Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gauging the Success of a Proposal Writer

If you’re seeking a proposal writer for your organization, assessing their success is mission critical. Rising stars of the grant world can become falling stars with one bad grant season. But how do you gauge success of a proposal writer? Many of us measure our success by the percentage of grants we are successful in securing for clients. We also keep track of the total dollars we’ve helped clients secure over time. Some proposal writers shy away from these kinds of measurements because they may have a low percentage of success just starting out or perhaps they haven’t been writing long enough or for large enough grants to have amassed an impressive bottom line for clients yet.
In the present economy, the only way not to have your batting average drop as a proposal writer is not to write any grants. It’s a tough environment right now and with money so tight a lot more agencies are submitting applications than ever before. The percentage of proposals funded is bound to drop. But the percentage of grants funded does tell me two things which are not equally valuable measures of success. First, and more important, the percentage of successful applications tells me how well a proposal writer writes grants. The second thing it tells me is how carefully they select what they will write and whether they are willing to take risks for clients. What an overall percentage does not tell me is whether a grant writer has experience and/or success in writing for a particular grant maker or program. This is important to know because there are some grant programs which I am batting 1000 (100% success, yeah baby!) and there are others which I’ve written to once which were not successful (0% success, whoa Nellie!). A proposal writer who has an overall success percentage that’s low (say below 50%), or who won’t tell you what it is, should be able to give you other proof that they are successful.
Another way a proposal writer demonstrates success is in the amount of funding they have secured for their clients. A new grant writer will have trouble showing a lot of money secured because they’re new. But a proposal writer who has survived say ten years in the business should have a sizeable portfolio of clients and grants secured. You do want to know what's in the portfolio because if they have secured 50 million dollars that could be all from one grant! Their percentage could be around 5% if that 50 million dollar grant was one of twenty they’ve written and nineteen of the twenty were declined! You may still want them to write for you if it’s to the same program they were successful in, but you may not! Remember too that the portfolio of clients is a proprietary matter and a proposal writer does not have to share that information with you, and they may have clients who prefer not to have their business relationship used for promotional purposes.
In the end, you want to hire a successful proposal writer who is a good fit for your organization and who can demonstrate their proficiency through a history of success. Measuring success can be a little tricky but if you remember these three questions, you’ll probably make a good decision.
  1. Do they have a recent history of success?
  2. Do they have evidence?
  3. Do they have successful experience with the source you want to apply to? Or at least in the topic area of the grant?
A proposal writer who tells you they don’t keep score is failing to do that for a reason! I’d be asking them why before I hired them! Grants are submitted into competition so there are winners and losers. The only way to make a living as a proposal writer, or as an agency that depends on grants, is to be on the winning side most of the time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Grant Proposal Writers must be Lifelong Learners

Trite phrases that roll off the tongues of keynote speakers leave a bad taste in my mouth. “Lifelong Learner” is one of those and I’ll apologize for using it in case it causes a gag reflex for you as it does for me. It’s one of those terms I consider as insightful and descriptive of the human condition as terms like “Lifelong Breather” or “Lifelong Eater.” The only people who aren’t learning left us.

Each time the government changes leadership, priorities change and usually there are some new grant programs created. These new programs often represent funding opportunities for the biggest institutional campaign donors of the ruling elite. (Wow, did I really say that? Yes, I did.) Doubters may need to check out who got awarded the latest round of grant proposals by the Federal Government and compare it to the largest institutional donors in the last campaign. You’ll find a discernible lean toward making grants to large institutional campaign donors. But that’s for another post and is an entirely irrelevant bird walk from lifelong learning, unless you learned something in which case it fits in a tangential way.

Grant writers need to learn constantly because grant programs and priorities are established whenever there is a change in leadership and philosophy - like the time that GW Bush came in and wiped out all of the bilingual education programs, and most other grant programs, from the US Department of Education, which thrived under Bill Clinton. President Bush opted for doling out pennies per child across the nation rather than grants, which one can argue the pros-and cons of; but that again is not the topic of this post, but which may yet represent some level of new information, hence lifelong learning for some of you breathers.

Learning a new grant program involves some identifiable steps, 1) reading the authorizing statute, 2) plugging the title of the new program into your Google Alerts to gather news about it, 3) calling a program officer with questions you may have, and 4) reading the Federal Register and the RFP carefully, and 5) attending all bidder’s conferences, webinars, and teleconferences throughout the pre-application period.

Grant proposal writers must also learn another lesson - their livelihood can ebb and flow with the public political whims come election-time, so my advice is not to finance a mortgage based on expertise in a particular grant program or you could end up in foreclosure when it’s de-funded.
So be a lifelong learner. Impact the world by creating win-win scenarios in the hot-button issues of your day. Get up-to-speed. Bite the bullet. Be proactive, because, the ball’s in your court and your clients are counting on you to be on the cutting edge. That’s why they passed you the baton!
(Offers for keynote contracts may be mailed for consideration to ;)

The public is a ferocious beast - one must either chain it up or flee from it. Voltaire (1694 – 1778)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fear Freezes Everything, Even Grant Writing

Adults in normal situations are not supposed to be afraid. We are the ones who are supposed to get out of a warm, safe bed and check out those bumps in the night. We’re the ones who are supposed to go into the basement to change the light bulb. We’re the ones who are supposed to accept a new challenge. We’re the ones who are supposed to have learned over a lifetime that there are few things in the world that merit being paralyzed by fear. But sometimes organizations are run by fearful people.

Grant writing is about accessing opportunity. But opportunity and the money that comes with it have a price. It means that A) someone has to step up and take on more responsibility, and B) that something new is going to happen. These two things are scary and keep a lot of organizations from pursuing grant funding. It has always been a morbid fascination of mine to watch an organization operate in fear because it’s so obvious from the outside and so paralyzing from the inside.

I worked recently with an organization that is struggling financially. That fact alone tells me that they should be “all over” grants. They should be like rabid vampire bats seeking the lifeblood of any agency willing to give them some dough. But they aren’t, and when presented with a relatively large opportunity to apply for a grant, they initially agreed and the grant was written, but then they decided not to submit the application. This happened because the leadership was fearful about the amount of work involved and the fact that something new was going to happen. These are the only explanations because the grant fit perfectly within their educational mission statement and would have uniquely added a fresh vitality to their services, broadened their public appeal, and drawn in important partnerships.

They are also frozen by fears about finance when paradoxically applying for the grant could have provided a level of relief. The organization is living off its endowment and the endowment is shrinking faster and faster as their services remain unchanged. You see, there’s no reason for people to visit more than once, and the grant could have provided a new reason for people to visit again. It’s a place frozen in time by the fear of the leadership and I’m afraid that soon enough they will have to close the doors because they will have passed by opportunity after opportunity that could have helped them turn it around.

Just as a small child will freeze in fear beneath his blankets calling for a parent to look under the bed for a monster, this agency feared the work, the change, the fiscal unknown. They even feared it enough not to ask questions but to dismiss the opportunity out of hand. It is unreasonable, but fear is unreasonable about 99% of the time. Still, unreasonable fear is still real fear. Bowing to fear is understandable for small child who has not lived long enough to know better, but it is unjustifiable for an adult who should be able to over-ride their fears with information, reason, logic, and a bigger picture in mind.

The immediate issue in this agency is not the fact that their endowment today is less than it was yesterday. Their problem is that they have no plan to stop the bleeding, which in their short-sightedness would require that they do something new to bring people in to spend money. They do not make a connection between what they are doing with their services and the fact that so few people are taking advantage of their services. Lacking that nexus they could not see why this grant opportunity was important to pursue with all vigor, and I was unsuccessful in convincing them.

I find that people running agencies who are too focused on the day-to-day issues are often reluctant to go after grant funding because their issue-myopia prevents them from seeing the big picture. These people are too busy running around putting out fires to ever stop and plan a way out that requires the “monthly” or “annual” calendar view in Outlook rather than the daily view. Grants are scary monsters to them because all they see is that “today I am busy”, “today I am overwhelmed” and if you throw in the work of this grant, my life will be impossible. I’ve written and managed many grants for programs in the past and these grants have always supported, extended, and enriched what I was already doing. Yes, there’s a bit more paperwork involved and you actually have to demonstrate the effectiveness of what you’re doing but that’s part of the territory of doing things better.

Fear of accountability is another interesting fear factor, that’s whole different post. Fear freezes and things that are frozen don’t move too well. I did my best to thaw my client out; but like the fictional world of Narnia, until spring comes, I’m afraid there simply isn’t going to be anything growing there.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stay within the Lines but Think outside the Box

I had mentor one time long ago when I was training to be an administrator. He had a way with with sayings and one of his favorites was, “Get your lovin' at home.” By this he meant that you should do your job without expectation that people are going to like you - or love you - for the decisions you make. He was big on telling the truth, being straightforward, playing by the rules, staying within the lines, and making sure that everybody else did the same.

The request for proposals that you will be working from on almost any grant you ever write is a set of rules, restrictions, guidelines, advice, and legal direction for making an application. Following this RFP document is critical to development of a successful grant application. But sometimes clients don't get it. They want to manipulate the grant to fit their fiscal needs and sometimes as a grant writer you need to help them see the bigger picture.

Case in point, I have worked with a nonprofit organization that has very narrow community support. They have strong community support within one demographic and they do not attempt to engage with groups beyond that narrow band. This has led to them into a fiscal crisis. So it became clear to some of the board members that they needed to do something new to bring in a broader audience. And so a grant proposal came along offering them the opportunity to do that. In a brave move, the board approved a contract to write the grant.

There was not unanimous support for this idea within the board because it is new and it is a different funding source, it is an effort to broaden the audience of the nonprofit beyond demographic band that they are accustomed to working with. There is also a deep level of mistrust of the funding source for the grant because it's the federal government. So as the grant proposal is being developed, it's making people nervous. Some board members are deeply concerned that they will lose control of the nonprofit by submitting this grant proposal. The reality of this fear isn't the point, the fear is real because there is fear, not because there's any substance to the fear.

So I am busy reminding myself this morning that I need to get my loving at home and that my bigger job in this grant development process is to help the client see that broadening their audience is mission critical if they are to keep the doors open. It is my job now to remind them gently that the Board needs to be open to engaging with the community at level beyond inviting them in and asking them for their money; that they need to be willing to listen; to implement new ways of doing things; that they need to be willing to make adjustments that are appealing to new audiences; and that they need to be willing to reinterpret what it means to be inclusive.

The issue I have in developing my current grant proposal is that I have to follow the RFP yet some of the guidelines are being challenged by a few vocal and increasingly nervous board members. It seems that these board members want to build in controls, restrictions, and barriers that may render the application unfundable within the guidelines of the RFP. My job this morning is to reinforce with their leadership what the grant requires and what the funding source expects. If this conversation does not sway them to creating an application that is fundable; I have a very difficult task of writing a narrative and submitting an application that may be dead on arrival.

Sometimes I need reminding that my role as a grant writer is advocating for the very project I'm hired to write, as silly as that may sound. Sometimes change just scares the hell out of people and they need to be comforted and have their hands held and their back patted along the way. Sometimes I am a grant counselor, sometimes I am a grant strategic planner, sometimes I am just a grant writer, but all of the time I need to keep the big picture in mind that I am writing for someone and must accommodate their wishes. Today I need to help my clients think outside the box while staying within the lines.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wrestling with a Grant Narrative

In my younger days I was a wrestler and later a wrestling coach; I must confess that I was a lot better at the latter than the former.  These days I only wrestle with grant narratives but it’s almost as draining and there are actually a lot of similarities.
The Take Down – In wrestling you start on your feet in round one and you’re pretty fresh.  In grant writing you start on your feet too.  You’re optimistic and not winded yet, you start by testing your opponent, in this case the RFP.  You grapple a little, do some hand fighting, figure out some angles of attack and see if you can take your opponent down.
The Ride – Let’s say you are unfortunate and your opponent takes you down to the mat. Their job is to keep you there and not allow you to escape.  The RFP can make you feel that way sometimes because a lot of times it sounds like you’re being asked to repeat the same information over and over again.  Well this isn’t really true, it is usually a matter of being asked to give bits of details in a sequential manner.  But when the RFP has got you down, it is sometimes hard to figure out how to get away from it.
The Escape or Reversal – If you keep studying your opponent and keep on moving from the bottom, you can often find a way to escape or to reverse him.  Just like an RFP has the secrets to winning the grant if you keep studying it, you’ll find ways to escape the confusion and reverse your fortunes if you keep moving through the RFP.  You can use what you learn about your opponent to write a narrative that brings you victory, but if you stop moving, you'll probably get pinned.
The Tilt – Once you’ve escaped the confusion or reversed your position and now are master of the RFP, you can begin to finish it off.  You’ve now got control of the details, you understand all the angles, you know what you have to do to win.  You can now grind that RFP down and write a winning grant so get ready for the pin.  Now is the time to start tipping your opponent over and finish it off.
The Pin – The ultimate victory in wrestling is to turn your opponent over and pin their shoulders to the mat against their will.  This is the coup-de-gras in wrestling.  You want to excerpt that level of mastery over the RFP, pin it to the mat and don’t let it up.  The match is over when the referee slaps the mat and hollers “PIN!", then you get up in victory to get your arm raised and shake the hand of your opponent.
Writing a good narrative requires wrestling with the RFP, wrestling with the narrative, and ultimately outlasting your opponents just like a wrestling match.  You have to use skill, intelligence, technique, and it takes a lot of endurance.  You better be in shape and you better know your stuff or you’re bound to end up on your back.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Getting Past the What to the How

I find that one of the biggest challenges in writing grants is to write about how things are going to get done instead of simply what is going to get done. I seem to fall into the trap of describing what and it takes me about three drafts before I insert enough detail into my narrative to describe how the project is going to get done.  It can be frustrating!

The problem is that a good grant describes in detail how the project will be implemented. So merely describing the what is going to confuse the readers who are scoring your proposal (and confused readers are NEVER a good thing). I'm currently writing a museum grant and I have no problem writing a list of what is going to get done but describing how it is going to get done and why it is a good idea to do it that way is another issue entirely. That is where the brain needs to really kick into gear and think, plan, describe, outline, illustrate, elucidate; and in short, eliminate vague and weak language which can always adequately describe the what.  What language is easy.

In example – Here is a good WHAT statement - The museum will build a new exhibit about penguins. If I move on from here without describing how, or if I don't describe it later – somewhere - in the proposal, the readers are left to wonder, “So you're building a penguin exhibit and your Museum is in Phoenix, Arizona. So how are you going to get penguins to Phoenix, keep them cold, get fish to feed them, keep their little dancing feet happy?” If you haven't answered any of those questions describing how these things will get done then your readers are left questioning whether or not you can accomplish what you said you would do.  They should question it too!
So now facing a weekend ahead, and almost the last weekend before the grant is due, there is no time to waste because the narrative must be perfectly descriptive of how, and why, the project I am proposing is sound, well-thought-out, well-planned, supported by research, based on multiple sources of input, aligned with the funders priorities, targeting an appropriate audience, etc. etc. etc.

Grant writers often face the task of describing how these projects will be implemented with limited input from clients. This makes the task of grant writing challenging but also makes it an interesting intellectual exercise. How the project should be implemented for any individual client depends on many factors and those can be elicited through conversations and discussions with the client. How the project should be implemented based on best practices and sound research is something that can be determined through online research, discussion with experts, reading articles, blogs, and informative websites.

Anyone who has conducted any level of research online or otherwise can attest to the time-intensive nature of the task. It isn't always easy to find the right resources and it takes time to read them, digest the information, and translate it all into a grant narrative. So getting to the how the project implementation and design can take a lot longer than someone outside the grant writing field might understand.

Well it's getting late for a Friday, so I will close this post and leave the rest of the research and writing for tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day 7 Scavenger Hunt Clue!

Congratulations on completing the Scavenger Hunt Challenge.  The Day 7 Clue is "Change"!  Now you have all 7 clues and all there is left to do is to email them to

 We hope you have enjoyed the event and guess what!?  You will be the first to receive our new ebook entitled, "Cooking Up Winning Grants" which is a unique ebook combining essays about grant writing that are food-related intermixed with delicious recipes!  It will be coming to you within the next two weeks via email!

If you didn't play along but would like to gather up the clues and be entered into the drawing for fabulous prizes, you can still complete all of the seven assignments - six actually since this one is the seventh - and enter the prize drawing.  Just navigate to the Day 7 Page where you will find the links to the other six pages and you can complete the tasks and collect the clues.  Be sure to email the clues to when you're finished!

Thank you so much for joining me on the hunt!


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Taking Your Grant Research Beyond the RFA

I thought I'd re-post one of our video Tips from the Grant Goddess. All of our video tips are 5 minutes or less.  This one, which happens to be the very first one we produced, is all about taking your grant research beyond the RFA.

Check out our YouTube channel for even more tips and videos. We'll be producing a lot more quick video tips within the next few weeks, so subscribe to the channel to make sure you are notified of new ones as they come out.

Other posts you may like:

If They Made a Movie About Grant Writing Consultants

Grant Writing Success:  A Numbers Game?

The Worst Reasons for NOT Writing a Grant

Help! Grant Writer Drowning in Paper!


:Learn the secrets of the Pros!  Download your free copy of 12 Secrets of Successful Grant Writers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recommendation for Starting a Non-Profit: Plan First – Do Good Second

Non-Profit Consultant and Expert Grant Writer, Derek Link, has more good advice for non-profit organizations that want to flourish:

I get about a call a week from people who have formed a non-profit organization recently and want to find grant money to help them get going. Unfortunately, many of these well-intentioned folks are ill-prepared to turn their good ideas into action. As I begin to ask questions about their organization, they have few answers. What they mostly know about what they want to do is based on speculation and assumptions. I find that they have rarely done any meaningful preparation before filing the paperwork to establish their 501(c)(3) status.

I fear that many these good people will fail at their efforts to start a non-profit because they haven’t done due diligence before what is, in reality, starting a business. If these people came to me before they went to the trouble and expense of starting a non-profit, I would recommend that they complete a business plan for the enterprise first. It isn’t that their ideas are bad; it’s just that they never asked the questions that would tell them if the idea is viable.

It is a huge mistake to think that simply because an idea is worthwhile, that it is also going to generate sufficient money to support a viable non-profit entity. Some of the best non-profits I know are in a continual battle for funding - scraping and scratching to make their budgets balance - even with GREAT results over many years.

Creating a business plan for a non-profit will help people craft a viable model or inform them about the lack of viability of the idea. Mind you, I am not saying that people should not start non-profits; I am simply saying that planning any enterprise before launching into implementation is always a wise course of action.

Here are some key questions that a business plan is designed to answer:

1. Are the services needed?

a. Where are they needed?
b. What exactly is needed?
c. Who needs them?
d. How much service is needed?

2. Who else provides these services?

a. Is there room to compete?
b. Who funds the competition?
c. Where are they and who is served?
d. Where are the gaps in their services?

3. What kind of budget will be needed to get it off the ground?

a. Develop a budget detail.
b. Research potential sources of funding
c. Identify potential partners

These and other important questions about starting a non-profit can be resolved through the planning process. Before paperwork and fees are filed for non profit status, a Board of influential and knowledgeable people should be assembled to help guide the process of founding the organization. One person with a great idea can get something remarkable going that does tremendous good in the world, but without comprehensive planning, a great idea may die on the vine. I think that if more people did sufficient planning, they might find that their ambitions to do good would be better served by being on the Board of, or volunteering with, an existing non-profit organization.

A free webinar for non-profit boards - The Law
A free webinar for non-profit boards: Board Member Roles

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Grant Writing is Like Lasagna

Lasagna is one of my favorite Italian foods - it’s the complete package, if you make it right, that is. A good lasagna has layers of perfectly cooked pasta, tomato sauce, Italian sausage, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, and I even like to add a little cheddar cheese. Of course, it’s layered several times with all this good stuff!

Now a good grant is similar to a good lasagna! That’s right people, it really is! You have to write a grant in layers, like making nice lasagna. There’s the needs section (layer), the program design section (layer), the project management section (layer), the sustainability section (layer), the evaluation section (layer). And while each section/layer is distinct - like the sausage and the sauce of my favorite lasagna - there’s also a little bit of intermixing of ingredients/repeating of information.

That’s right! You can write a needs section and never mention it again but you will end up with an inferior lasagna…er, grant. You need to repeat the layers, when it’s appropriate. If the needs you describe are met by the project design - as they must be – then a mention of the needs layer is warranted in the project design layer to reinforce the deliciousness of the design.

A good lasagna would be incomplete with only one set of layers. It takes multiple layers to make a first class lasagna and repeating salient/savory points of the grant sections/layers make a grant come together like a good lasagna.

In example, if you say in your needs section that you have a waiting list o 30 parents for a particular program, then you want to point out that the parenting program you are proposing to implement in response to the need will accommodate all 30 parents on the waiting list and maybe even a few more! Abundanza, you have sausage in the first layer, and even more sausage in the second layer! TASTY!

So write your grant like a lasagna, write it in the layers specified in the RFA and then make sure you repeat the most delicious parts of the layers so that your lasagna is complete and not a single layered impostor that nobody will want to eat; and if they do, one they won’t give a 5 star rating.

By: Derek Link, Non-profit Consultant and Expert Grant Writer
If you're interested in more of Derek Link's obsession with how grant writing is like food, try some of these other posts:
Grants Are Like Box Lunches
Grants Are Like Sausage
Some Grants Are Like Peanut Butter
Grants Are Like Donuts

Friday, October 8, 2010

An Expensive Day as a Freelance Grant Writer

Non-profit consultant and expert grant writer, Derek Link, shares some thoughts about his expensive day this week:

Some days just cost more than other days. I can go for a week without spending much money except on gasoline and food. But then there are days like today when the universe just seems to have its hand in my pocket and it’s cleaning out my wallet with a vengeance.

I suppose that one of the best things about being a freelance writer is the fact that if your car breaks down, you can go to work in the coffee shop. Well, rather, you have the freedom to link to the Internet and work remotely and you don’t actually have to check with anyone about it.

But if you are an employee, you need to notify your boss or supervisor that your car broke down and that you’re stuck working remotely. You may need to take time off to get the car fixed which has an impact on your income whether you lose vacation time or personal leave, it’s all the same thing -  money out of pocket.

A freelance writer can pretty much work wherever their computer is and can link to clients and needed online resources wherever they have an Internet connection. That’s a pretty nice thing about freelancing.

One issue about working remotely is that it gets expensive quickly. For instance, this morning, I dropped off the car at the mechanic. I then had to take the light rail to a meeting which cost money, and the light rail back which cost money, and then used Internet at a coffee shop which cost money, and bought coffee at another coffee shop which I learned did not have Internet so that was a wasted cup of coffee.

So in addition to paying $150 to the mechanic, and buying light rail tickets, and buying cups of coffee to use Internet services, it is turning out to be a fairly expensive Wednesday. I don’t like spending money, so an expensive Wednesday is not what I was planning on when I went to bed last night.

But that’s the free-wheeling life of a freelance grant writer, you never know where you’ll be working tomorrow and the expenses are out of your own pocket, there’s no accounting department to submit receipts to for reimbursement, when the universe decides to clean out your account, it’s kind of like the IRS, there’s simply nothing that can be done to stop it.

Free e-book about Freelance Grant Writing!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Grant Writing Success - A Numbers Game?

It is not easy to explain all of the factors involved in grant writing success. Certainly, experience and skill have a lot to do with it, but there's much more to it than that. In many ways, it's a numbers game.

First, there are the odds of how likely you are to get funded given the total amount of money to be awarded, the total number of grants to be awarded, and the number of grant proposals likely to be submitted. So, you combine these odds with your skill and experience and that should take you to grant writing success, right?

Not so fast.

You still have to deal with the vicissitudes of the readers. In a government grant competition, you will likely have three readers and scoring criteria that add up to 100 possible points awarded per reader. Hopefully, the readers will be carefully trained and will thoroughly understand the scoring criteria and how points should be allocated. Even in this ideal situation, there can still be dramatic differences in the points allocated by the different readers. In some competitions, the readers are required to conference with each other and bring their scores within a certain distance of each other, but sometimes the readers score independently and all three scores are averaged. This is how it's possible to get scores of 100, 98, and 85, knocking your proposal out of the funding range. It shouldn't be possible, but it is.

And the more extreme the competition is (see my discussion of the odds, above), the higher your score needs to be in order to be funded, which means that you need all three readers to award you exceptionally high scores if you hope to be funded.

Even then, it's no guarantee. In a recent grant competition I received scores of 100, 98, and 96, and our proposal still was not funded. When I looked back at the readers written comments, there were no suggestions for improvement. It kind of makes you think that the whole grant award process is more random than you thought, doesn't it?

Regardless of the odds and the biases of the readers, experience and skill still play the biggest roles in the grant award process. In the example I just gave you, as frustrating as it was to have submitted an excellent proposal that was not funded, the truth is that if it had not been an excellent proposal it would've had absolutely no chance of being funded. In that particular competition, only the absolute best, near-perfect proposals had a chance at being funded. While it may seem random, it's not.

Submitting a well-written, high-quality proposal is still the best way to negotiate the maze of the numbers game and reach the goal of grant writing success.


Would you like to improve your grant writing skills?  Want to learn to be a great writer?  Try our Grant Writing 101 online course.  Learn at your own pace when it's convenient for you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Grant Writing on Foreign Topics

Freelance grant writers are often asked to write for agencies whose mission is outside of their area of expertise and professional training. This does not mean however that they can't write competently on what I call foreign topics. It does mean that writing a fundable proposal is going to take considerable research and study in order to write competently in the foreign topic.

A good example is a grant that I'm writing currently for a museum to design and install a new exhibit. I am not trained as a museum professional, nor am I schooled in the proper design elements of an effective museum exhibition. But fortunately for me there's something called Google through which I can find many articles, research papers, online consultant blogs, sample grant proposals, and many other excellent resources from which to glean the information I need to write.

Here is a list of things I do to prepare when writing about foreign topics:

1. Schedule meetings with the client to ensure that I'm clear on their desires and the project content. I need time to pick their brains so I make it clear up front that I need their meaningful input.

2. Connect with professional people in the foreign topic area to discuss the client's needs and ask questions. This can be a difficult thing to accomplish because everyone is busy and they may see you as a competitor in the grant competition.

3. Conduct a thorough online search for resources related to the foreign topic that provide necessary information.

4. Draft a project design and when possible find an expert in the topic area if the client does not qualify (or at least another grant writer) to review the design and give you feedback.

5. Identify appropriate vocabulary and concepts commonly used by professionals within the foreign topic area and integrate this vocabulary into your writing.

I've found in the past that writing a grant in the new topic area is not necessarily a hindrance to being successfully funded. In fact, I've actually had a lot of success writing grants and foreign topic areas and my guess is that my writing style, while clear, is different enough to be fresh and therefore appealing to readers who may be bored with the standard writing style of professionals within the foreign topic.

Generally, grant writers should not limit themselves to areas of professional knowledge in which they consider themselves to be experts. There have been times when I have turned down grant that is simply too technical for me to undertake and which was in a foreign topic area where the learning curve was simply too steep. Better to lose a contract that do an incompetent job and lose a client.

So when you go out and look for new clients, think broadly and cast a wide net. You'll be surprised at how well you can write about foreign topics after a brief period of study and research. Involve your client actively in the narrative review process. Don't be afraid to write grants for clients in foreign topic areas. Go for it

Talk about foreign topics have you heard about Rodney's Online Scavenger Hunt?  Watch the video below for more info or click here to read all about it!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

If They Made a Movie about Grant Writing Consultants......

It would be a thriller.  Yes, I'm sure of that. It would be an action-packed, intrigue-driven thriller that would keep you on the edge of your seat. I'm talking about the kind of thriller that is somewhere between Speed (with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves) and Matt Damon's The Bourne Identity, but it would have the heart of a drama - think about the perseverence of The Shawshank Redemption.  And it would also have some of the recklessness of Thelma and Louise.

I would be played, of course, by Kathy Bates, who would certainly win an Academy Award for her sensitive portrayal of such a complex character. Other grant writing consultants in the movie would be played by Brad Pitt and Shirley McClain, with supporting roles filled by Ben Affleck, and other fine actors. Richard Gere would be in it just because.

Here's the basic plot:

Our heroine, Kathy Bates, would get a phone call charging her to write a very competitive grant in a very short period of time. She would argue briefly that it couldn't be done, but she'd be told that it must be done and it must be successful because the fate of free world is in her capable hands. She would call her colleagues Brad Pitt (who's having a beer at Rubicon) and Shirley MacLaine (who is somewhere in the moutains firewalking and getting in touch with her Chi) who would rush back into town to help.

Brad Pitt would work with the client to get the data needed for the grant, but it wouldn't arrive.  Kathy Bates would yell, "But tell them we must have it!" and Brad would valiantly declare, "Don't worry, I'll get it," as he hopped on his trusty steed (old Honda) and headed out to pick up the data personally. Richard Gere would just massage Kathy's back while she wrote, whispering, "You can do it.  I know you can," into her ear while she writes.

Tight shot on the clock spinning wildly as the time passes, and the calendar as the days fly by....

Shirley MacClaine tirelessly does research while support staff member Tina Fey works on the budget. Ben Affleck answers the phone with expert skill, keeping would-be interrupters away with a polite, but firm, "No, you can't speak with her.  She's saving the world!"

As the deadline draws nearer, the pressure mounts.  Shirley floats in and out picking up pieces here and there and offering her expertise.  Brad  remains calm on outside while expertly assembling appendices. Kathy's fingers sieze up from the pain, but Richard massages the pain away.

As the first draft is complete, in walks Helen Mirren, competently and calmly proclaiming, "I'll take over from here," as she sits with the narrative and begins proofreading and editing, her pen flying across the page as Richard offers Kathy cool grapes, Tina wraps up the budget, Shirley finalizes the abstract, and Brad  talks to the client on the phone, assuring him that all is well.

Suddenly, Tina shouts, "Nooooo!!!!! The web portal is down!" Kathy rushes into her office, knocking Richard down on the way (sorry, Richard). "But it can't be down!  The grant is due in 2 hours!" Tina just rocks back and forth, "It's down, it's down, it's down, oh my god it's down....."

Helen retains her predator-like focus on the editing task.

Tina says, "Wait!  I think I can hack into the portal through the government's evaluation site..."

"Do it!" shouts Kathy, "Do it NOW!"

Ben shouts at someone on the phone, "New phone service?  Are you crazy?  This is no time for solicitation!  She doesn't want to talk you.  She'll never want to talk to you!"  As he slams the phone down, Tina explains, "I'm in!"

"Great," sighs Kathy, "Let's get this baby uploaded and put to bed."

"Ready!" says Helen, as she hands over a perfectly edited draft to Kathy.

Shirley calmly floats in, "I knew everything would be ok."

"Don't be so sure," cautions Kathy. "We're not out of the woods yet."

Tina, Brad, and Helen work together to get all the documents uploaded, while Shirley and Kathy sip some tea.

Tina announces, "Done! The grant has been submitted...on time!"

Helen adds, "And it's a good one!"

Kathy comments, with a matter of fact tone, "Of course it is."  Then she looks around for Richard....

Ben answers the phone and tells Kathy, "It's Mr. Non-Profit. He says he has a challenging project for you.....and it's due next week."

Kathy sips her tea, raises and eyebrow, and says, "Oh?  Sounds intriguing.  Brad, Shirley, we have another assignment!"


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.