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Author Archive: Briana Popek

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Recently while working on a large foundation grant application, my client remarked that she was so glad to be going through the grant writing process, because she realized that additional fundraising was needed for her organization’s project. Not similar or quite so happy, but important, is the Executive Director who, a few years ago, was speechless after hearing “If this doesn’t get funded, you’ll still get something out of it.”

We all want our projects to be funded, and it’s not easy to look on the bright side of the potential of not getting funded. However, there is still a lot of value in the grant writing process and in the product, regardless of the outcome – especially if your organization is committed to the project, no matter how much fundraising you have to do, how many politicians’ doors you have to knock on, or how many grants you have to apply for until you are successful.

A grant application is a project plan. Going through the process of preparing an application requires you to think about project details that you may not have considered when developing your project idea, which provides insights that help to develop, refine, and improve the project. In preparing a grant application, your idea is transformed from a basic framework to a detailed plan of action. Details that you may think about for the first time include:

  • How much will this *really* cost? Developing a grant budget often uncovers hidden costs. Have you considered all the personnel who will be needed to implement or oversee this project or program? How much time will the Executive Director spend on this project? Have you accounted for expenses such as fringe benefits (this is not just health insurance!), supplies and materials, and new technology needed to support new staff? Do you need to hire outside vendors or service providers? Do you have vendor quotes to justify your budget?

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06 Apr 2018

Improving Your Research Strategy

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*Note from Diane: DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC does NOT endorse any specific research tools. We subscribe to and use numerous databases ourselves in our work for our clients. The decision about which tool is the best fit for a specific grant seeking organization is based on numerous factors. 


The Foundation Directory Online (FDO) Professional is considered by many grant professionals to be the gold standard for grant research although, not the only tool that should be used. Funders are indexed by facets such as Subject, Geographic Focus, and Support Strategy. There are thousands of specific search terms that can be used to identify funders. For example, I can search for funders who are located in Buffalo, NY (or I can expand it to Erie County, or expand it more to Buffalo-Niagara-Cheektowaga), make cash grants, fund capital projects, and support children and youth. Results can be broadened or narrowed by removing or adding search terms.

If you are learning how to use the FDO, here are two tips that may be very helpful in quickly finding exactly what you need:

Use the Visual Navigator

The Foundation Center provides an explanation of how information is indexed in the FDO, here. This is well worth the time it takes to read, especially to learn the definitions of the various facets and how they are applied to grantmaker profiles, recipient profiles, and grant details.

However, the part of this page that I return to every time I do grant research is the Visual Navigator, found near the bottom of the page under the heading EXPLORE. The Visual Navigator allows you to drill down into five facets – Transaction Types, Support Strategies, Subjects, Population Groups, and Organization Types – to find specific search terms and definitions. For example, in Subjects, you can select Human Services, and see narrower terms such as Basic and Emergency Aid, Shelter and Residential Care, and Family Services. Each term is defined, allowing you to ensure that your research strategy uses search terms that match exactly what you need. You may find that sometimes searching by a broader term is more fruitful than searching by a narrower term, and some facets are more important than others.

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The first grant proposal that I ever wrote was a request for a few thousand dollars to fund the creation of a public mural on the side of a building. Without any work experience in grant writing and eager to write something long and interesting, I filled several pages with a flowing narrative about the importance of public art, complete with big words and citations. Needless to say, that was not the draft that got submitted. (Thankfully, the revised version was funded.)

In college, I was praised for being a good writer, and nothing made me happier than lengthy writing assignments. A ten-page term paper that must reach the bottom of the last page? Can’t wait to start! Bring on the flowing narrative, big words, and citations. Like surely many others in the grant development field, landing a job as a grant writer initially felt like an opportunity to revisit the good old days of writing long papers in which demonstration of academic writing skills was as important as demonstration of subject matter knowledge and that you could find information in places other than Wikipedia. After all, that is what “good writers” do.


A good writer knows their audience and the purpose of their piece. The purpose of a grant proposal is to request money to do something. While a grant reviewer for an agency that funds art projects still needs to be convinced that you have subject matter knowledge (among other things), they already know the value of public art, and with a stack of proposals to read and their coffee half gone, they’re probably not interested in reading your beautiful flowing narrative with big words and citations demonstrating what a good writer you are.


The reviewer is interested in evaluating your project and your organization against the funder’s criteria for grantmaking, which are provided in the RFP in the form of questions to answer or points to address in your narrative. Bonus points if you can find criteria or trends beyond what is given in the RFP. The reviewer doesn’t want a Pulitzer Prize worthy work of nonfiction about your community. They may not even read it word for word. The reviewer wants you to answer the funder’s questions. They want to be able to easily understand who you are and what you are proposing to do, and be excited about giving you the money to do it. The reviewer wants to finish evaluating your proposal before their coffee gets cold, and helping the reviewer have a better morning is never a bad thing.

So how is this done?

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13 Oct 2017

Celebrating Grant Success

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Note from Diane: Briana’s post today, “Celebrating Grant Success” is the first in a four-part series where different colleagues share their perspectives on celebrating grant success and also on handling and learning from grant rejections. 


There is no instant gratification in grant writing. Celebrating success is as much about a successful process as it is a successful funding outcome, the latter of which often does not occur for 3-8 months after submission.

Hitting submit myself, or being notified by my client that the grant has been submitted, ushers in the first moment to celebrate (and to breathe!). After spending tens of hours on a project, sometimes 70 or more for the large government grants, the final submission of a grant feels like a euphoric sense of freedom from the pressure of a deadline and a feeling of accomplishment for having produced a quality narrative and other application materials. My celebration of this tends to focus on getting some quality quiet time away from the office to reenergize.

The next celebratory moment is notification of award! Not only did the application pass the technical review (relief for all of us who spend way too much time checking and re-checking that all required documents and signatures in blue ink are there), but it was funded! I have loved the times in which I could celebrate this moment with my clients by being the first to tell them of their awards, such as for New York’s Consolidated Funding Application where the awards are published online after a large ceremony, prior to actual award letters being sent out.

The third, and by far my favorite, celebratory moment is seeing the funding in action when it has been possible to do so. I don’t think anyone becomes a grant professional simply because they like to write. The real impetus for this work, at least for me, is being able to contribute to social change and build better communities. Visiting the funded programs or projects is a very meaningful and exciting experience that makes me feel more strongly connected to the grant and the organization, which is especially important as a consultant. It is the successful summer program, or the public mural, or the historic building that has been saved, that is the greatest outcome of the grant writing work and is cause for the most celebration.


What do you do to celebrate grant success when the award letter arrives? We’d love to hear! Share in the comments section below.

Every established nonprofit was once a fledgling organization, founded by an eager individual with a 501c3 determination letter in hand and a passion to serve their community or change the world. Does this sound like you? First, thank you – we are grateful to people who are willing to roll up their sleeves to tackle problems, and who create and innovate to improve quality of life and, well, to just make cool things happen. The less exciting part – except for grant professionals – is that implementing these great ideas costs money, and, if you are a brand new organization, you may not have much of that.

So what is a new nonprofit with big ideas, a shiny new 501c3 letter, and little money to do? Of course – apply for grants! Big grants! And who better to help apply for big grants but an awesome grant consultant?

We love writing grants of all sizes, and we’d love to help. But you may not need us – yet. A grant consultant can help you understand the connection between organizational development and grant seeking and help you assess and improve your grant readiness, and can help you understand the kinds of grants that you will be most competitive for initially (Pro Tip: if you’re a new nonprofit that has gotten few or no grants, you should start local and start small: a $1,000 grant from your bank’s charitable giving program is a reasonable target; a $500,000 grant from your state government is probably not). But before we even get to that point, ask yourself two questions…

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