Writing

Did you wake up with a foreboding sense of deja vu? Like you've written the exact same narrative over and over again? There are not too many occasions when I can relate to Bill Murray waking up and reliving the same day, except when I find myself reworking the same narrative for another application. You know the feeling – when you have tried and true narrative pieces that perfectly depict the history, need, and program design that makes you feel like you are stuck on repeat? So, what can you do when the programs aren’t changing, but you need to breathe some life into the writing? Here are some tips to refresh your writing and wake up feeling rejuvenated for a busy grant season!

Case statements are a vital component of a nonprofit fundraising strategy. They are living documents that describe the essential elements of an organization or specific program. These comprehensive descriptions cover topics most funders request – organization history, goals and outcomes, sustainability plan, organizational structure, etc. The purpose is not to create a generic grant to send out to every funder you know but to serve as a starting point for tailoring information to a specific request. A case statement helps information remain consistent among multiple proposals and establishes a master document for updating annual information, statistics, and outcomes. These documents can also be tailored for individual donor prospects, bring a new partner up to speed, or inform new staff on the organization. Creating a comprehensive case statement requires an investment of time. The good news is that annual maintenance is much easier once it is complete. Here are some helpful tips to keep your case statement fresh in the coming year:

Looking to re-submit a proposal that didn’t get funded last year? Applying for a new funding opportunity? Or re-applying for a highly competitive grant? If this sounds like you, listen up! Grant proposals are denied for so many different reasons and sometimes, unbeknownst to us. In the best cases, you get reviewer feedback, but more likely you are left wondering where your proposal went wrong and what could be done differently to set it apart from the flood of other applicants. Fear not – here are some tried and true, back-to-the-basics ways to improve your proposal and elevate it from the competition.  

One of the most important resources in nonprofit organizations is the staff. They form relationships with the people they serve. They build relationships in the community to find the resources clients need. Without them, the nonprofit programs and services which affect millions of lives would fall silent. While we are advocates of writing grants which describe how the target population is involved in the program, this does not mean that organizations should stop describing the strengths of their staff. Here are four ways to highlight the quality and importance of your staff in your next grant:

Recently, I conducted a pre-submission peer review on several federal grant proposals from organizations located in rural Kansas. The first question each organization had to respond to was, “Describe your geographical/service area.” Each organization named the counties served in their respective service areas and then went on to describe just how ‘rural’ their area is. While each applicant organization had some aspects of serving rural areas of Kansas in common, they each approached the description differently. Some of the descriptions included the total square mileage contained within their service boundaries; others referenced the state’s definitions that place a county on a continuum of ‘frontier’ to ‘urban’; others pointed out the distance in hours to the nearest major city. Ultimately, each applicant described their geographical service area with the purpose of convincing federal reviewers that Organization XYZ was the only provider of important services for its region.

You want me to write about what? How can I write about progress when the right data wasn’t collected to measure progress? Grant professionals are frequently faced with the reality of gaps in data in pre-award, and post-award. We are asked to respond to sections which require a discussion of national, regional, and local data to justify need; as well as sections requesting data-supported rationale for the proposed intervention, and finally a proposed series of measurable objectives indicated by an improvement over baseline. Sometimes there is something to work with. Oftentimes we are asked to work magic!

As grant professionals, we all know that using strong, relevant data from reliable sources to support our case for funding is essential to a quality, competitive application. Although this is true across all types of applications, it is especially relevant when applying for federal grants. While stories bring our programs to life for a reviewer, used artfully data provides the foundation that makes it possible to build a captivating (and winning) case for support. I’m going to provide you with some resources you can use to make finding - and citing - that crucial piece of data easier next time you need it.

May is a month of growth. Trees leaf out more fully and flowers bloom. The temperature rises without being sweltering. We slip the cold bonds of winter and the chaotic weather of early spring, and we breathe deeply of air redolent with the fragrance of blossoms and freshly mown grass. I do, at least until my allergies cause my sinuses to shut tighter than a 100-words-or-less organizational description. As spring’s warmth sets in, we may clean out some of the clutter we accumulated during the long winter. Yes, May is a good month for decluttering our living spaces, and it’s a good month to declutter our writing. By paring down our writing to its essentials, we can be much more effective as grant writers. We can actually grow by shrinking. And not only can we reduce the physical space our writing occupies, but we can also reduce the effort needed to read it and understand it.

Hello April! I am greeting this month with big, open arms – ready for sunshine, warmer temperatures, open windows, and a good, deep spring cleaning (who doesn’t love washing windows and scrubbing baseboards?). If those are not enough reasons to love April, here’s one more: it’s National Volunteer Month – a time to celebrate and promote volunteerism and helping hands. As a grant professional in the field for over 16 years, I have come to understand and deeply appreciate the value of a helping hand. One of the most valuable helping hands I have seen is proposal reviews, particularly for federal proposals (perfect timing as spring is often a federal grant season!). I have been fortunate enough to experience both internal and external reviews from those who are unfamiliar with my proposal’s program or the agency. BONUS: I have also served as an external reviewer for federal grant programs. The benefits of these extra eyes and hands are invaluable especially in an ever growing, highly competitive environment.