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

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Signs of a Professional Grant Writer

I have high appreciation for professional people. Now before you think I am an elitist, white-collar snob, allow me to state that my use of the word professional is equally applied to anyone of any craft, trade, "profession", or art. The label must be earned through demonstration of diligent effort and adherence to principles. The title Professional is not awarded on sheepskin or vellum and it is not donned via fancy suits and ties.

I consider a professional person to be someone who earns the title.  Professional people are not hard to identify because they stand out, there few of them.

A grant writer must act as a professional person or soon be out of work. Here are some areas in which a grant writer must earn their professional stature.

  •   Confidentiality – A grant writer sometimes privy to information that an agency shares with few employees.  This information often includes needs data and fiscal information required to write applications. A grant writer often gains “insider” information about an agency that should never be shared. To do so only feeds the ever hungry gossip grapevine.
  • Honesty – A grant writer must resist pressure to write inaccuracies or exaggerations about an agency to improve their appeal to the grant maker. 
  •  Integrity – A grant writer must be reliable because they often work alone. Grant writers must possess the inner drive to complete difficult revisions and editing out of a desire to do a professional job of writing. A grant writer must charge fees that represent fair market value for services rendered.
  • Expertise – A grant writer must complete highly technical narratives. A grant narrative requires excellent writing skills and technical ability to write with authority.

I was enrolled in a summer University course many years ago toward my Master’s degree.  The instructor’s husband was visiting the class one afternoon and we met by chance on a balcony at break.  We spoke of my future plans and he gave me words of encouragement. He urged me to set my mind on becoming a professional, “It doesn’t matter what you do, but be a Pro at it. If you do, you’ll be a huge success, because there are so few Pro’s out there.”

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Photo Credit - Ali Farid

Monday, April 11, 2011

Grants Mean Change

It’s important to understand that grants mean change and that there is a predictable process to change within an organization. I learned when I was in a leadership position that it’s difficult to change a light bulb without stepping on someone’s toes so major changes require determined effort and planning.
There are many models for change process but the one I like best is an inverted bell curve with highs on both sides and a low in the middle.  In this model, people enter into the change process on a high with “uninformed optimism.” This is akin to the kind of the high you feel when your grant is funded.  WOOHOO! We just won a million dollar grant! But wait, as Forest Gump would say about getting a lot of money, it’s merely “One less thang.”

There are a bunch of other “thangs” still in play, like all the reasons you needed the funding. All the needs are still there, just as real and ever more pressing.  Only now you’re expected to solve them, you have to put staff and processes in place to do that.  It’s a lot of work.

Realizing that getting the grant doesn’t solve the needs is when people in the change process enter into the “informed pessimism” stage where all the difficulties involved in making the change emerge.  There are a plethora of challenges including new staff who need training, integrating new programs and staff with existing ones, etc. New staff in a new program tend to get overwhelmed and need a lot of direction for a while. Plus, they’re people so they need to be supervised, and list could go on and on…

Then as things get sorted out a little bit the bell curve usually takes an upswing. Optimism returns little by little as problems are sorted out, needs are being met, services are delivered, positive feedback and data are encouraging, the change becomes incorporated into the organization.

In planning a grant program, consider these important aspects of the change process:
  • Does the model fit your agency culture?
  • Do you have the right people for the work?
  • Do you have a plan for giving clear roles and responsibilities to everyone involved?
  • Are you prepared to give proper authority to those involved to ensure performance?
  • Prepare a plan to help existing employees adapt and grow with guidance.
  • Prepare a communication plan that encourages input and keeps people informed.

About the time you sort out all the change a grant creates, it is probably nearing the end of its funding cycle.  When a funding cycle ends, you may need to seek other funding, reduce the program scope, or phase out the program entirely.  Change is a natural cycle that grants create for an organization.  Boards and leadership need to understand how to lead a change process in order to successfully manage grants.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Positive Thinking in a Changing Grant World

One of the key attributes our clients seek in a grant writer is a positive attitude. Agencies and managers who seek grants customarily do so out of a desire to expand their programs. They willingly take on more work to positively impact more clients and to spread the influence of their services. About 99% of the people I’ve written grants for are optimistic, mission-driven, and highly dedicated.

These economic times are challenging many people to remain positive in the face of cutbacks, loss of personnel, and reduced budgets.  Not everyone can remain positive in the face of change; yet, the only constant in today’s grant and non-profit world is change. 

We’re being impacted by forces beyond our control, so do as Poet Laureate Maya Angelou advised, “…if you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Grant writers must be prepared for change and embrace it with a positive attitude. Here are five ways to be positive when in the midst of change:
  1. Validate the positive people you work with.
  2. Encourage positive statements when you hear them.
  3. Stay out of drama whenever possible.
  4. Self-monitor your own language and avoid joining negative conversations.
  5. Smile…don’t react or respond to negativity, turn it around.
The new economic reality requires grant writers to be flexible and adaptable to change.  Staying positive throughout change is vital to a successful grant writing career. 

When times are tough, Grant writers need to remember that you have strong skill sets and talents that may be marketable across a variety of industries. Only grant writers who have the ability to embrace change positively will thrive over time.

Clients seek to work with positive, adaptable grant writers who can move and flow with the constantly changing business realities of the grant world.  If you are a skilled and talented person who thinks positively while adapting your skills and talents to any situation, you’ll do well as a grant writer!

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 Photo Credit: Rodolfo Clix

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.