According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, parents with children under age 18 are more likely to volunteer than persons without children, 31.3 percent versus 22.6 percent (in the year 2015)

There are many benefits and reasons to volunteer with kids. First, interests and habits established in childhood are far more likely to transfer to adulthood. Making volunteering a priority throughout a child’s formative years establishes volunteering as an important part of their future identity. Volunteering also increases empathy. Working to enhance the lives of others creates openings for families to discuss how others feel. Additionally, giving to others fosters a sense of gratitude and appreciation. By seeing the challenges others face, children gain a deeper appreciation for their own situation. Finally, volunteering provides opportunities to increase cultural competence and experience diversity. The more we encourage children to expand their network of social circles   their understanding of varying perspectives becomes wider. They will learn more about how other people live and think.

The credentials behind my name state that I am a certified grant writer with the technical knowledge needed to write a strong grant proposal.  I love logic models, evidence-based strategies, and rigorous data collection methods.  Those things make my job easier. Yet the clients I work with face increasingly complex, multi-layer challenges, problems without clear definitions or technical solutions, daily.  In the past, I would find myself getting slightly frustrated when a program I was tasked with writing a grant for had a small number of beneficiaries, or had frequently changing curriculum, or had a high turnover in participants between pre- and post-test measures.  How do I write a grant for that?

Many people have asked me over the years how I went from being a music teacher to a grant writer. I think there are two key components which made this a very natural transition for me.

  1. My liberal arts music education degree emphasized quality no matter what our major. We were prepared to defend our program with research, explain how our teaching was tied to standards, and prepare and defend a budget which aligned to what we were teaching. Making a logical argument to defend a quality program is not that different from convincing a funder a program is worth funding.
  2. I began my teaching career in two low-income school districts, one rural and one urban. I started writing grants for my urban classroom. My grants used activities and assessments aligned to national standards. Here I was trying to provide the same kind of experiences I had seen in the suburban districts where I had done student teaching, like using technology in classrooms, and greater performing experiences for students. My experience in both districts increased my understanding of students who did not have the same background knowledge and families who had to choose between rent and food. Private music lessons and concerts were not an option.

“We can find a way to fix that, can't we?”

When I started teaching English Language Learners in 2008, I had no idea the number of times I would say that phrase.  I have found myself in over my head numerous times with that statement, but I believe in finding solutions rather than just griping about problems.

My early days in the nonprofit development world consisted of tracking donations in Raisers Edge, writing thank you letters, drafting E-newsletters, answering phones, and supporting the department through various administrative tasks. Oh, and recruiting my hubby to lift heavy objects at special events while I pulled bid sheets, sold raffle tickets, and met donors. Quickly, I moved up the ranks, taking on new and exciting responsibilities such as volunteer coordinator, donations manager, Community Relations Coordinator/PR Coordinator, and finally special events manager. While I loved this time of growth and learning, I was excited when five years into my career I was presented with the opportunity to become the Director of Grants at my organization. My boss at the time knew my strengths well, and knew that I would succeed in this area. For most of my career prior to doing grants, I had truly enjoyed writing about nonprofit programs through newsletters and press releases. 

It is getting to be that time of year again.  Many agencies and funders are finishing up their fiscal year and planning for the next one.  Funders are requesting final reports and agencies are deciding what to include in next year’s budget.

This is a wonderful time for grant professionals and development staff.  You are able to collect data and stories about the effect your programs have had on your clients.  Plus, program staff are already thinking about their needs for next year as they build their budgets.  Most of them will be told that one or more items cannot be included in the budget.  Or you may be able to work with the finance department to determine what items in the program budgets can be funded through grants.

I have worked with a wide variety of organizations in the last ten years, but I have found no direct program staff more reticent to write grants than classroom teachers. They, like most program staff are "too busy", "don't know how" or "not sure even where to start." Yet, in my experience, they are some of the most qualified direct staff with whom I have ever worked.

Need: Classroom teachers know the demographics and personal stories of their children. They know what the children need, both at school and frequently at home.

Simply put, there are three main challenges that nonprofit leaders face when trying to write grants: time, time and time. If you’re in a leadership role, you know that I’m only partially kidding! Grant writing – when done right – takes time, and I’ve never met an executive director or other nonprofit leader that thought they have enough. This is especially true for small- and medium-sized organizations where nearly all of the functional responsibilities are handled by the executive director. It also applies to organizations of any size that don’t employ a development staff or, at a minimum, a staff grant writer.

All nonprofit organizations are noticing an increase in requests for logic models, but I believe these requests are more frequent for human service organizations.  In addition, I believe human service organizations struggle with developing high quality logic models more than any other nonprofit sector.

A standard logic model is a graphic representation of how a program is supposed to work.  While there is some variation in the exact categories, most include:

Last month we talked about how to apply for grant funding to support small projects in the classroom. As teachers dream about how to bring innovative hands-on projects to their students, many of their dreams will grow and teachers will begin to be frustrated with the dollar limitations of these grants. Today’s blog will talk about how to develop high quality large classroom projects that can still be supported by grant funding.

The most common way to do this is to build mini-projects within your large project. My big dream was to build a multi-media music education classroom where my students could learn to play the piano, learn music theory, train their ear, and learn to compose. The budget quickly grew over $25,000 and I despaired as my school was not a non-profit 501(c)3 organization (more about this part later).

After finding the federal grant for which you think might be a good fit for your organization (see previous blog: How to study a federal RFP to figure out if it is right for you), the next step is to determine who the best people are to work on the grant team and whether the team has enough time to meet and get the grant ready before the deadline.  

So, who should be on your grant team?

1. Program – Who is most likely to be running the program?  Who will supervise this person?  Who is ultimately responsible for the program’s success?  Who will ensure staff buy-in (if this is a new program)?

One of the ways organizations can be more prepared when the “perfect” grant comes along with a very short timeline is to already have a file of standard attachments.  With more grants being submitted electronically, we recommend that all of these documents be scanned in portable document format (PDF).  Here is a list of common attachments foundations and the federal government will request:

1. 501(c)3 Tax Exempt Letter – This is not your exemption from state sales tax but a letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) verifying your non-profit status.

I got my start grant writing when I was a music teacher. There were many small fun projects I wanted to do with my students which did not require a lot of money. Unfortunately, because I worked for an urban school district, neither the district, nor my students had any money to bring these projects to fruition. So I started to look for grant funding to support my innovative education.

There are quite a few grants available to help teachers implement innovative projects in their classroom. In general, these grants range from $200-$5,000. If you are creative and persistent, this amount of money can provide a lot of education and fun for students.

Assel Grant Services enjoys writing federal grants and is commonly called upon to write these grants with very little lead time. When this short lead time is requested by an organization we have worked extensively with in the past, this is pretty easy to do. Unfortunately, we are often contacted by organizations who:
1) Have never worked with Assel Grant Services,
2) Have never written or managed a federal grant,
3) Have not completed their federal registrations (subject of an upcoming blog),
4) Have very little preparation time before the federal grant is due, and/or
5) Do not know if their project is truly a good fit for the federal grant opportunity.