Blog Archive

Grant Writing Tips and Best Practices

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When you are out and about on life adventures or even day to day excursions, there are often relatable lessons to our professional work – in the case of zip lining with friends, I walked away with fun analogies about grant writing best practices.

I’ve had some thoughtful moments about grants when out digging for clams along the coast of Maine and some deep personal lessons when swimming with sharks along the reefs of Belize. If you’ve ever been to one of my conference presentations for the Grant Professionals Association or been on one of my webinars for CharityHowTo, my propensity to use analogies to help make grant writing best practices seem more relatable and memorable won’t surprise you.

Going zip lining sounds like an activity I would have signed up for as a result of my two daughters wanting to participate. However, it was a group of great friends, away for a weekend, who decided it would be fun for all of us to go zip through the trees in the hills outside of Nashville. They were 100% right – it was a blast! It isn’t that I had passed up the opportunity to zip line before, but I had never sought it out. Now, I can’t wait to have the opportunity to take my daughters zip lining and show them how “cool” I am to hop right in line and clip onto the line. But in the midst of this fun new adventure, as with any dedicated grant professional…my mind wandered toward grants, and the similarities between grants and zip lining were too good not to share.

Lessons Learned About Grants From Zip Lining

1. Know the rules.

Take time before you get started to know the rules (safety rules in the case of zip lining). What are the allowable expenses for the grantmaker, what attachments do they require, will they allow communication prior to applying, etc.

2. Start small.

Just as you start on the smaller zip lines and build to the tall and long zip lines, you need to start your grant seeking strategy or your work as a grant professional with smaller grants. Build your experience, your confidence, and ultimately your success. You shouldn’t jump right onto the largest zip line if it is your first time out. You shouldn’t jump right into a federal grant application if you have never written a grant before (unless you have a support team that has someone with federal grant experience).

3. Celebrate each success.

Each successful run on a zip line is worth celebrating in its own way. It isn’t only the largest of the zip line runs that should be celebrated and cheered about. Each grant application successfully submitted,  each meeting with collaborative partners about grant applications, and each grant award received should be celebrated by your organization.

4. Cheer on your team.

Yes, it is just you out on the zip line squealing with joy (well, at least that is what I do!), but it takes the full team – those helping with safety at the beginning and end of the line and your friends cheering you on from the ground, to make the experience as wonderful as possible. It takes your whole grant team – those colleagues with a stake in seeing your organization’s grant applications be successful – to make the grant seeking experience as successful (and wonderful) as possible.


And to show how much fun I had….here is a video from one of the zip lines we did. Yup, that’s me, with a goofy grin plastered on as I was having a blast!

We are a few days past the halfway mark for the calendar year, so I stopped to assess some of the metrics our team looks at when doing planning for the next quarter compared to our goals – client success percentage, dollars awarded to clients, the number of blog post hits and shares, etc.

When in the midst of so many competing grant deadlines, and this time of year, when we are also balancing grant deadlines with summer vacations for both ourselves and our grant tea members, I find that it never hurts to have a reminder or an accountability partner to ensure you pause and look at your metrics.

Perhaps you’ve already done your analysis for your first six months. In fact, perhaps you update your analysis each month in preparation for a team or board meeting. Gold star if that is the case!

If that isn’t the case…no worries, your accountability partner is here to help!

I’ve written before about the metrics you should consider in measuring your success as a grant professional – so I won’t bore you with that again here, but if you’ve missed it, you can access a post about setting your goals for the year here.

And if you prefer webinar style learning instead of blog posts, you can listen to/watch a recorded webinar where I walked through setting up a grant strategy for a successful 2018. It’s never too late to get started with setting a strong strategy. You can watch that webinar here.


…And since we’re talking about metrics…I mentioned that one of the metrics that I keep an eye on is the readership and circulation numbers for our blog posts. We want what we share on the blog to be of value to grant professionals of varying levels of experience as well as to members of the grant team beyond the lead grant professional. It’s always fascinating to see what posts are most widely read each year.

Our 4 Most Popular Blog Posts in 2018

4. Grant Writing Isn’t a Solo Sport: When Life and Deadlines Compete by Nicole Sibilski, GPC

3. The Value of The Grant Writing Process…Regardless of the Outcome by Briana Popek

2. You Know You Are a Grant Writer When…  by Bethany Turner, GPC

1. How to Avoid a Grant Writing Scam by Diane H. Leonard, GPC


What other topics would you like to see us write about for the balance of 2018 that will help *you* in achieving your professional and organizational goals for the remainder of the year? Let us know in the comments section or drop us a note on social media!

25 Jun 2018

School Safety Grants

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School Safety Grants and our Souls: Where do we go from here?

“Does it ever give thee pause, that people used to have a soul—not by hearsay alone, or as a figure of speech; but as a truth that they knew, and acted upon! Verily it was another world then…but yet it is a pity we have lost the tidings of our souls…we shall have to go in search of them again, or worse in all ways shall befall us.” I love this quote from Thomas Carlyle, author of Past and Present, and think it speaks to all of us still in the current turmoil of political unrest and ignorant bullying in the world, via social media or other ways. I happened upon it in a fantastic book I’ve wanted to read for a long time, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This book is historical fiction written through letters about the effects of the German occupation on the inhabitants of Guernsey in the Channel Islands during World War II. Don’t hesitate to read it; you will both laugh and cry if you have a soul.

In the current world of school violence, I worry about our souls and a seemingly dwindling lack of action, sympathy, and empathy in society. Where do we go from here? The world of federal school safety action and grants has been a roller coaster ride. For instance, the National Institute of Justice Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI) grant was announced in early 2018, and then revoked. This funding was assigned to other purposes under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 and the Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence Act of 2018 (STOP School Violence Act). Education Secretary Betsy DeVos held the first School Safety Commission meeting behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. without input from teachers, students, parents, and school administrators. Outcomes of this commission are currently unknown. Below are ten tips for understanding and finding school safety funding.

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**Did you miss Part 1 of 2 for this post? You can catch up on Attachments Are Not an Afterthought (Part 1) here.**

Last week we highlighted the importance of addressing required attachments as the beginning of the grant writing process, not at the end. We explored work plans, resumes, cost estimates, and architectural and engineering plans. Here are some more attachments that you may encounter:


List of Services – Recently the team wrote a healthcare grant and the applicant was required to submit a list of services to be provided. Developing something like this early, with the work plan, provides a framework for the narrative, and ensures consistency with the narrative. It is a basic yet critical question for any healthcare program: what services will you provide?


Financial Analysis – A few months ago, the team wrote multiple NYS grants for healthcare system transformation projects intended to improve providers’ financial sustainability. One of the required attachments was an extensive spreadsheet requiring an analysis of costs and the financial impact to be created by the project. Something like this would be very important to complete early, not only because of the time and personnel required to complete it, but because it informs the narrative discussion of the project’s financial impact. You can’t write about the financial impact, and “sell” it to the funder, if you don’t know what it is or how it will happen.


Letters of Support or Commitment – Letters of support (“I like this project!”) and letters of commitment (“I will help fund, implement, or do something else for this project!”) are notoriously difficult to collect. The people who write these letters often serve at the executive level of their organizations and they are busy – they love your organization, but spending an hour writing a letter for a project they may not know much about is probably one of those tasks that gets moved on the calendar from one day to the next for several weeks (we all have those tasks). As soon as possible in your application process, make a list of who you want to collect letters from. Draft a template that includes the funder’s name and a project summary, and indicate where a few sentences could be added to make the letter their own, should they choose not to write one from scratch. The easier you can make this task for them, the better. Send this to everyone who you want a letter from, and give them a deadline at least 1-2 weeks of when you actually need it.


Photos – A photo is worth a thousand words. If you have the option to submit a few photos with your application, do it. Show the funder the poor conditions at the rundown animal shelter that you are going to renovate with their money, or show them the happy and engaged youth doing science experiments in your summer program.


Basic Organizational Documents Most of the time you will be required to provide proof or your organization’s 501c3 status (your IRS letter), and often you will also be required to submit financial information such as your annual operating budget and several years worth of 990s and audited financial statements. These do not always take much time to get, as they are internal to your organization and you should already have them. However, if you do not have these documents – you are not a 501c3, you don’t have an annual operating budget, you have never filed a 990 or 990-EZ because your organization doesn’t have any revenues, or you have never had an audit, you may want to consider your organization’s competitiveness for that particular grant program (i.e. you are small and new, and have some organizational development tasks to address before you are grant ready).


How do you ensure that attachments aren’t an afterthought in your grant process?

We’d love to hear from you!


Revising your attachment completion strategy yet?

Join Diane for How to Knock Your Grantmaker’s Socks Off on CharityHowTo to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how reviewers are using the elements beyond your narrative and budget to judge your application.

Many grant applications require attachments in addition to the narrative and budget components. It can be easy to overlook addressing the attachments when faced with larger, more pressing tasks of developing a program and writing a lengthy narrative. However, the attachments often help inform – not just substantiate – the application’s narrative and budget. Additionally, some attachments take time to collect or complete. When planning the work of completing a grant application, it is advantageous to plan on completing or collecting attachments as early as possible in the process.


Some attachments you may be required to submit include:


Work Plan – If you are applying for a state or federal grant, you are usually required to complete a work plan. Depending on the agency, sometimes the work plan is a form that you must fill out and upload as an attachment, and sometimes it is integrated into the application. Regardless of the format, it can be tempting to save this for later, especially if it is only a few pages long – however, don’t do it. The work plan, often including major tasks, timelines, and deliverables, is the big picture of what you are going to do with the grant funds, and provides an excellent framework for the narrative. You will save time by developing and finalizing the work plan – what exactly you are going to do – before you start writing a long, detailed narrative. For this reason, the budget should not be an afterthought either – do you want to spend 30 hours writing the narrative for your perfect program, and then have to delete it when you put the budget together and the program is no longer financially feasible?

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