Monday, December 19, 2011

The Grant Goddess' Favorite Posts

I always get reflective as we approach the end the calendar year. As part of that, I spent a little time looking back at some of the older posts on The Grant Goddess Speaks... and I found some pretty great tips and posts in the archives.  Some of them are so good that they deserve another shot at the light of day. So I decided to pull some out for your enjoyment.

Some of these are on the list because they have great advice.  Others are here because they are cute and funny. Regardless of why they made this list, they are among my favorites (in no particular order). Consider this list a special gift!


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

Are You the Bear or the Salmon?

14 Tips to Stay Off The Naughty List

Disadvantaged by Expectations

The 12 Days of Christmas for Grant Writers 

Deadlines Are Like Burritos

The Detail Dilemma of Grant Writing

Grant Writer or Grant Valet?

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Difference Between a Gift and a Grant

Gifts and grants are completely different animals, yet they are often treated the same. Unfortunately, those who treat them the same usually end up in trouble.

A gift is just what you would expect it to be - a sum of money or a resource that is given to your organization with nothing expected in return or very little expected in return.  Most cash donations from private individuals fall into this category. Sometimes a donor may request that a gift be earmarked for a particular purpose (i.e., building fund, youth programs, etc.), and sometimes a donor may request a certain type of recognition or publicity (i.e., naming rights, public recognition, etc.), but that's about it.

A grant, on the other hand, comes with a contract and a set of expectations. A sum of money or a resource is given to you with the expectation that it will be used in a particular way, and appropriate performance is expected.  If you don't perform, the grantor (if it is a governmental agency) can take the money back. There are usually rules you are expected to follow as you implement the proposal that was funded.

Also, in most cases, a grantor expects that something measurable will change as a result of the money or resource you are given. Gift givers often don't expect change, but they are support the organization as it currently is (operational support).

Of course, there are some exceptions to the distinction I've just made, but the general rule is pretty clear.

Many organizations write grant proposals without understanding the difference, and then they are shocked at all of the :"strings" that come with the grant, even when those expectations were clearly delineated in the instructions before they applied. Part of the decision about whether or not to apply for a grant requires that you look into the future when that grant is funded and determine if you are actually willing to perform as expected.

If not, the grant you're looking at may not be the one for you.

Related Posts:

The Worst Reasons for NOT Writing a Grant

5 Mistakes That Can Lose Millions of Dollars in Grant Applications

If you need some successful grant proposal samples to help you along, visit

Monday, November 7, 2011

Writing is My Fascination

Excellent writing fascinates me because it is so powerful. I believe that writers are born. But even born writers must be trained. I was a writer from a young age. I made comic books for my brother, and I told him stories at night about my stuffed animals to make him laugh.

My training has mostly been outside the classroom. I was educated in California where grammar wasn’t taught. It was considered an unnecessary encumbrance to the creative process. I drive my editors insane.

“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” Ernest Hemingway

I write a lot. I write almost all the time. I write on the bus. I write at the coffee shop. I write at home. I write for a living.

When I am not writing, I am usually reading. I read on a Kindle, a smart phone, and an HP Netbook. I also have shelves of books I haven’t time to read yet. But the collection grows because I can’t help collecting interesting titles.

“Read everything--trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out.” William Faulkner

The written word is no less magic for me within a grant proposal than it is within a fictional book about goblins and faeries. Description and beautiful arrangement of words, phrases, and sentences stands out when you read it no matter what it’s about. There is a flow to excellent writing that is simply wonderful. Achieving that flow is mastery. Every once in a while I’ll write something that comes close to achieving the flow. But it’s hard work and I don’t do achieve that level as often as I aspire to do.

“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed.” Ray Bradbury

Writing a fine narrative is hard work that requires hours of revising, polishing, and editing. There’s no way around the work, there are no shortcuts.

“God sells us all things at the price of the labor.” Leonardo da Vinci 

Related Posts:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ten Tips for Grant Writing Success

Learning about grant writing in one blog post is a little like learning about an iceberg from seeing what's above the water line. This article just shows you part of what’s above the surface, the rest is deeper and there's a whole lot more to it. I encourage you to search our blog articles and look at our web site resources to learn more. I write whatever feels right at the moment, and this Friday afternoon, writing a simple post about ten tips feels perfect. Here goes:
  1. Learn to write short, declarative sentences;
  2. Correctly target your proposal to the right source;
  3. Follow guidelines and restrictions scrupulously;
  4. Create a writing outline;
  5. Collaborate with your client on program design;
  6. Write objectives that measurably impact the needs identified;
  7.  Keep formatting simple and uncluttered;
  8. Use the services of an editor;
  9. Budget line items should never surprise the reader;
  10. Check the proposal for completeness against a checklist.

Veronica put 101 tips into her book and some of these are probably repeats because they’re each so fundamental to grant development.

Success in grant writing does not happen by accident. Grants are successful because someone can write well, follow directions, and translate a lot of discussion and data into an actionable plan.

If you want to learn more about grant writing, polish and perfect your skills, we can help you do that with our online courses. We also give grant writing seminars on site for groups and we’d love to work with your agency when you need to train staff to write proposals.

Other articles you may enjoy:

Photo Credit - jacob gerritsen

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Golden Age of Grant Writing

I started writing grants back in the mid 90’s and it was a time I fondly think of as the “Golden Age” of grant writing. The government was using grants to experiment with new programs and do social and educational research. There was a lot of money out there. And there were a lot of clients.

A headline came to me via email this morning about proposed budget cuts to educational programs (STEM Ed. Among Cuts Sought in Draft House Budget Plan).  The article made me nostalgic for the Golden Age. I see bad news in that headline on several levels but on a business level, it's another cut to the business I love, grant writing.

During the Golden Age, money was flowing and the streets were paved with gold. I grabbed the proverbial brass ring and launched into a full time grant writing job at a private company leaving the cushy, secure and boring existence of public employment.

I was suddenly working 60 hours a day. I was crushed with work. I was drinking from a fire hose. This went on for about a decade. I had no trouble getting contracts. I never marketed my services beyond handing out a business card (which I often forgot to carry).

Today, I spend part of my time writing copy for marketing. I’m pretty sure I stink at it. Oh, I have good ideas (I think) and I make cool graphics (I think), but the truth is that I am not an advertising Madman. Nonetheless, marketing is now an ongoing conversation here in the office. But I would much rather write grants full time. I know there's supposed to be an ROI to Marketing, however, it never feels like it's worth it. What happened to the fire hose?

The Golden Age of grant writing ended for social and educational programs for several reasons:

• After two decades of research (80’s and 90’s), the government “owns” the answers to all the important questions, it now knows “what works”. Grants encouraging innovation are no longer necessary. The focus of grants now is to implement everything they “discovered” during the Golden Age. Applicants these days are expected to implement “research-based” programs and “proven models" regardless of the lack of wisdom in forcing square pegs into round holes;

• The economy collapsed. Money shrank back from “the street” on all levels. The faucets got turned off in the private sector, the nonprofit sector, and the government sector. Everyone suffered and is still, grants are no different. The Golden Age ended in 2008;

• The market became flooded with “grant writers”. When I started, it was hard to find a grant writer so there was a gap in the market. I filled it. Today there’s a grant writer under every rock and some of them slithered in there and are none too ethical. You’ll read about these in the newspapers from time-to-time. It is also harder today to ferret out who is a good grant writer and who should be writing marketing copy. That’s because everyone’s success rate post-Golden Age has taken a hit. Fewer grants and more applicants means fewer applications are successful, it’s not calculus. Even a stellar writer can find his/her success rates falling. Success today is more dependent than ever before on having clients with the right need and the right demographic, geographic, and organizational profile.

I am still young (ish) and hoping to be around for the next Golden Age. It’s coming because the people are not too certain that the government really has the answers. That realization, I hope, encourages a new round of research to spur innovation and new ideas. Even if the “old” ideas worked back in the 80’s and 90’s, conditions continue to change, demographics shift, knowledge evolves, proclivities of the younger generation are not what they were in the 80’s. Learning styles, resources, technology and social needs evolve over time.

I hope that the melt-down of “No Child Left Behind” and the ever-diversifying demographics of the country are evidence that the next generation of researchers, teachers, social workers, and the like need grant funding to seek new answers. Bring on that next Golden Age, I need some relief from marketing.

Other posts you may enjoy:

Photo Credit - Macin Smolinski

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Script Writing vs. Grant Writing

I attended a script writing seminar recently in Los Angeles. I went because I wanted to see what writers from another genre talk about and I glad I attended. It was fascinating and thrilling to be with a group of authors. Grant writers tend to be reclusive folks and don’t tend to flock together. One of the authors presenting on one of the three panels quipped, “You probably became writers to get away from people, but I hate to tell you, being a script writer means you’ll have to work with people all the time.”
Two things occurred to me when I heard her say that.  First, that I love writing because it is solitary. I enjoy being alone and it’s probably why I enjoy the solitude of the mountains so much. I do my best writing when I am not bothered by people making demands on me. I write best when my mind is uncluttered, with the TV off, the phone silenced, and no event to prepare myself to attend.
The second thing that occurred to me is that I used to have a naive solitary vision of what a grant writer does, sits blissfully writing brilliant narratives in a cedar-paneled alcove perched overlooking the ocean. Ahhh… well, we’re allowed our little fantasies, right?
Alas, reality intruded on my vision, just like script writers, there is a lot of interaction with people during the grant process.  You must talk to people to obtain a contract. You must engage with people to plan, sometimes a lot of people. You must engage with people to review and revise the proposal. The end of the process leaves you alone again, grinding out the final proposal; but it’s a brief interlude, and actually only a prelude to starting the process all over again. Before the glow of submittal leaves your rosy cheeks, you are right back into meeting with people again!
Don’t get me wrong, I am not misanthropic. I enjoy people’s company and seek it out when I want it. But there is something magical for me in the solitary writing process that is necessary and wonderful at the same time. Passing time within the written word, within the conceptualization and the phrasing brings joy to me that non-writers can’t understand, especially people who thrive on conversation the way I thrive on composition.
A comical statement by another author at the seminar stuck in my mind, “If you want to be a script writer and you didn’t come from a dysfunctional family, I feel sorry for you.” By this she meant that a dysfunctional background gives a writer knowledge that is useful for producing fictional narratives, because they’re always written around solving a problem. Dysfunctional families have lots of problems to solve.
I think the benefits of dysfunctional experience applies to grant writing. Grants are often written to solve a problem too; but instead of coming from a dysfunctional family, a grant writer benefits if they have worked in a dysfunctional organization. I have that in spades (one public organization I worked for went bankrupt [for the record, I was not the cause]). I’ve seen every aspect of organizational management done wrong, so it’s easier for me to envision a better way and describe it in my narratives.
I was pleased to learn at the seminar that my background blesses me in both genres (don’t worry, I am not telling tales out of school, my family won’t argue the point). Perhaps I am destined to write a script one day: who knows where a writer’s path will lead?

If You Liked This Post, You Will Enjoy:
Grant Writing is No Mystery
Grant Writing: Fact or Fiction?

(For the Record - Consultant Derek Link authored this post, so the Grant Goddess' family should neither remove her from their Christmas shopping list nor "unfriend" her on Facebook.)

Photo Credit - Craig Purdum

Friday, August 26, 2011

How Does a Grant Writer Build Client Trust?

I’ve worked as a consultant for many years now and one thing I know is that establishing trust with clients is important. I’ve watched many consultants over the years fail to build trust with their clients and the result has always been that they fail. Critical ways for a grant writer to lose trust with a client are low approval rates and lack of confidentiality.
The problem with grant writing business failure, beyond the obvious trouble for the consultant, is that the client suffers because they’ve worked to get approval for a consulting agreement. The client has demonstrated their trust in an individual who let them down; it damages the client’s reputation within their organization.
Hiring a grant writer is a big decision because it costs money. While a good grant writer can earn an organization large awards, if the consultant is average or poor, their grants will be funded at a low percentage and contracting with them will cost the organization a lot of money with little or no return on investment.
A poor approval rate erodes trust quickly and another key way to lose the trust of a client is to be less than strictly confidential. I’ve witnessed many consultants lose trust with clients because they are unprofessional and share information they shouldn’t. It may be information about themselves, their co-workers, competitors, or their other clients. A grant writer who is inclined toward gossip will never make a good consultant; these people are a liability to an organization, not a benefit. There is no positive return on investment for gossip.
An easy way to identify a consultant that will not be trustworthy is that they share derogatory information about their competitors to make themselves look good. If a grant writer is willing to gossip about competitors, the client has evidence to question the consultant’s confidentiality with regard to their own organization. It is certain the client’s personal and organizational faults and foibles will be gossiped to anyone who gives an ear. As the old saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
A grant writer must have a history of writing successful proposals and be capable of maintaining professional confidentiality in order to achieve a successful career. Organizations are wise to hire consultants cautiously and pay attention to the level of professionalism they display.

Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.  ~Spanish Proverb~

Other posts you may enjoy:

Photo Credits: Israel Papillon & Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Friday, August 19, 2011

Grant Writer Taking a Break

Refreshing your brain is important for anyone who, a) has one, b) must use it to make a living.
Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.  John Muir
So once a year I go to the mountains to camp and to wash my spirit clean. California’s mountains are beautiful in summer and there are yet places to go where few people do, even though these are becoming harder to find.
Writing is always a part of these trips, but not grant writing of course. I take a Moleskine®  with me and make a point of writing each morning while greeting the sun. I sit high on a boulder where I can hear the Marsh Hawk screech and the peeping ground squirrels and where I can watch the coyotes trot home to their burrows after a night of hunting.

I look forward to these times in the mountains from the moment I leave there each year until the moment that I step back into that glorious valley. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Grant Writing is Part Fiction

In the broadest terms, grant writing is like fiction writing because the grant writer describes a future state that results from delivery of grant services. The details of how the grant will unfold are fictional, based on the best facts at hand, sound planning and demonstrated competence of the organization.  In this post, I compare the key parts of a fiction story to key features of a grant narrative.

Fiction Writing
Grant Writing
The Main Character
The main character is the one who has to solve the conflict of the story.

A main character has a history that gives depth and makes the characters present actions logical.

The main character needs to experience some form change that causes them to grow.

It is not necessary to describe as much history about the supporting characters as the main character. A supporting character may support the resolution of the conflict while others may be the cause of the problem.
The Applicant
The applicant is the main character and must be described. The writer must detail the history, strengths, accomplishments, plans, etc.

The conflict in a grant narrative is the need that has caused the submission of the grant in the first place.  The grant is designed to resolve the needs(conflict) presented.

The supporting characters in a grant application are the partners, major donors, etc.  The amount of description to include for each partner depends on their involvement in the grant design.

Another type of supporting character in a grant application is the recipients of services who may also grow, change or benefit from the services that the grant provides. It could be people, the environment, or an organization that benefits from the grant services.

A grant typically produces changes and/or growth in the application organization that relates to its history and mission in a logical way.
Character Building
A fictional character must be defined for the reader. A character must be described thoroughly so it produces a clear picture in the reader’s mind.

Many times in fiction a more unique each character makes the story a lot more interesting.
Building the Program Design
Character development is similar to development of the project design in grant writing.  The project design needs to be defined, shaped, and described so clearly that the grant reader can “see” the end product with absolute clarity and conviction. Uniqueness can be helpful in grant writing too, but only if it builds the funder’s commitment to giving you the grant.  If the uniqueness of your project just makes it unbelievable, you’re in trouble.

Grants do not have dialogue.  This is a key point of departure between the two writing genres.
Details greatly enhance fiction but using too much detail can ruin a story by bogging down the flow of the action.

While too much detail may ruin a fictional story, detail can only help a grant narrative; in fact, getting enough detail into a grant narrative is the most difficult challenge a grant writer faces. Detail is crucial to the credibility of your narrative.

Related Posts:
Photo Credit - Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Grant Writer’s Review of “Do the Work” by Steven Pressfield

This post is related to grant writing in that it is related to the work of writing in general.  It is also related to the act of getting to work as a writer which is the topic of the book, "Do the Work" by writer Steven Pressfield.  The book was published through The Domino Project and is available at Amazon (that I am really ticked off at because they fired me as an Affiliate since I am in California, but that's another story).
I like all of the Domino project books I’ve read so far including: “Poke the Box” by Seth Godin; “Anything You Want” By Derek Sivers; and, “Do the Work” by Steven Pressfield. 
Each of these books caused me to think about my work, my work habits, my creative self and why I don't work more diligently to express it.
In “Do the Work,” Pressfield presents his concepts about what prevents us from creating. He labels things that interfere with our work as “Resistance.” I won’t go into detail about resistance, or you won’t need to get his book, and I recommend you do.  It is enough to say that resistance is a universal force that keeps you from working and manifests itself in a variety of forms.
The first time I read the book was on Saturday, April 30. I was inspired by the book and decided to try out Pressfield’s basic writing outline for a book project I’d been contemplating for almost a year. So after church on Sunday, May 1, I went to a discount store and I bought 3 spiral notebooks to use for writing. I was challenging resistance, then it kicked me in the tail end, literally.
On Monday, May 2, I was rear-ended in a violent car accident. I wasn’t hurt badly, but my car was fatally crushed and had to be put down. I decided to ride the bus until the insurance paid out. 
I'd owned a car or motorcycle continuously since I was sixteen so living within the limitations of the transit system is a big change.  I discovered the bus adds two hours a day to my commute, not to mention about 2.5 miles of walking.  This reinforced that the accident was an experience in resistance. I felt like I was “losing” two hours a day to work. I was frustrated and I wanted to find a way to regain the time.
One day I put one of the notebooks into my backpack and carried it on the bus. I used the time that day to outline my book and begin writing.  I soon discovered that the bus rides were too short! In a month, I filled three notebooks and now I am completing the third revision of my book.
The accident that I’d taken for resistance turned into what Steven Pressfield calls “Assistance.” Assistance happens, Pressfield asserts, when you overcome resistance and press into your work.
I am still riding the “bus of assistance.” I enjoy not owning a car and I value my time on the bus because it's so "soupy" (read the book or ride the bus, you'll get it).
Oddly, I found my muse and she’s an angry, middle-aged, union bus driver with no customer relation skills whatsoever.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New Federal Grant Opportunities

The federal government, under the auspices of The Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance, has announced three new grant opportunities. These new grants are announced in the form of a "Funding Opportunity Announcement" for the Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood Grants program.

The programs are well-funded with $52,000,000 available for a Fatherhood program, $57,000,000 for a Marriage program, and $6,000,000 for an ex-prisoner Father's program.

Links to each of the programs are provided below:
Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood Grants Program
Community-Centered Healthy Marriage and Relationship (CCHMR) Grants Program
Community-Centered Responsible Fatherhood Ex-Prisoner Reentry Pilot Project

Call us if you need help writing a grant for one of these opportunities. (530) 669-3600.

Do I Have Your Full Attention? Ten Grant Writing Tips

I’ve been writing grants for a living since before the turn of the century; that makes me rather old. Before I became a professional grant writer, I moonlighted as a grant writer for years; that makes me even older.
But guess what? Older is better. Today I type faster, am more efficient at research, more inquisitive in questioning a client, more effective at editing, revising and narrating. I tend to get grants funded more often than I used to with a lot less outside assistance.
Here are some long-in-the-tooth tips for you young grant writing whipper-snappers out there.
  1. Spend more time reading the Request For Proposals (RFP) before you start writing than you think you need to.  Reading an RFP once is never enough for me.
  2. Spend more time talking to your client about the proposal than they want to.  If getting their attention means you have to buy them lunch, do it.
  3. Write a detailed outline for the proposal. Follow the RFP outline carefully.
  4. Collect all the research you think you need first and understand it before you begin to write. Everything you collect should be the most current literature in support of your design.
  5. Cross out blocks of time on your calendar and hold those times sacred. Turn off the TV, the radio, and send the kids out to play.
  6. Stop writing when you become unclear about any element of the project design and call your client to ask questions. If you are unclear, your narrative will be too.
  7. Employ a trusted editor to review your writing.
  8. Communicate with your client early and often about what they are required to provide and do during the process.
  9. Overestimate the time that ancillary pieces of the grant with take you to complete, they always take longer than you expect.
  10. Always obtain and keep some form of verification that your grant was submitted.

We have many distractions these days from cell phones to messages that pop right up on your computer as you write. You won’t be a successful grant writer if your writing does not receive your full attention. It may sound kind of like I am an old fuddy-duddy about those dang electronic deeee-vices, but I am not at all actually.  I love my electronic devices and I am a better grant writer because I use them. Electronics can get in the way if you aren’t careful so be sure you are giving your client 100% of yourself when it’s time to write.

Related Posts:

Photo Credit - Leroy Skalstad

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What To Write Next?

Even a grant writer who also blogs can run dry sometimes. It's tough to write-write-write and then get up tomorrow and write again while trying to keep it fresh and interesting. The good folks at wrote a nice concise little post about this very topic that hits all the right notes for me (well, 7 of them anyway). If you're a blogger who also writes grants, or a grant writer who also blogs (or if you can't decide which category you fall into), you'll appreciate this nifty post.
All people who produce content for a living, whether they are writers, musicians, artists, or nonprofit communicators  repurpose their content. No one produces completely original content all the time.
If you're out of material, that is the time to sort through those old, tired out blog posts that turned out to be less "green" that you thought and freshen them up, take a new perspective, or rewrite them for a new audience.

I'm going to start reviewing our old posts and see what I can reduce, re-use, and recycle; of course, always rewriting with relevance in mind.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Has the Golden Age of Education Grant Writing Passed?

I started writing grants in about 1995 during what I have come to think of as the Golden Age of education grant writing. Government grants were used as a positive way to spark and spread new ideas and solutions. I became, and remain, a huge proponent of grants as an effective vehicle to fund educational change.
A prime example of how education grants were used in the Golden Age was bilingual education. Bilingual grants spurred innovation as practitioners were given funding to experiment and seek the best ways to implement bilingual programs. The government looked to the field to discover the best way to ensure immigrant children succeeded, and concomitantly, to teach a second language to both English and non-English speakers. Bilingual education got plowed under by the politics of language and immigration; in the end, success was irrelevant and all the funds were redistributed.
Slowly but surely over the past 16 years, the number of grants from the federal and state level for all educational programs dwindled as government leaders consolidated centralized control, in the form of standards which remain the organizing dictum for budgeting in education. In the absence of innovation, standards have gone largely unchallenged as the preeminent organizing philosophy (a topic for another post).
The Golden Age of grants passed into the Lead Age of entitlements in which money is redistributed at pennies per student to be consumed by the ravenous starving dogs that are general fund budgets (woof). In this new age, grants to fund innovation are superfluous and replaced by entitlements and a few grants to pay for implementation of “approved", "research-based” solutions.
I’m eager for an educational grant renaissance that will revive an entrepreneurial style of leadership; one that sparks innovation and change. The answers to educational issues can be discovered but it requires that we trust practitioners to plan and take risks based on their experience on the front line.

Other posts you may enjoy:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ten Summer Grant Writing Chores

Here are just ten of the scores of things you might want to use your summer months to accomplish.  Since summer tends to be a bit of a lull in the grant writing year, here are a few things I try to accomplish to make the best possible use of the time:
  1. Now is the time to clean off that desk – Yes, get the shredder and the recycle bin and plow through those stacks of grant narrative revisions you don’t need, those research documents you need to file away for next year, and those bazillion dog-eared post its stuck to everything.
  2. Clean out your email In-Box – You may be pushing the memory limits on your mail provider anyway and let’s face it, you only need so many forwarded emails in there with PowerPoint presentations of waterfalls, kittens, and guys falling off stuff.
  3. Clean out your e-files like your documents file which I can imagine has tons (digital tons) of loose documents that you made up in a hurry and then didn’t have time to file away in their proper location, or maybe there wasn’t even a file folder created!
  4. Send out thank you/wish you a great summer cards and/or email to all your clients, previous clients, and anyone who might be a future client. Give them a heads up of any upcoming grant opportunities you’re aware of.
  5. Write some blog posts and queue them up to post automatically for the rest of the summer, one less thing to think about for the summer months if you take a little time to do it.
  6. Review your client list and note their priorities for the coming year then use the list to match their needs to potential grant opportunities. There may be some prep that can be done with them or you may be able to lock in a contract for writing in advance.
  7. Visit local agencies and organizations you don’t have relationships to meet people face to face. Just call and if you can get an appointment, you’re in.  Do a little research on them and bring them a few examples of grants they might be interested in. Bring your marketing material and don’t forget your business card and your smile!
  8. Participate in training opportunities and networking events to expand your network.
  9. Fine tune your online presence. Are you using social media to your advantage?  Are you positioned as an expert in grant writing online? It might be time to freshen up your web site.
  10. Review the results of the past year. Review readers’ comments and if you don’t have copies, contact your clients to see if they have them and just forgot to send them along. If you had some unsuccessful proposals, see if the grants that were funded have been posted by the funding agency and read them.

Now’s the time to refresh, reorganize, recharge, and renew, there’s a long winter of grant writing ahead of us all so a smart grant writer will use the slower summer months wisely!

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Photo Credit - Henry S.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest

Public people take public falls for being dishonest.  Congressman Weiner’s fall from grace this week is the latest in a long string of prominent people who’ve been caught acting in a destructive way that has damaged their reputations, careers, and families.
Grant Writers may not be public people per say, but often a grant writer is contracted by a public (government) or a public benefit agency (non-profit). A grant writer charged with writing a narrative is usually given facts and figures to write the narrative by the client. Sometimes those facts won’t present the organization in the best light to the funder. Even so, it is vital to the writer’s reputation to write honestly, even if the grant narrative suffers from the truth. There’s nothing wrong with “planting the flowers on the client’s side of the street” but a professional grant writer always does so in a way that keeps their integrity intact.
Here’s the plain truth. Telling lies in a narrative will be exposed. There are times when the client does not read the narrative carefully before the grant is submitted. But, the client and usually one or more of the client’s board members and stakeholders read the grant carefully as notice of funding is received. 
It does not matter that a grant is funded or not, the client and constituency will want to know how to begin implementing, or why it wasn’t funded.  If the writer wrote a narrative that is inaccurate, exaggerated, or fraudulent, the grant writer might as well have Tweeted pictures of himself or herself in their skivvies; the lies are about to be discovered and everyone is going to be upset.
Honesty is the best policy in grant writing as in everything else. A grant writer who writes dishonestly will ruin their reputation. Their fall from grace may not be quite as public as Congressman Weiner’s humiliation this week, but their career will be equally damaged.

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By Xochitl Peña of

Photo Credit - Lorenzo González

Friday, June 3, 2011

Should You Write Grants in Exchange for Evaluations?

I get asked on a regular basis by potential grant writing clients, “Will you write the grant for the evaluation?”
“No,” is the answer I give.
I have a good reason for saying no and not negotiating the point.  In the Middle Eastern bazaar that is grant consulting negotiations, a grant writer must be clear on what they’re selling.
I write about this today because I’ve spent the last two days slaving over a hot copy machine scanning thousands upon thousands of surveys. Stacks of surveys that are crumpled, mis-marked, unmarked, sticky; surveys printed on multicolored paper that threw the scanner into photo-static conniptions, surveys that are un-scannable because some staffer decided a significant portion didn’t need to be completed by respondents because there was a sticker affixed with the same information - a sticker that can’t be read by the scanning software (genius) so that data for a thousand surveys now must be hand-entered.
And don’t get me started on the scanning software which can’t always read a clearly marked dot due to some mystery of arcane software programming.
It’s all well and good if one is paid to do this evaluation work, which we are; it is entirely another thing to do this work in exchange for writing the original grant application - which we are not.
“What does any of this scanning work or the analysis and interpretation of this data, have to do with grant writing?”
That’s right.
That's why I always say no.

A grant writer who takes a grant in compensation for the evaluation is doing two jobs for the price of one. That grant writer may also be guilty of one or all of these things:

  •          Being a foolish business person;
  •          Undervaluing their services;
  •          Being complicit in breaking some laws depending on the funding source;
  •          Undermining the general value of grant writers in the marketplace.
As the Grant Goddess would tell you, “Grant writing and program evaluation are different disciplines.”  A client who asks a grant writer to write for free in exchange for the evaluation contract is comparable to a homeowner telling a landscape architect that she should design and install the landscaping free of charge in exchange for a contract to maintain it. That’s the kind of suggestion that could merit a leaf blower up the nose.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Good Grant Writing Blurs the Lines between Fact and Fiction

On Sunday I attended an elegant house-warming and BBQ in the wine country with a friend. During the party, I had an interesting conversation with a patent attorney. 
We started our conversation with the customary pleasantries and the standard introductory question between guys, “So what do you do?” Rightly or wrongly, it’s how guys break the ice until we retire when we ask things like, “What’s your handicap? Or who did your hip replacement?” But I digress.
We – the lawyer and I – talked about styles of writing in both of our professions. I drew from our discussion that writing a patent application is not unlike applying for a grant. This man’s assessment of grant writing is that the two kinds of writing are quite similar.
I explained that grant writing is a mixture of writing about factual information and fictional writing (kind of Orwell-style futuristic fiction).  Grant writing describes a future state to be created with grant funds.
He explained to me that this is similar to what he must produce when writing a patent application.  In addition to the technical aspects of the patent, he must describe the future benefits and functions of this yet-to-be produced widget, a future state based on the present facts.
Grant writers must be skillful in describing the future state. My advice to aspiring grant writers about how to achieve this unique style of writing, which would, perhaps, similarly edify aspiring patent attorneys, is this;
1)      Spend time with your client to adequately understand the future state desired,
Your imagination may produce sparkling fictional narrative, but if your client seeks a rocket to Mars and you write a grant sending him to Venus, you’ll have written an unachievable or undesired program.
2)      Write about this future state in a positive, can-do manner, with sufficient detail to make it a believable narrative,
Good fiction delivers the reader into a created world where they willingly suspend disbelief and buy in to the feasibility of the program design. Your grant narrative must deliver the program design in a way that the reader never stops nodding in agreement.
3)      Ground your optimistic description of the future state on the facts at hand.
The best fiction is grounded in facts that blur the lines between what’s real and what’s possible. The moment you force your reader to stop and ask themselves whether you’re proposing something plausible, you’re sunk.
My conversation with the attorney made me curious about how similar the writing styles actually are, or whether he was being over-generous in his assessment. I’ll conduct a search with Google this week to see if I can find a patent application to read. I suspect that if the style and level of difficulty are similar that, based the extravagance of his new vacation home, the main difference is to be found in our invoice for services.

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Photo Credit: Rosa Ballada

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Do You Do?

“I’m a grant writer,” a statement I've become hesitant to make because I tend to get one of three reactions.
Reaction 1 is a glazed over look from people who tried to write a grant once (usually a five page mini grant that was not funded) and hated every sentence of the experience. I imagine these people see me through mutant lenses as if I, and my large egg-shaped head, recently stumbled out of a broken silver spaceship in the New Mexico desert.
Many grant writers may have stumbled out of a space ship but like Roswell, the evidence is probably secreted away in an Area 51 vault.
Reaction 2 is a look of superiority from people who’ve written one more grants and have been successfully funded (almost always five page mini grants). It resembles the knowing-simpatico look that a firefighter gets from the guy who put out a grease fire on his neighbor’s stove, it is the “I can do that” sort of look.
You are not a grant writer or a firefighter unless you make a living at it.
Reaction 3 is a look that is at once rosy charm and mystical attraction. People who never tried to write a grant may give me this look.  These are well-intentioned, but uninformed, people who loved English courses and who once received an A+ on a paper about their kitten “Boots” (that A+ given by a cat loving English professor who was later committed for living with 123 feral cats and a mummified Pekinese named Boots). I imagine these folks see grant writers a technical writing Ernest Hemingway living an exotic lifestyle. They can imagine themselves drinking red wine in Pamplona until dawn.
Grant writing is sitting in an office for 14 days in a row writing a 40 page narrative for a client whose main idea for the program design is not to make anyone do anything new. That is not romantic; although, it could impel you to buy several bottles of wine and search out Jake and Brett.
Grant writing is real writing, mind you, though a bit stilted and constrained in style and form.  But there are no kitten stories to be written. Most grants are written about programs, the minutia of which is adequate substitution for cerebral Novocain. I read once that some people having brain surgery did not need general anesthetic; I surmised they were forced to read poorly written grant narratives before being wheeled to the operating room thereby dulling their senses to a dramatic extent.
I do what most writers do, I wrestle with my narratives until a deadline forces me to give them up. I get stuck and am too close to the narrative to make sense of it.  I curse at my edited copy, and, I drink to my editor’s continued good health. The narrative always pins me because it is never quite finished.
There is a 4th reaction, that of utter disinterest, like the young woman years ago at a club who when told what I do turned up her nose and asked me what kind of car I drove. The next time I am asked what I do, I shall make something up that squelches conversation, like life insurance salesman or telephone solicitor.

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Photo Credit - Brian Lary

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Grant Research is a Steep Climb

Looking for foundation grant funding is laborious even if you know what you’re doing. There’s a lot of ground to cover if you’re going to find a match for your program or organization. It’s tough work and it takes a lot of time.

Did you know that there were 1,617,301 tax-exempt organizations registered in the United States in 2011, including:
    • 1,046,719 public charities;
    • 115,915 private foundations;
    • and, 454,667 other types of nonprofit organizations, including chambers of commerce, fraternal organizations and civic leagues?

That means you’re going to sift through a lot of foundation records to find a few that are a good match for your purpose. Even when you find one that funds your field of interest, there’s no assurance that the foundation will review your application.

You need to find those foundations that: A) accept unsolicited applications (or you need to attend the right cocktail parties/golf tournaments where you might gain an invitation to apply); B) have money to give this year; C) offers a funding cycle that gives you an opportunity to apply.

Did you know that Foundations gave $42.9 billion in 2009? According to The Foundation Center, this represents a decrease of 8.4% from 2008.

You need to know who’s giving the money so you can budget your research time wisely.  The Foundation Center goes on to report that the total foundation giving in 2008 was distributed as follows:
    • 72% came from independent foundations;
    • 10% came from community foundations;
    • 10% came from corporate foundations;
    • and, 8% came from operating foundations.
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the number of 501(c)(3) organizations in the United States grew from 631,902 in 1999, to 1,006,670 in 2009.  That’s more than a 59% increase in the number of non-profit organizations. Those organizations gave 42.9 billion dollars in 2009 alone.  This figure should encourage you to keep researching to find the right match for your organization.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

The Angel of the Odd and My Grant

Each time I write a grant, I learn something new. The grant I just submitted was written over a two week period and it included a 40 page narrative and all the ancillary pieces, it was not a small project.

I sit this afternoon before my computer pondering what to blog. It occurs to me that perhaps there’s a connection with a short story I read last night, Edgar Allen Poe’s “Angel of the Odd.” I suspect that this very Angel showed up and made my life difficult over the past two weeks. In the story, Poe, in reading numerous accounts of odd tragedies befalling people, decided that these stories were simply fictions created to sell papers.  In so thinking, Poe offended the “Angel of the Odd” who paid him a visit to set him straight and who designed for some odd circumstances to befall Poe who came to believe in the end that Odd things did happen and that the stories were real.

My Odd circumstances started on a Monday morning, the first of what was to be 14 days of grant writing.  I was primed, rested, ready to start writing.  My plan was to put my head down and make a dent in the narrative that morning.  I sat in my old Honda Civic waiting for the green light when suddenly I was rudely rammed into the intersection from behind amidst a thundering crash.

This odd situation got even stranger when I looked into the rear-view mirror to see the villain, who had attempted to park in my trunk at high speed, back up from under my car and pull around me to make a right turn, drive up the street, and then disappear in a crossing alleyway.

I was outraged at the scoundrel leaving me behind and not caring a whit whether I was breathing or passing on to my final reward; so I tried to follow him.  But my car would not roll as the tires rubbed loudly under the frame: my little car was fatally injured.

The chain of events that followed the commission of the crime kept me from writing a word until nearly noon time.  Even as I finally sat down to write, my head spun with the odd reality of my new situation.  I was 25 miles from home without a vehicle, I needed to ride the bus home, I needed to do battle with insurance companies, I faced the likelihood this man had no car insurance; these and a thousand other thoughts kept me from concentrating on my narrative until the next morning.

Writing a grant is mentally exhausting enough.  The hit and run driver totaled my car and imposed a whole set of odd circumstances upon me.  These included the additional 3 hours a day to my commute, the physical pain of the crash, the mental uproar of being in an accident and all the details attached to that (police, insurance, doctors, concerned friends and family) None of these things changed the fact that I had a grant to write.

As Poe learned, Odd things happen in an instant. But in spite of unwelcome visits by the Angel of the Odd, a grant writer can’t allow life to intervene.  It’s not a job that allows one to take sick leave while the work sits in an “In Box.” Grant deadlines do not wait.

What did I learn from this grant? I learned when a grant deadline is imminent; I simply need to suck it up and get the work done.

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Photo Credit - Simona Dumitru

Monday, April 25, 2011

Grant Writer in a Hammock

Monday morning, great weekend, gaining my bearings here, 3rd cup o’ Joe, and my other eye is starting to open at last. Dreary and rainy outside, feels like Seattle this morning, but this is the perfect weather for grant writing actually. It is hard to concentrate inside when it’s a gorgeous spring day outside.

This quote by Thomas Edison perfectly describes my transient ability to write well, “There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.”

The labor of thinking is what makes it a challenge to be a freelance grant writer.  Grant writing requires intensive thinking for extended periods of time. It requires fastidious attention to a thousand details. It requires the mental flexibility of a Chinese acrobat in editing and revising. It requires holding the whole in your mind while crafting the specifics.

Grant writing  makes my brain sweat.

I treat the hard work of thinking like exercise sometimes; I defer the pain and sweat. I find distractions that are as Edison would call them, “expedient.” A trash can that needs emptying – not customarily high on my list of priorities - can suddenly bolt to the forefront of my mind as a convenient escape from a stubborn program design.

Every freelance grant writer needs an inner drill sergeant.  I need that intimidator inside barking at me to push harder, not to give up, to exceed my perceived limitations. Ignore the trash can! Ignore the breezy weather and sunny garden outside!  My job is to grind out the narrative and slow up only to wipe the sweat off my cerebrum from time to time.

So today I endeavor to engage fully in the labor of thinking and avoid the delicious appeal of the day and thrust aside the mindless diversion of menial chores that would satiate my brain’s desire to swing in a hammock.

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Photo Credit - craig toron

Friday, April 22, 2011

Grant Writing Contracts

Every grant writer needs to have a contract format.  Most of us are not lawyers so here are some basics parts needed in a legally enforceable contract.

Disclaimer – this was not written by a lawyer and is not intended as “legal advice.” Readers may use this information to develop a contract format but do so at their own risk. It’s wise to consult with an attorney when you develop a legal contract for your grant writing business.

All that being said; I developed my own contract and never consulted a lawyer until I needed to force a deadbeat former client to pay me for a grant I wrote for them (and which was fully funded too!).  My self-devised contract held enough validity to force the deadbeat to pay - of course I lost the portion of that fee the lawyer charged me but I was vindicated.

Freelance grant writers should use a contract that has the three enforceable components: (1) offer and acceptance; (2) legal intent; and, (3) consideration.  At the most basic level, a contract is  binds two or more parties in an agreement to perform acts specified within the language of the contract in exchange for something of value.

 Offer and Acceptance  (This is the heart of "The Deal")
All contracts involve an offer by one party and an acceptance of the offer by the other party. The offer is detailed in the contract and the other party can sign the contract in acceptance of the terms or not.

A grant writer offers services in exchange for money and the client may choose to sign the contract or not.

 Intent of the Contract 
The grant writer and their client must enter into the agreement with the intent of binding themselves to the terms of the contract. Signing the contract is evidence of the intent so never even start to write a grant for anyone unless you have a signed contract.

 Contractual Consideration 
Contracts must include a consideration (a recompense or payment, as for work done; compensation - of value in order to be legally binding. This means that both the grant writer and the client must receive something of value from binding themselves to the contract. Grant writers are only likely to enter a contract in which the consideration is money.  But the client enters into the contract for a different type of consideration, and that is the promise to perform grant writing work. A grant writer who enters into a contract and fails to complete and submit the grant is in danger of being sued for failure to perform.

 Parties to the Contract 
The grant writer and the client who is to sign the contract must be legally able to participate in the deal. This means that the signatory for the client agency must be legally authorized to enter into a contract for that agency.  In a school district, the people with authorization to bind the agency to a contract are only those who are authorized in an approved action of the Board of Directors. If the person who signs is not legally authorized to sign, then you probably have an unenforceable contract (ask an attorney).

 Before You Enter a Contract 
Sometimes a client has a standard contract format they prefer to use.  Read any contract carefully including the fine print.  If you are unable to understand all the language, consult with an attorney before you bind yourself to it.

If you want another opinion, ask another grant writer.

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Photo Credit - Henk L

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.