Dear New Grant Writer,
Welcome to the field of grant seeking!
You may be wondering what you got yourself into as you accepted this new job, or perhaps this new assignment as part of your expanded duties for your current employer.
When I was new in the field back in 2002, I wasn’t sure where to go for resources or to ask for assistance from. Googling grant writing resources was and still is nothing short of overwhelming.
I’ve been busy teaching a Beginner Grant Writing class in New York City this week for a group of employees in a large agency that are all charged with writing their own grants. As I talked with these eager professionals who want to understand grant writing so that they can contribute to their teams and find funding for their big goals, I thought that you, those that are new (or newish) to the field, might also like to know about some of the resources I shared with this group.
Is there a resource you are looking for that you can’t find? Please ask! We’d be happy to help you find it.
Diane H. Leonard, GPC
A seasoned grant professional that is *SO* happy you have joined us in this work of grant seeking.
23 Nov 2018
How Can Will Ferrell, a farming community and Legos Help Us Become Better Grant Writers
I was helping a friend develop a list of motivational movies for a sports team and began thinking about what movies would psych up a grant writer. What films would inspire and motivate grant writers during a busy grant writing season, or perhaps during a writer’s slump? The following is a list of movies that I think have important perspectives and messages in them…..some more inspirational than others. So here’s a list of some films that I think can motivate, shift a paradigm, help a hard working grant writer polish their craft, relax and reflect:
- Narrative-If you are looking for clever writing and a film that demonstrates the power of a powerful narrative, look no further than Stranger Than Fiction. Starring Will Ferrell, Queen Latifah, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman and Maggie Gyllenthaal –the cast alone is reason enough to watch.
- Fair Representation of an Underserved Community–Brother’s Keeper is a documentary about a family of farming brothers in upstate New York. The documentary chronicles a murder trial and how the community reacts and rallies around the brothers. The film tells the story through a fair and compassionate lens and really captures the personality of the family and the town. The film is an excellent example of providing dignity and respect to people/clients who may be disenfranchised and often portrayed playing off of stigmas and stereotypes. For point of reference, the brothers in the film kept in touch with the filmmakers for years after the making of the film.
- Overpromising–The Money Pit-Tom Hanks stars in this humorous tale of trying to fix up a huge white elephant of a house. Seeing Hanks battle with the contractor is similar to the challenges we, as grant writers, sometimes face when trying to put together a realistic budget that will cover all that is outlined in the grant narrative.
- Competitive–The Hunger Games-In New York State we have the Consolidated Funding Applications season that starts in May and ends at the end of July. The grants are fairly competitive and the timeline relatively short. It pits region vs. region and makes municipalities and nonprofits compete for funding against their colleague organizations. The process has been dubbed the “Hunger Games” and one always hopes the odds are ever in our favor.
- Inspirational- Beautiful, compelling writing takes time and the willingness to revise. Harper Lee revised To Kill a Mockingbird for two years before it was published, won a Pulitzer, and was then made into a movie.
- Persistence-A classic, Twelve Angry Men Henry Fonda will help you find your inner peace, frame a compelling argument and inspiring you to write a brilliant needs statement. If you are looking for something a bit more contemporary and for a family friendly movie, The Lego Movie has a great message of grit and collaboration.
- What Happens When you are Too Successful–Misery. This suspenseful movie is a great way to scream out stress and appreciate the fact that there isn’t an NYT bestsellers list for grant writers.
- Data-Driven– The movie Magic Town portrays a town that has the demographic makeup to perfectly predict national trends. This comedy is a good reminder of how data is important but doesn’t tell the whole story.
- Portraying The Joy of a Community Vision-Set on the Irish seaside, Waking Ned Devine tells the story of friendship, a lottery ticket, and community decision-making at its best.
What other movies come to mind that you can connect to our work as a grant writer/grant professional? We’d love to hear your other film connections!
08 Nov 2018
Dear Executive Director and/or Well-Intentioned Board President:
We need to talk.
First off, let me say that I am so proud to be a part of your organization. As a grant professional, nothing gives me more joy than working as a foot soldier for you and your team as you battle social problems and fight systemic barriers for the voiceless. I have been in this industry a long time and I can unequivocally say that angels walk among us, of which you are one. Thank you.
Stop asking me if we can get “that Gates Foundation money”. You are never, ever going to get that Gates Foundation money.
And while we’re on the subject, I listen to NPR as well. I too make a mental note of the foundations who proudly support Fresh Air. They don’t want to give you money either. Neither does Jeff Bezos, your hometown celebrity golf tournament, nor that one foundation that you heard gave someone $1,000,000,000 that one time.
According to Foundation Center, as of 2014, there were 86,726 foundations in the United States. About 86,600 want absolutely nothing to do with you. It’s not you, though, it’s them!
Let’s look at the major criteria we at DH Leonard Consulting look for in a potential funder for your nonprofit:
- Regionality: Do you know that every major foundation database allows you to search by city and state? That’s because your location is the number one reason your application won’t be considered. If you live in Florida, that foundation in Minnesota won’t even look at your request.
- Mission: For the most part, a foundation honors the mission and vision of its trustees or legacy. They want to give to a certain cause or fix a certain social ill. If your organization’s mission doesn’t align with that cause, then move along.
- Requests for applications: Most foundations won’t even accept your application without an invitation. Yes, I agree, fundraising is “friendraising”, but the odds of your organization being able to infiltrate long-standing and insular relationships is slim to none. (It’s like hitting on someone with a wedding ring.)
- A well-designed program: Do you have great activities but a shoddy evaluation plan? Are you duplicating services rather than collaborating? Then you won’t get the grant. At least not from the big guys. Seriously, just look at the Gates Foundation’s data requirements. A poorly conceived program won’t impress national funders and will not stand out in a crowd of thousands.
How do we know this? Because we have been doing this for a long, long time. We have intimate knowledge of what it takes to win grants. There is a reason our team evangelizes on the importance of assessing your grant readiness. Your time and resources would be best used shoring up the weaknesses in your current programs and infrastructure. Instead of having a DH Leonard Consulting team member try and fit a square peg into a round hole (i.e. make your program fit into a funder’s criteria), let us help you shore up your evaluation methodologies, guide new partnerships, and consult on building relationships. Gates Foundation may be sexy, but you know what keeps the lights on? Increasing that reliable $10,000 award from a local family foundation to $25,000.
That’s a grant strategy that brings success.
Your Grant Professional Certified
Thanks, Diane Leonard, for recently reminding us that grant professionals are superheroes. We need to hear this, especially when we are fighting to make the world a better place despite current troubling events. As grant professionals, we must remember to take a breath, stay positive, and pat ourselves on the back.
In July 2018, thanks to grant funding, I had the privilege of attending my first silent retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California with the Executive Director of Purple Mountain Institute. The retreat title was Mindfulness for Everyone, and there was a wide variety of people with beginning to advanced mindfulness experience.
The setting was beautiful and peaceful where we all lived simply and were served delicious vegetarian meals without talking, tv, radio, phones, internet, or social media. I loved watching the wild turkeys peacefully strolling around us and communicating with us. On the last day of the retreat, when people could talk again and rushed around getting ready to travel back home, I found it sad that the turkeys were also scattering away due to this abrupt change from peace, silence, and camaraderie with humans.
The daily schedule consisted of sitting meditation, walking meditation, guided meditation, mindfulness instruction, eating mindfully, and sleeping completely in silence. We could talk with staff if needed or when meeting in small groups with teachers who checked in to see how we were doing. The first day of silence was incredibly hard for me, and I wanted to run home screaming. The following days became easier, and I grew to absolutely love it. However, this intense silent practice causes one to look deeply inside and reflect. It can bring up difficult emotions, memories, or trauma. The biggest takeaway for me was realizing how awful the critical voices inside my head were, and how I needed to mindfully address those mean comments. I needed to remember to be kind to myself, and therefore, I would achieve more kindness to others.
I’ve written about mindfulness before, and here are five more tips, resources, and quotes that I hope can help my fellow superhero grant professionals.
- Ray Buckner says “Diminish fear by facing it directly with honesty, clarity, and compassion.” Read his article, and remember to be compassionate towards yourself first. Listen to your inner child.
- Practice mindfulness daily by being aware of the moment through ordinary activities such as brushing your teeth, walking, or showering. If you forget to do this during some very busy days, don’t beat yourself up. Treat yourself with kindness instead—celebrate moments of mindfulness.
- Dr. Jan Chozen Bays created Mindfulness on the Go Cards: 52 Simple Meditation Practices You Can Do Anywhere. Some of his suggestions are “taking three breaths whenever a phone rings” or “resolving to pay a compliment daily.”
- Read Fully Present by Dr. Susan L. Smalley and Diana Winston.
- “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete” (Jack Kornfield).
Thank you for all you do!
26 Oct 2018
Does this scenario sound familiar? You have a grant deadline coming up so you open the grant application or pull up a blank page to start writing, but your grant team hasn’t given you all the information you need and you can’t think of a single thing to write. The blank page looks hauntingly back at you.
It happens to all grant professionals from time to time (or maybe even a little more often than we want to admit).
4 Strategies for Getting Past the Blank Page
1. Prepare Your Writing Area: Silence any distractions by closing your door, your email, your phone, and anything else that might distract you from the task at hand. Get your favorite beverage. Turn on some music to help you focus.
As I write this blog post, I am walking on my treadmill desk. My email and phone are silenced. My water bottle is sitting within easy reach. And Michael Buble is serenading me.
2. Boiler Plate Information: Start with the easy information. Insert the information that won’t change – organization contact information, mission statement, vision statement, history of the organization, demographic information, etc.
I keep a document that has all this information together for each of my clients so I can always easily find the information.
3. Important Information: Add in any other important information you know. Rachel Werner, GPC gives some questions to think through in writing in her blog post What’s Your Grant Story? and Amy Bonn shows How to Use Data to Tell Your Story.
I also like to have a project/program description document for every program I write a grant application. Again, this makes it easy to find the information I need.
Congratulations, you do not have a blank page anymore. Now, you have information you can start editing and arranging. You can see where you are lacking information. You can more specific questions of your grant team. You can even highlight where that information will go for you and your grant team to see.
What are your strategies for getting past the blank page? We’d love to hear!