Better Grants Start with Better Decisions

It’s not the dog’s fault. The one that starts barking around 3 a.m. some nights and doesn’t stop until five or so. But still, I blame that dog barking just loud enough to invade my dreams. The piercing, rhythmic cry is not a warning to a wandering raccoon. Instead, it’s the canine equivalent of a bored or fretful child saying, “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom…”


And when I am startled awake in the wee hours of the morning, my thoughts often turn to grants. Grants with short deadlines or complicated forms that don’t open properly. Instead of sheep, maybe I should count required attachments on specific applications.


Spoiler alert: Counting attachments does not relieve insomnia.

Digression alert: Counting sheep doesn’t either.


Really though, it’s not the dog’s fault. I’m pretty sure the dog didn’t arrange to be left outside on a chilly winter night. He’s an Atlanta dog; we Atlantans don’t do very cold very well. The root of the matter is that the people who care for him make the decision to leave him outside. So lately, I have been “blessing” them instead as I squish pillows into origami shapes around my ears.


For years I blamed choice grant applications for being convoluted, tree-killing, time-wasting drudgery that also kept me up at night from time to time. But as my co-host Amanda Day and I rant about…er…discuss politely in Episode 2 of Season 5 of the Fundraising HayDay Podcast [The Why in Grants is Silent – Part 1 (], it’s not inanimate grant applications driving us barking mad. Instead, it’s the time-honored rules, policies, decision making, award allocations, and other traditions that people who are grantmakers uphold time after time, year after year.


For most of my early years in grant writing and fundraising, I was fully occupied with page limits, character counts, specific forms that never opened properly as PDFs, the aforementioned arcane and voluminous attachments, and dysfunctional portals. Every job has its less entertaining moments. Some more than others. And I just accepted that these inconsistencies and inconveniences were just the lot of a grant writer.


Until I woke up—you might say. Not sharply at 3 a.m., but gradually as I networked, attended workshops, read, listened, and learned. Then I realized that the lack of transparency and outmoded applications were not the most damaging things about the grant-seeking process.


The lack of grant funding for people of color, particularly organizations led by people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized groups, has led to far more than just frustration with an outdated application process. According to a report released by the National Committee on Responsive Fundraising in 2020, 1.8% of total philanthropic giving, which includes grants, goes to black-led organizations serving Black communities. ( In 2018, the Funders for LGBT Issues released a report stating that only 0.28% of total funding went to the LGBTQIA+ community. (


In addition to these glaring inequalities in grant-making and other fundraising activities, many funders still refuse to give general operating grants and demand that nonprofits create new programs for every grant cycle. How often has a program officer told you that their foundation doesn’t fund people, only programs? Do they believe that Keebler Elves leave their hollow cookie-baking trees each night a deliver programs by magic? It’s hard to say.


Holding up and naming the things that don’t work about grant writing feels overwhelming. Or maybe cathartic if you’re commiserating with your grant pro pals. But that’s only the start of making things better.


That’s why Amanda and I recorded two separate podcast episodes. The ranty one [The Why in Grants is Silent – Part 1 (] and one (episode dropping February 3) that offers all kinds of ways to help change grants for the better. More and more foundation leaders and staff are making profound and positive changes in their grantmaking, and we talk about them, too.


In my next blog post, you’ll have tips, suggestions, and links to get you in out of the cold and away from howling at the moon when it’s not the moon’s fault at all.  Sleep tight until we meet again.


DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 5 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 4 and stay up to date on the new season here.

Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.

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