Writing

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.

As we say goodbye to the year that seemed it would never end, I am looking forward to 2021 with renewed hope. In the spirit of new beginnings, our January blog series is focused on resetting. Be it working from home, adjusting offices to allow for social distancing, or changing jobs altogether, a lot of us unexpectedly found ourselves working in new spaces over the course of the last year. Even as someone who works from home in non-pandemic times, I’m used to only sharing my workspace with four-legged office mates who sleep most of the day. The pandemic forced me to explore new places to work within my house to cope with my new two-legged office mate that no longer left the house every morning. If you’re like me, your new workspace might not be what most people consider “permanent” (maybe because, also like me, you were hoping it would be a more temporary solution). Or perhaps you’ve weathered the storm that was 2020 in the same space you’ve worked for years. Either way, the start of the new year is a great excuse to reset, rethink, and reclaim your workspace so you can prepare to take on a new year of possibilities.

The topic of ethics in grants is incredibly broad, as there are often many moving parts and people involved with grant awards. The fund-seeking agency might have a variety of staff members contributing to the process: the executive director, program staff, finance staff, a grant writer, maybe even the board of directors. And then, of course, if the agency receives an award, there are ethical considerations for managing the sometimes very large sums of money. Once again, there might be a host of individuals carrying out the program activities, reporting progress, expending the funds, and so on. In other words, the agency is responsible for ensuring ethical practices across many levels of a grant award. But for the purposes of this discussion, I want to back up a bit. What about some of the ethics that go into researching and writing the proposal?

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.