Monday, January 9, 2012

What Do Foundations Look For in Grant Applications?

Professional grant writers know that 2012 is going to be a challenging year. There will be lots of wins, but also plenty of uphill battles to get the gifts that our organizations need. We know that nonprofits are competing for fewer grant dollars and that government grants are shrinking. It won’t be easy to reach our goals.

Having a few tips for success in your back pocket might just come in handy when you are looking to reengage past funders or have conversations with new ones. Below are some tips given directly from Foundation leaders and program officers about working with foundations to secure grant funding. Where better to get advice than from the people who write the checks?

What should grantseekers look for BEFORE submitting a proposal?
  • Do your research!
  • Know who is on the foundation board. Do you have a connection?
  • Does the foundation have established priorities that align with your mission?
  • Review the foundation’s past grant awards.
  • What is the foundation’s typical dollar range for grant making?
  • Are they open to Challenge Grants?
  • What is their funding cycle?
  • Call and speak to a Program Officer to make your initial contact (if allowed for unsolicited).
What do Foundations look for AFTER the proposal has been submitted?
  • Complete and thorough answers to questions. Don’t just give a partial answer.
  • Concise needs statements. Why should we fund your project? What difference will it make?
  • Broad public support.
  • Detailed budget.
  • Evidence of collaboration—not just letters of support.
  • Most foundations don’t like to be the “first ones in” with money. 

My best advice is “do your research”. I've been there, done that and seen what it is like to learn the hard way. Don’t go blindly into the proposal process or set unrealistic expectations for your team because you heard “somewhere” that a foundation funds programs like yours. Be smart and stay on track. A little research can go a long way!

Adapted from Joan Flanagan © 2005

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Grant Writing 101: Giving Thanks and Saying Thanks

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” ~ William Arthur Ward

Lessons of thankfulness are highly applicable in the world of grant writing. Being thankful and saying "thanks" to funders who have helped you achieve your goals is imperative to a lasting relationship and future giving. Whether the funder rejected your proposal or continues to give, year after year, saying “thank you” will help cultivate long-term giving and represents gratitude to the funder in a way that money can’t.  

The idea of “giving thanks” and “saying thanks” resonated for me last week when I was volunteering with a local arts organization that uses the arts to help kids excel in school and in life. I was sitting in a room with a handful of high school students and we were all wildly beating on our djembe drums in fantastic harmony…it was brilliant! I was older and less cool than my fellow drummers, but I had a blast! 

What occurred to me during this moment was what how grateful I was for sharing in a creative experience with amazing teens. They welcomed me into their group and shared openly. I was free to make mistakes, laugh, and learn alongside them. I was genuinely filled with gratitude. Immediately, I felt like I had to thank each one of them for the brightness they brought to my day, but the session ended and I didn’t get to share my appreciation. My gratitude was the wrapped present that I didn’t get to give away. I was disappointed and feeling a bit guilty—like I had taken something without the proper “thank you”. I was grateful, but never said it. 

This same principle is applicable when fostering relationships with funders. What if your program receives a $20,000 grant and only sends a form-letter thank you. It’s enough by legal standards, but something is missing—right? Something in the back of your mind is constantly nagging, “I should really tell them ‘thank you’ again” or “I need to let them know how this money helped our organization” or “If they could only see how these kids light up with new instruments in their hands”. How often do we act in a timely and personalized way to say “thanks”?

Another example came to me earlier this week when I heard about a mother who used an iPad to sing lullabies to her child who was staying in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Infection-control concerns made it impossible for the mother to sit next to her child, but technology gave her a way to still comfort her child. The iPad was donated by a donor and they didn’t know this was the impact of their gift. It might be shared in a year-end report, but that’s it. The organization had good intentions and thought “it would be great if we could tell the donor about this, but we have been too busy”. We all have genuine intentions, but sometimes they just don’t come to light. Too many tasks and too few hours complicate our efforts. It's important to remember that if the donor knew now how their gift made a difference, they might feel more like a partner in the success and less like the piggy bank. 

As the end of the year approaches and we are looking towards next week’s Thanksgiving celebrations, I urge us all to see the difference in “giving thanks” and “saying thanks”. Nonprofit professionals are always grateful for donors, volunteers and funders, but do we say “thanks” enough? Do we say it in the right ways? Do our donors, volunteers and funders hear us? Let’s step up our game and reach out a little more to say the “thank yous” that we are all thinking. Hearing “thanks” is universally appreciated and rarely inappropriate – even for big funders. Gratitude is always remembered. 

Give thanks. Be grateful.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Create the Right Words for Grant Proposals

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”  ~ Mark Twain

How do you create the perfect words that make your proposal shine? I once heard someone say that "Good writing comes from good thinking". It's true. Thinking critically about the words you use makes all the difference! The right words and the best words will help you float to the top of the proposal pile.

Use active voice. I refer to this list of 100 Great Resume Words to help generate action in my writing. Using the active voice will help shorten and clarify what you are trying to say to your reader.

Think carefully about the words you use. Write in layman's terms. Don't use fancy jargon if it distracts from the core of your proposal. 

Saying "we offer educational arts programming to at-risk youth in the community" is fine, but why not say "we teach after school art classes to kids who otherwise would not be able to learn about and create different forms of art". The revised version makes a lot more sense to the reader. When the right words are formed into a clear statement your entire proposal is propelled forward.

Make sure your writing can pass the "grandmother test". Can you explain to your grandmother what you are trying to do without having to repeat yourself? Try it.

Practice writing three concise sentences about your need. A beginning. A middle. An end. Where are you today? Where will you be? Why is it important? If you can succinctly explain the "so what" of your work, you'll be able to complete a proposal that has powerful wording on every page.

Show it, don't just tell it. The reader won't be engaged if you only tell them that your organization provided $155,000 worth of arts education last year. So what? Show your impact with words that describe how lives are changed and how your community (or the global one) is better because you exist. Use stories. Get quotes. Connect the reader to the your cause.

The right words will create the lightning bugs that get your proposal funded!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Using the Best Words in Grant Proposals

Cracks in your shack? Smoke in your stack?

One of my favorite books as a child  was "Oh Say Can You Say" by Dr. Suess. Without any doubt, Dr. Suess is still teaching me lessons today--especially in proposal writing.

When writing a complicated proposal with heavy research elements or detailed evaluation processes, I sometimes find myself getting tongue-tied around scientific terms, jargon and extra long words that sound smarter (but really aren't) than shorter ones. Dr. Suess reminds me to think carefully about the words I use and how they can help me say what I really want to say. 

The truth is that writing a great proposal doesn't require jargon or Scrabble-winning word scrambles. It just requires good words. Early in my grant writing adventures, I didn't mind using big, fancy words and in fact, I gravitated towards some phrases as my "safety words" because they sounded strong and confident. Today, I don't love those big words in the same way. I use my best words to create magic and use big words more sparingly in order to make the real heart of the proposal jump off the page. 

Since I've been writing grants professionally, I've learned 2 important things:

1. "Never use a long word where a short one will do." George Orwell

2. Cut out words that aren't doing any work. (Why should they get a free ride?)

The key to success? Avoid a proposal full of tongue twisters and complicated jargon. Get it right with the right words!


Friday, October 14, 2011

Grant Professionals Create Fireworks!

Last week I shared the power of grant writing with approximately 600 other grant professional at the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Dr. Bev Browning was right! When more than one grant writer is in the room fireworks happen!
Professional development is important in any career, but I believe even more so in the nonprofit sector. Business practices, rules, regulations and strategies for success are constantly evolving. How do we talk to donors? What is our case for support this year? How do we navigate a recession and still raise money AND demonstrate outcomes?  It takes dedicated study to understand all the changes in the nonprofit world and how to apply them to our work. Conference gatherings are a smart way to share in the good, the bad and the ugly of it all.
What did I learn at the GPA Conference? I was reassured that every grant writer faces the same challenges. We all want to tell better stories, we all want to raise more money and we all want to have a strategic advantage with our funders. We also want more hours in the day. I was so motivated that I jumped back into work the moment I returned and haven't come up for air since. I have three full pages of “to dos”. I’ve conquered about 20 items this week.
As a consultant, I am always meeting new clients and working with different personalities. I enjoy the environment of a conference, but it can also an overwhelming social experience when you want talk with everyone you meet. I met too many excellent grant writers to list on my post, but these are three people who attended the conference and who I think bring a refreshing expert voice to the sector. Enjoy!
Three Nonprofit and Fundraising Professionals You Should Know
1. Darian Rodriguez Heyman: A key takeaway came from Darian Rodriquez Heyman. He reminded the audience that “donors aren't giving money to you, they are giving money through you.” Darian recently published the book, Nonprofit Management 101. I’ve ordered my copy and can’t wait to read it as soon as it arrives. His website delivers practical insights and easy to implement solutions for professionals and organizations seeking to meet mission and maximize impact. Darian calls it “your compass for the social sector.” It’s pretty great. Twitter: @dheyman
2. Stephen C. Nill, CharityChannel CEO: Charity Channel was founded in 1992 by Stephen Nill, who saw a need for colleagues to connect, share and discuss pertinent challenges and issues. Charity Channel co-presented the GPA conference and brought a welcomed discussion about the greater nonprofit sector. If you aren’t a member of CharityChannel, I would highly recommend it, especially for consultants. You’ll meet experts and novices alike who are all sharing knowledge and having discussions about grant writing, fundraising, and nonprofit management. Twitter: @CharityChannel 
3. Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. Need I say more?  The Foundation Center maintains the most comprehensive database on U.S. grantmakers and their grants around the world; issues a wide variety of print, electronic, and online information resources; conducts and publishes research on trends in foundation growth, giving, and practice; and offers an array of free and affordable educational programs. Bradford was honest, candid and super smart. His discussion received rave reviews!
I also swear by Grant Space, which is part of the Foundation Center, when my creative juices get stuck or I need a resource that is specifically tailored for grant writing. Nobody knows grant research and resources better than Grant Space! Twitter: @GrantSpace @FndCenter
The GPA Conference had many firework moments. Explosions of creativity naturally happen when passionate people get together to make their world a better place. Networking helps keep your skills fresh and reboot your engine. It is also a fantastic way to meet new friends. I made many this time around. Finding new connections in your own community or through national conferences will make your brain stronger and your work smarter. What is better than that?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Giving Show: Top 10 Grantmaking Foundations

Today, I had the awesome privilege of being a guest on the Michael Chatman Giving Show with guest host, Ian Adair! We shared "Ian and April's Top Ten National Foundations" with listeners and tips for approaching the big players in the grantmaking arena. Many, many thanks to the loyal listeners who helped make my first appearance one to remember! We barley scratched the surface about finding the right foundation funder, but we had a great time!
Large foundations receive a lot of requests and it is the responsibility of an ideal grant recipient to do their homework before they approach the foundation. Don’t be intimidated if you believe your organization has a strong fit, BUT don’t jeopardize your future relationship with a poorly thought-out strategy. As a fellow development professional once said…”a little research goes a long way.”
I can't stress enough that just because you hear about a foundation on NPR and you know they have deep pockets, it doesn't mean that they are right for your organization or that you are right for them. 
Tips for Approaching National Foundations
  • Know your funders. Research. Research. Research. What makes them tick? Do you share an interest? Do they fund organizations that are similar to yours? What is their annual giving? How many grants do they give per year? Do they have a regional representative or one in my community? 
    • Use the Foundation Center and Grant Space. They are my magic fairy dust when I need to know more about a particular funder. They have FREE profile templates, webinars and training sessions. Yes, FREE! 
  • Read the guidelines. I'm reminded of a direct quote from a foundation director a few weeks ago, "We don't get as many people reading the guidelines as we'd like". It's the nice way of saying, "Please don't waste our time or yours".  Don't force a square peg in a round hole.
  • Start with a relationship in mind. What type of partnership can you create with a potential funder. They don’t want to be your bank account—even if they like limited contact with grantees.
  • Respect the funder. Nagging gets you nothing. If a foundation does not want a lot of hands-on contact with a prospective grantee, you must respect their position.  Large foundations receive too many inquiries to respond to all of them like they want. They need policies that protect their organization too.
  • Create your own Top 10 Foundations list to share with development staff and your board of directors. Do you have a relationship with any board members? Staff? Use the list as one piece of your fundraising pie and to jump start high-level giving.
Giving Show: Top Ten Grantmaking Foundations
  1. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest operated private foundation the world.  The primary aims of the foundation are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology.
  2. During 2009, the Walton Family Foundation invested more than $378 million in a wide variety of domestic and international projects that addressed significant social and environmental issues, and sought to create exciting new opportunities. The foundation continues to implement and expand grant making to fund a positive difference in many diverse communities.
  3. The mission of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is to improve the health and health care of all Americans. Their goal is clear: To help our society transform itself for the better.
  4. Through the support it provides, the MacArthur Foundation fosters the development of knowledge, nurtures individual creativity, strengthens institutions, helps improve public policy, and provides information to the public, primarily through support for public interest media.
  5. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports children, families, and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society.
  6. The Wal-Mart Foundation strives to provide opportunities that improve the lives of individuals in our communities including our customers and associates.
  7. The grant making philosophy of Andrew Mellon Foundation is to build, strengthen and sustain institutions and their core capacities, rather than be a source for narrowly defined projects
  8. Kresge Foundation has seven, narrowly defined programs that each in its own way works to improve the life circumstances of poor and low-income children and adults and those living in underserved urban and rural communities.
  9. Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization, dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States. The primary mission of the Foundation is to foster public policies, human-service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families.
  10. Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts.
Happy researching, cultivating and fundraising!!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Grant Savvy: Words of Wisdom From Passionate Players

 "Good friends and excellent teachers - Stick close to them! Wealth and power are fleeting dreams but wise words perfume the world for ages."  ~Ryokan  

It's been a while since Grant Savvy posted. We're editing, finding our mistakes, changing, fixing up the kinks and getting ready to take our savvy-ness to the next level. Soooo...while Grant Savvy spends valuable time tuning the blog and working with nonprofits that are trying to raise money for great causes, I hope you will consider checking out these favorite blogroll friends! They are all wise and passionate about nonprofits, fundraising and grant writing.  

1. Joanne Fritz: She is a guru and always impresses me with intelligent content and links to resources. I would ask her a million questions if we were ever stuck in an elevator together. Luckily she has a wonderful blog where I can dig for information all day and night. You'll be glad you found her!

2. Pamela Grow: Oh, Pamela. She is brilliant and one of my first Twitter friends. She constantly inspires me to be a better fundraiser and a better businesswoman. She knows her stuff and is passionate about helping organizations through the grant process. Visit her site and you'll be smarter.

3. Ephraim Gopin: I like Ephraim because he is fun and smart and loves fundraising. He recently posted a list of his Twitter Fine Fifty. It is a list of the 50 people, organizations and foundations he thinks a nonprofit/NPO worker should follow when they first join Twitter. The whole blog is a fantastic read, but this list will connect you with some amazing nonprofit folks.

4. Grant Space via the Foundation Center: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Grant Space rocks. It's like the Snuggle commercials that just make you feel good. Every page is filled with resources, samples, training won't leave disappointed!

To making new friends...