Monday, August 27, 2012

The Power of Subheadings

You have organized your proposal according to the scoring criteria as the RFP has required or suggested, but you find that you still have large blocks of text and you fear that some of your key points may be lost. There are several ways to highlight your key points.  You can use bold or italics. You can use text boxes or other graphics (if the formatting guidelines allow them). You can also use subheadings.

Subheadings are great way to highlight key points and develop more structure in the proposal. They also allow you to break up the text, which makes it easier to read. And remember, making it easier to read means that the readers will like you. That's a very good thing.

You can create subheadings for the sub-criteria in the scoring guidelines (and you should), but you can also add subheadings that target your key ideas or the core elements of your program design.

Subheadings - simple, but powerful.


Read more tips like this in 101 Tips for Aspiring Grant Writers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Grant Writers Are Not Magicians

Good grant writers can make a lot happen, but we're not magicians. I'm surprised  at how often I've been asked to step far beyond the grant writer role and work miracles within an organization. Here's a partial list of the things I've been asked to do:

  • Make up a program design when none exists.
  • Use language to make it look like an organization has been collaborating with other organizations for a long time when, in fact, it hasn't.
  • Write letters of support for partners to sign that "say what we need them to say," rather than what the partner really plans on doing.
  • Write about how the program will be integrated with other programs in the agency when the agency hasn't told me anything about other programs or how they plan to integrate them.
  • Make up in-kind contributions.
  • Put a budget together with no information about actual personnel costs or fringe benefits.
  • "Fudge" needs data to exaggerate the agency's need for the grant.
  • Read through thousands of pages of back up information with the expectation that I'll then have all I need to write a grant for the organization.
  • Take one grant application and "re-purpose" it for other grants at no additional charge because "it's basically the same thing."

Some of these things are unethical. Some are fraudulent. Others are just unrealistic.

Yes, I am the Grant Goddess, and yes, I can make miracles happen.

But that doesn't mean I should, or that I should be expected to in every circumstance.

Have you been asked to do anything unreasonable in your grant writing journey?


FREE grant writing eBooks!  Download them here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

6 Things to Do After the Grant Has Been Submitted

After a grant application has been submitted, it's tempting to just walk away from the project and relax. You've been dealing with intense stress for weeks and you finally crossed the finish line. You deserve a break, right?


But first there are some things you should take care of right away....

  1. Debrief the process.  Go through the entire process from start to finish and make notes about what went well and what didn't go so well. For those things that didn't go as well as you had hoped, what could you have done differently? What will you do differently next time? The longer you wait to do this, the more details you'll forget and less valuable the activity will be.
  2. Send a final copy of the full proposal to your client or Executive Director. As excited as you are to have the project finished, they are just as excited to see the final product. Making them wait until Monday could make them a little anxious, so just do it now.
  3. Confirm online submittal. If you submitted the grant online, be sure that you don't walk away from the project until confirmation has been received.
  4. Fax signature pages to the funder, if required. Some grants require online submittal, but then you have to fax in signed signature pages within 3 days.  Don't wait.  Do it right away. It's easy to forget about this when you have mentally moved on to another project.
  5. Gather up all documents related to the project and put them in one place.  This can be a separate pile on your desk to deal with later, if you'd like, or you can go through the process of filing everything away.  The point is that you don't want to leave your back-up materials scattered all over the place. If you're like most of us, you'll be starting your next project right away (or you have several going on at the time) and cleaning one up before you walk away from it will help you be more efficient as you move on to the others.
  6. Send thank you notes or email to the people who helped you with the process. This is important. I prefer to send a handwritten note when I can, but a heartfelt email is better than nothing. Acknowledging the help and support of others will ensure that you'll get their help the next time you need it. Oh, and it's also just the right thing to do.
Now you can take that well-deserved break.

What other things you do immediately after deadline?


 Get samples of successful grant proposals to help you improve your writing.

Get the Grant Tips iPhone app! Over 100 grant writing tips in the palm of your hand.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Story About Letters of Support

I was working on a grant for a client recently, and the grant called for the inclusion of some letters of support. As we were discussing it, the client asked if I would provide a template that her project partners could simply put on their letterhead and sign. I said, no, because templates are a bad idea. Rather than demonstrate collaboration and support they are actually a demonstration of the opposite.

Think about it.  If you really supported someone's effort, would you show it by signing a form letter that was exactly the same as 20 others or would you write one that spoke to your personal reasons for suporting the person?

Instead of providing a template, I developed some guidelines (in writing, of course) for the partners to follow when developing their letters.  It explained the purpose of the letters and what information should go in each of three paragraphs.  It also gave some examples of potential contributions to the project that they might not think about.

I've used similar guides in the past and the result was excellent letters of support.

Several times during the planning process,however, the client would ask me about a template. I repeated my response and provided yet another copy of the guidelines.

As the deadline approached, the letters started pouring in and they were.....identical. Instead of following my instructions, the client chose to have someone in her organization develop a template and distribute it to the partners.

Not only was it a template, but it was a bad template.  It did not include the specific information that the RFP said should be in each letter.  Apparently, the client didn't even read the guidelines because that information was all there.  We had even talked it through at one point early in the process, but that information apparently was lost as the process continued.

The client was paying a lot of money for an experienced and successful grant writer to write the proposal and guide her organization through the process, but she chose to ignore the advice they paid for. As a result, their application package ended up being substantially weaker than if they had followed the directions. They tried to save everyone some time, and the cost of that effort may be that they don't get the grant.

I guess that makes it a pretty expensive template.


Here's more information on writing good letters of support.

Would you like to have new posts on The Grant Goddess Speaks... sent directly to your email inbox? If so, just enter your email address in the box on the side bar to the right. Don't worry.  Your email addy is safe with us. We never share or sell them.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Passionate Grant Writing

I spend a lot of time focusing on technical details and teaching people how to develop technically correct and persuasive proposals. Those are important. But so is passion.

I read a proposal recently that was technically correct and it had all the right pieces, but I felt nothing. While the statistics showed great need for the grant, it didn't feel like there was a need.

Some of you may be thinking, "It's not about emotion, silly. Just give the facts and tell your story."

I disagree.  As long as there are human readers making decisions about the proposal, emotions play a role.

Here are the suggestions I make for putting enough passion in your proposal:

  1. The first page should be perfect. First impressions matter. Not only should the first page of the narrative be error-free, but it should convey something about your organization that goes beyond the numbers and makes the readers fans of your work. The readers should leave that first page already liking you.
  2. Tell your story like you care. If I were to ask you to tell me about the strengths and needs of your organization, I'm sure you would have plenty to say.  More importantly, I would get a definite feel for how your organization impacts the community and how important the services are. The readers should have no doubt that you care.
  3. Use descriptive language. Think about this sentence: "We will initiate a foot-stomping, in-the-media-spotlight, no-holds-barred cage match with poverty, racism, lack of opportunity, under-education, and a cycle of disenfranchisement among good people who just want a leg up to help their kids rise up." Okay, maybe it's a bit over the top, but it definitely conveys some passion, doesn't it? It also tells you something about the applicant, doesn't it? It gives you a definite image to think about, too. Maybe you won't go this far, but consider this sentence my personal effort to slap you out of the boring, lock-step grant language that you are probably used to seeing and using. That brings me to the next point.....
  4. Expand your use of language. You can't communicate the passion of a zealot using the language of an accountant. I have nothing against accountants, of course, but most would have trouble really expressing the pain of homelessness given the language they typically use. Think about how you would describe your need and your plans to a good friend, to a potential donor, to a newspaper reporter, to a potential employee. Make notes on the words and phrases you use.  Ask others who encounter your services to describe them.  Note the words and phrases they use, too.  Then use some of them.
  5. Read. The best way to expand your language is to read. I always advise people to read grant proposals and I'll continue to make that recommendation, but remember that there are good examples and bad examples. You should be reading many other things, too. The more diverse your reading is, the more diverse your language will be. And here's a hint you probably haven't considered.  If you're having trouble writing with passion, read some books about passion and romance. Don't focus on the plot or even the vocabulary, but on how the author builds the sense of passion and desire. I'm not saying that your grants should be written like romance novels, but that there is something we can learn from all genres. Finally.....
  6. Show some restraint.  Some people have trouble adding life to their writing, but others add too much. Too much flowery writing is simply annoying, and you know you should not annoy the readers. Expressing passion and commitment isn't about throwing out emotional phrases. It's much more nuanced than that. It's about conveying a mood, a feeling. There is such a thing as "too much."
Writing with passion is an advanced grant writing skill. It goes far beyond technical correctness and addressing all of the scoring criteria, but it can make the difference between success and failure.

What are your thoughts about writing with passion?

About Creative Resources & Research

My photo
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.