Need Is Not Enough To Win Grants

I’m a sucker for a quiz. From dubious quizzes about your soul mate in 1980s women’s magazines to Buzzfeed’s endless supply of “decorate your dream house, and we’ll guess your eye color,” I’m always game to give it a go and rarely seem to match up with what should be the correct answer. It’s all in fun. 


But some more serious-minded tests and assessments can help identify personality traits such as the Enneagram (I’m a 1), or, what started a decade-long journey for me, Susan Cain’s Are You An Introvert or An Extrovert And Why Does It Matter? (emphasis my own). You can take the quiz here:  I am an introvert with strengths and weaknesses like any personality trait. In a recent Fundraising HayDay Podcast episode, Introverts & Extroverts & Learning From Each Other | Fundraising HayDay (, my extroverted co-host Amanda Day and I define differences and similarities between introverts and extroverts in the workplace and how we are a stronger team because of them.  


The “Why Does It Matter?” part of Susan Cain’s quiz reminds me of an essential tenet of successful grant writing. For example, I could use my Introvert Quiz results to define everything I do and avoid some situations like networking and public speaking because I am an introvert. Or, I could realize that some public-facing situations drain my energy faster than others, and some are more effective than others, and it’s my job to figure out what works best for me rather than avoiding all of it. The “Why Does It Matter” also extends to my work as a grant professional.


As a frequent grant reviewer and in editing my work, I’ve learned to be wary of needs statements that read more like tangled strings of numbers and percentages, each more dismal than the last, followed by program descriptions that are exclusively bound to theories of change and a laundry list of activities. What’s missing? The ideas, assets, and goals of the people or communities a grant is meant to help serve. If you are a grant writer, consultant fundraiser, executive director, or board member who doesn’t live or work in the areas your agency serves or doesn’t share cultural or other socio-economic factors with people affected by your work, don’t smother “the other,” in statistics and data that exclude their voices and solutions.


Focusing on what’s documented as “wrong” suggests that people don’t know what’s right and needed for their families and neighbors to thrive. Researching and developing grant proposals presents a unique opportunity to use the proposal itself to drive more inclusive planning and data collection. As more grantmakers move toward “resource mapping and assets statements” instead of “needs or problem statements,” grant writers can help galvanize agency leaders toward more inclusive action.


Here are 3 tips to transform needs statements into assets statements and, more importantly, ensure that the people most affected by your agency’s programs and services help drive program planning whenever possible


  • Ask open-ended questions online, in person, or in whatever ways work best for community members. “What do you like about your community?” and “What bothers you about your community?” could provide more in-depth information than specific questions about current programs—especially if those programs are missing the mark. 
  • Invite community members to serve on the Board of Directors and eliminate the barriers to attendance, such as time of required service, transportation, and childcare. Without true representation at the highest levels of leadership, your agency may be missing the mark about what is truly needed at the community level for people to thrive.
  • Create regular ways to listen and gather feedback, such as quarterly town hall-style meetings, quick biannual surveys on program satisfaction, and annual focus group-style meetings facilitated by someone outside the organization, which reflects the community served to gather deeper data.


These recommendations aren’t something a grant writer should take on by themselves. Think of them as ways to build equity and your leadership skills by using changing grant requirements as the catalyst.


Like the designations “introvert” and “extravert,” a grant writer is never limited to only writing. A world of positive change can start by looking beyond a label. And that matters.


DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 6 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 5 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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