Writing

Grant professionals are oftentimes asked to address multiple questions which require an in-depth response but with limited word (or worse, character) counts. In my transition from a legal career to grant writing, this was, and still remains, one of the strongest skills I brought to the table. Consequently, law school also taught me how to whittle down content like nobody’s business but that’s for another day. There’s a fundamental formula every 1L (i.e. first-year law student) learns for approaching narrative questions, or as we referred to them in my law school days, hypotheticals (hypos for short). The C-R-A-C* methodology (conclusion, rule, analysis, conclusion) is taught as an organization tool for making an effective legal argument. As a grant professional, I use a simplified version of this method to construct my narratives. For our purposes today, we’ll be focusing on applying these strategies to the ‘Need’ section of a proposal.

Grant writers often have to fit lots of content into character, word, or page limits. We always have to worry about keeping a reader’s attention. One way we condense content is by using a series, a list of three or more items separated by commas. One way to confuse readers and lose their attention is to write a series that doesn’t make sense. This blog post will help you avoid that so you can write as clearly and concisely as possible.

I am the type of person whose brain is constantly thinking, even in my sleep. The harder the problem, the more likely I am to have several nights of sleep interrupted by fragments of thought my brain is trying to work through. Two weeks ago, this was my situation. I was preparing to submit a grant to a funder on the cutting edge of the equity discussion. As a significant funder with a large corpus, the Health Forward Foundation is leading by example and investing in organizations that otherwise might be overlooked by other foundations. My client serves a population not in Kansas City, Missouri proper, but one whose challenges mirrored those living in the middle of the city: high unemployment, low-paying jobs for those who are employed, high mobility for families struggling to pay their rent, and families in and out of homelessness when ends did not always meet. Families struggle with the trauma common to multi-generational poverty. Children struggle with adverse childhood experiences. But there are no mental health resources located in the community, and this is what my grant was trying to address. The grant had been drafted for over a week when the demonstrations against systemic racism began. As I watched, listened, read, and thought, this grant proposal started to bother me. Had I truly reflected the need of the population and the context of the situation? How had I described the population who would receive these services – as those in need or those with a need? Were we truly putting forth the best portrayal of the client organizations we serve? Were we showing the strengths of the clients they serve? Were we doing anything to push back against systemic racism?

Grant proposals consist of a variety of components depending on each grant’s requirements. Most require some form of a budget, whether that is a simple project budget or a complex organizational budget, or both. Some will also include a budget narrative or justification and any number of other attachments. But in any grant proposal, the narrative is where you will likely spend most of your time. Fortunately, the proposal’s narrative is the fun part! This is where you get to put your storytelling skills to work. So how do you get started? Much like an author would begin a novel, start with an outline.

Parallelism: Lining up your lists to avoid throwing your reader a curveball. We’re grant writers. We often have to fit lots of content into character, word, or page limits. We always have to worry about keeping a reader’s attention. One way we condense content is by using a series, a list of three or more items separated by commas. One way to confuse readers and lose their attention is to write series that don’t make sense. This blog post will help you avoid that so you can write as clearly and concisely as possible.

Like many of you, school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have placed me in the - let’s be honest - not entirely welcome position of balancing a full-time career with my new role of homeschool teacher. I naively and, looking back on it, pompously believed that this would be a piece of cake. I have teenagers, not small children who demand constant attention. They are good students. How hard can it be? Hard. Harder than I thought possible.

You are knee deep in a large government grant proposal and… The executive director calls you on the way to another meeting and quickly ambles off a new strategy the agency will be embarking on that must be included in the proposal. The finance person sends you an email with three new expenses to include in the budget. As you are leaving a meeting with the evaluation team, you are told about a new assessment tool the agency will be implementing…