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Grant writing often involves big ideas and things we’ve never done before.  Involving multiple people. And multiple ideas. And conflicting ideas. This is why I traveled across the county to attend a Compression Planning® Institute.  I wanted to learn Compression Planning®. The formal definition of compression planning is: a visual brainstorming process designed to bring out a group’s best thinking and energy on a specific issue in an environment of fair play and equal participation led by a skilled facilitator.


And here’s how I can use it in my daily work as a grant professional:  1) Get clarity around an idea, quickly; 2) Get consensus around issues that are stalling the team; 3) Determine major focus areas for a project and; 4) delegate the workload.


While my first recommendation is to attend the Compression Planning® Institute, if that’s not possible in the short term, I’ve put together a few quick tips to help your next planning meeting inspired by the Compression Planning® model.

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05 Oct 2018

Conference Season: Straight Ahead

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It is that time of year…conference season! I have the pleasure and honor of speaking/presenting/teaching at 8 different events around the country this fall talking about my favorite topic…grant writing and best practices in our field including the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference and Grant Professionals Association National Conference.

Wondering what I’m talking about at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference?

As I started to prepare this summer for the fall season and the numerous different topics I would be speaking on, I paused to talk with my team about what their individual approaches are to attending professional development events whether a half day session in their own community or a multi-day event out of town. Keep reading for their nine great tips for you to consider the next time you go to an event to ensure you have the best professional development experience possible.

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Stress Relieving Techniques During a Busy Grant Writing Season…


..or Why 2pm Chocolate is a Healthy Professional Coping Mechanism


We all know that in the midst of a busy grant season it’s important to keep self-care in mind, but we also know that this is typically the first thing to come off of our “to do list”. When deadlines are looming, self -care can be replaced with late nights and responding to the grant’s needs before your needs. Here are 8 easy, relatively quick  ideas to do a bit of self-care in while still meeting your deadline:

  1. Schedule a workout into your daily schedule. Get your endorphins flowing, reduce your stress level and get away from your desk for a bit. For more details on the benefits, check out:
  2. Ease up on the caffeine and ease into music. Spotify, Pandora, YouTube or any of these free streaming music site can be the soundtrack to a great grant as well as a relaxing experience:
  3. Stress relieving sites on the web. Here’s a compilation of relaxing sites to help you find your inner calm: I found the 2-minute break site a great way to refresh and rejuvenate during a busy day.

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14 Sep 2018

How to Use Data to Tell Your Story

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Writing an Effective Demographic Statement for a Grant: How to Use Data to Tell Your Story


When I served as a reviewer on a federal grant panel, the vast majority of the applications I read were from communities I knew nothing about. The demographic statement was the opportunity for me to get to know the unique challenges and assets that the applicant community had and why receiving funding would enable them to address a community challenge. Think of the demographic statement as a postcard that provides reviewers with an overview of your community and lays the foundation for why the grant you are applying for would be of use to the organization/community. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when crafting your demographic statement:


  1. Keep your statement clear and concise. Just like a good postcard, it’s a snapshot of the community. Pay attention to your use of adjectives and making sure that whatever language you use that you have data to back up your statement.
  2. Use data from your field. Be sure to use data from colleague organizations/national advocacy group and cite current research in your issue area. If your organization has conducted surveys or commissioned studies, cite this data where appropriate and if space allows, include it as an attachment.
  3. Demonstrate historical progress/changes. Provide a context for how the issue you address has changed over the past 10 years. Explain any increase or decrease in service number and explain why. Compare, using data, yourself to other organization to show your need as well as your proven track record to address your issue area.
  4. Keep it current. Try to find data, surveys, or reports that are less than five years old. It’s okay to cite data that shows a longitudinal change in an issue but try and keep all citation dates within a five-year range of your grant application.
  5. If space allows, demonstrate your organization’s commitment to evaluation by outlining how you collect, track, analyze collected information and how you use this information to inform organizational planning.


Here are four helpful sites to help find pertinent data on your community:


Data can help tell your community’s/organization’s story. It provides the historical context, the compelling challenges and the opportunity for change. Using this information to frame your grant provides a solid foundation on which the rest of the grant sits and demonstrates that your organization stays current on changes within your field.

How many times do you read the RFP when preparing a grant application?


I read the RFP (also known as the RFA, NOFA or FOA) at least twice: initially, to learn about the grant opportunity, and a second time after the client confirms that they will apply, to reinforce my understanding of the program and extract all of the information needed set up the project plan and application components. After that, the RFP becomes more of a reference document, to look up specific information as needed during the application process.


Lately, however, I have realized that doing a third full read of the RFP as the application process is underway, as if reading it for the first time, is valuable, especially for large government RFPs that often have 50+ pages of detailed instructions and requirements. It is possible to have a full understanding of a grant program’s complexities from only two full reads, but it seems more likely that the need to look up details during the application process is partly because these details were not intentionally prioritized during RFP review. For example, an additional full read may help to solidify your understanding of the long list of allowable and unallowable costs, or help you be 100% certain that all of the required attachments are separate documents and not forms to fill out directly in the application portal.


Further, additional full reads of the RFP, even if time-consuming when there are still hours left to go to finish the narrative, help quiet the voice that asks “Are you forgetting anything?”


Self-reflection is important for professional development, and after reflecting on the recently completed NYS Consolidated Funding Application “season,” taking the time to step back from the application and do an additional 1-2 full reads of the RFP without any tasks necessitating or dependent on these reads, even just for reassurance that I am on the right track and will be able to better answer detail questions from clients immediately after they are asked, is a “quality control” improvement that I would like to put into action.


How about you? Do you have processes to ensure that you have not missed any important details in the RFP/RFA/NOFA/FOA/grantmaker’s guidelines, or do you deliberately schedule additional reads as a safety net?


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