The Dollars are in the Details: Win More Grants with On-Site Research

Are you a grant professional who spends hours alone in front of your monitors weaving words, data, budget numbers, and a cornucopia of requested documentation into grant after grant, day after day? Or are you new to the organization seeking to increase grant funding? Maybe you write grants to the same funders year after year for the same meaningful programs?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to get out of the cubicle (or corner of the guest room) and gather some new data by visiting the people and places you spend so much time writing about. Now that most people are vaccinated, and places are opening again, seize this moment (if it’s safe to do so) to refresh needs statements, program descriptions, and budgets by seeing things with your own eyes.

This kind of eyes-on, hands-on research is especially crucial if you are crafting proposals to secure grants that serve communities where you don’t work or live. For example, I’m consulting with a university’s department of education and human services to expand access to programs through their family therapy center.

This client is about half a day’s drive from where I live, and family therapy in an academic setting has existed for decades across the country. I pulled plenty of current research that supports their scope of services and have met with key staff through Zoom several times in the past few weeks. They serve people of low-income, primarily BIPOC families from the small city and from the surrounding rural counties.

But I wanted to see the center and meet the graduate students and faculty who staffed it. So, I stacked a site visit on the end of an onsite visit for another project and met the faculty lead thereafter we hashed out some program details over lunch. Much of the tour went as you might expect. We entered a homey, comfortable waiting room and visited a series of therapy rooms filled with plump cushions, children’s toys and colorful wall-hangings. Not worth the time, you say? Hold on…

Then my contact opened the door to the observation room located in the center of the therapy rooms, walled with one-way mirrors and large monitors. She explained how teams of therapists/faculty members and graduate students can observe sessions. AND then, how family members, teens, and other clients can use the same room to observe teams of therapists discussing observations about their therapy sessions and recommended next steps. What a powerful tool to truly empower people to partner in their own therapy.

Of course, the mention of unique aspects of the services at the family therapy center could have bubbled up eventually in Zoom meetings. But seeing it in person, meeting the graduate students and faculty, and understanding how people receiving therapy can share in their treatment helped it all come together for me. Having captured the sensory details of what the center looks and feels like will help me do a much better job in writing about it. More importantly, the details I captured will help me connect grant reviewers to the important work that they can help expand.
On-site, in-person research is nothing new. Award-winning writer Jessica Handler described how she took this type of research to an extreme as she worked on her most recent, critically acclaimed novel, The Magnetic Girl. Here’s a hint. It involved a barbed wire fence and an abandoned farmhouse. To hear her story and some great tips on writing, check out Episode 12 of Season 4 of the Fundraising HayDay podcast: From Novels to Grants, It’s All Research and Storytelling (

To be clear, I’m not advocating for public trespassing to win more grants. I’m challenging you to think about what it would take to describe setting, staff, programs, and services by really experiencing what you can, when you can. If going on-site is not an option, consider having someone give you a video tour with Zoom or Facetime on their phones or tablets.

The investment of a few minutes of your time observing and experiencing now could translate into thousands of dollars of grant funding to transform the communities we serve. And that sounds like a really good deal to me.


DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 4 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 3 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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