Answers to the Most Common Questions About Storytelling in Grants

You asked, we answered…after having 1,700+ (woah!!) people register for the free webinar on storytelling in grants that I did last week in partnership with Foundant and their GrantHub product last week, I wanted to answer the most common questions you posed.


Q: What is the best way to refresh your storytelling for foundations to which you apply annually?

A: When you find yourself applying for the continuation of funding from the same foundation each year, you don’t want to bore your reviewers or have them think that you are only updating the same proposal each year to secure funding. Start with a fresh page. Think outside and box and as yourself how you would tell the story of your project to a brand new funder. If the proposal still feels/looks the same as in the past, step back and ask yourself how you can expand on the story you tell and the grantmaker’s understanding through outreach and relationship building between application period.


Q: You refer to attachments often. Many of foundation grants will only allow their requested attachments. How do we get around that challenge?

A: Required attachments (990s, board lists, etc) help the reviewers to understand your overall story. Things like whether or not the organization operated in a deficit last year, what sort of diversification you have on your board, etc. If you have attachments (annual report, news clippings, etc) that you think will be of value to telling your story to a grantmaker, but they are not requested items, never provide more than what the grantmaker has requested. Instead, offer in the cover letter, email, or application, to provide the specific document that you think will be of value.


Q: Is there too much detail to include in a budget?

A: Yes, there actually is. You don’t want to drown the reviewers in budget detail. You want to provide them with the justification/formulas for them to clearly understand how you reached the numbers in your proposed grant budget, but not more than that. If you provide the back-up/calculations for each fo your proposed budget expense line items for your entire budget, your reviewers will understand your proposed costs and have a clear sense of how you operate the program from a fiscal perspective.


Q: Do you have recommendations for systems/processes for collecting the stories in an organization to ensure the information is captured?

A:  Keep an ongoing folder on your server, notebook on your desk, or storytelling journal (there is a great one from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference), or use The Storytelling Nonprofit, by Vanessa Chase Lockshin as a place to document your ideas. If you are a GrantHub subscriber, you can also document stories you’d like to use in future applications in your Answer Library. Regardless of the tool/mechanism you use, do gather stories alone! Ask your colleagues working directly with clients and your fundraising/marketing peers to help you gather and document stories as well so you have a diverse and growing body of stories to choose from in future applications.


Q: Can you touch a little on storytelling in grant reporting? 

A: Once you have successfully told your story to a grantmaker and been awarded funding, you now have the real work of implementing the funding as you said you would, when you said you would, in the manner you said you would. That means that it is your job to keep the grantmaker up to speed on the successes and challenges encountered while implementing the funding. Those make terrific stories, even if the stories are of lessons learned from unexpected challenges. The biggest lesson? Don’t wait until the report is due to share those stories. If they are significant, find a way to tell the grantmaker during the award period before the formal report is due. You don’t want to surprise grantmakers with stories during the formal reporting.


Did you miss the original webinar? You can watch the free recording in its entirety here on GrantHub’s resources page.

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