend all of the $6 million grant they were awarded.  It's not that they couldn't use it or that there isn't plenty of need in their community, but the combination of poor accounting, poor communication among administrators, and incompetence has essentially stolen almost three quarters of a million dollars from folks who desperately need the support.  As the grant writer and evaluator for that program, I'm disgusted.
  3. Speaking of being disgusted, I'm currently working with a school district that seems to be doing everything it can to keep the public away.  One day they say they want parents more involved, and the next day they take actions to make it harder (sometimes nearly impossible) for parents to be involved. Then we loop back full circle to their finger pointing at parents for not being involved.  Enough already!
  4. I was at a meeting yesterday discussing some pretty significant changes to a local school for students who have been expelled from their regular public schools.  We were discussing incentives for students and I had the wild and crazy idea to ask the students what incentives would inspire them. I got that condescending, "awwww, the poor woman doesn't understand the real world" look from one of the school administrators present.
OK, I'd better stop now.  I think I've been reading Cranky Blog too much.

Now I'll get back to my regularly scheduled positive and uplifting posts......


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Monday, August 2, 2010

Four Grant Writing Ethical No-No's

There are actually many ethical issues involved in grant writing, many more than I expected when I first began my journey as a professional grant writer. Here are four of the most common ethical issues you need to avoid if you are a professional grant writer:

  1. Lying in a proposal.  I have to admit that I have always assumed that everyone would know that lying in a grant proposal is ethically wrong, but you'd be surprised how many times I have heard people try to justify it. Don't try to exaggerate your need for the grant or include program activities that you don't intend on implementing. Just tell the truth.
  2. Reusing narrative written for another client. It's very tempting, especially when you're overworked and tired, to just lift some narrative that you wrote for another client for the same grant last year to put in someone else's narrative this year. Don't do it.  If you get caught (especially by a reader scoring the grant), you risk not being funded, but it's just plain wrong anyway. If you are being paid for original narrative, write original narrative.  If you can't think of another way to say what you need to say, don't take the job.
  3. Poaching funding sources.  I heard this horror story when I met with a local non-profit administrator last week. A private funding source had invited the non-profit to submit a proposal.  This particular funding source does not accept unsolicited proposals.  The non-profit asked its grant writer (an outside consultant) to write a proposal to this funding source.  The grant writer wrote a proposal and submitted it. A couple of weeks later, the non-profit administrator got a phone call from the funding source saying that the grant writer had actually submitted several proposals - the one the funding source had requested as well as proposals on behalf of several other organizations the grant writer worked with.  None of these other proposals were part of the solicitation.  The grant writer had just taken it on herself to try to squeeze in some of her other clients in competition with the client making the original request.  I'm sure she assumed they would not know or find out.  To make matters worse, the representative from the funding source told the non-profit administrator that of the several proposals submitted by that grant writer, the weakest one from from the original agency requesting the work. The non-profit organization that originally asked the grant writer to submit the proposal was ultimately not funded.
  4. Telling a client that they can pay for grant writing services out of the grant when they can't. There is some debate in the field about whether charging a contingency fee for grant writing services is ethical or not.  Some people insist that contingency fees are unethical, but then call it a "bonus" for getting funded and call that ethical. The real issue, though, is not whether or not it's a contingency fee, but where that fee comes from. If you tell someone they can pay the fee out of the grant when they can't, you have essentially lied to them. Very few funding sources allow you to pay for grant writing services out of a grant itself (there are, however, some that do). 
The bottom line is that integrity matters. Trying to cut ethical corners may seem like a profitable decision at the time, but in the end it is not the way to build a successful grant writing career.


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Top Ten Fiscal Considerations for Grant Writing Consultants

When I went out on my own as a grant writing consultant eleven years or so back, I did some things right and some things carelessly. After completing my extended taxes yesterday, I was reminded of some key mistakes I’ve made regarding my taxes that I’ll share to inform you about pitfalls in case you are a new consultant or planning to go out on your own.

Now I realize that many people are more careful about money than I am, and some are less so. Take this advice for what it’s worth to you, and if you end up saying “well, duh!” to these suggestions, this post simply wasn’t written for you. It’s more for the remedial book keepers out there like I used to be.

Grant Writing Consultants TOP TEN FISCAL DO LIST:

1. Pay your quarterly taxes on time, and in full. (It’s so EASY to put it off and so costly to do so)
2. Hire a book keeper on an hourly rate to keep the books and remind you of all the stuff you don’t know is required in running a business. (You will cringe every time they come in the office, but it’s a good cringe, trust me.)
3. Photocopy every check you receive and staple it to the invoice that generated it. (Not everyone who pays you is as organized as they should be and you may need to refer to it later)
4. Keep a mileage journal for your car! (Miles add up so fast you will end up cheating yourself and at $0.55 per mile, it adds up very fast.)
5. Keep your receipts! (Keep every receipt for everything you buy or spend related to the business. I store mine in envelopes marked by the month.)
6. Be aware of opportunities to save costs – (If a large document needs copying, ask the client to do it; need postage, arrange for the client to mail it; need special software or online access ask the client to provide it as part of the contract even if you have to give it back at the end of the contract)
7. Invoice Promptly (Few clients pay promptly but you can do your part)
8. Follow Up on slow paying clients – (Gentle reminders about payment are not inappropriate.)
9. Use a written agreement or contract – (Always put it in writing or you’ll get burned, guaranteed.)
10. Pay your quarterly taxes on time, and in full. (Yes, I know it was number 1, it’s important enough to put in here twice!)

Those are my suggestions on keeping your fiscal house in order. Consulting is rewarding but what you don’t know can sink your business. So get the expertise you need before you step into some deep IRS, State, or Municipal fiscal sinkhole!

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.