Monday, September 27, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Grant writing is exciting because it's a competition, for money, so there's a lot at stake. The competition isn't so much against other grant writers as it is against the RFA criteria. It's like the grant maker is throwing you a pitch and your job is to hit it out of the park!
Here's a list of key concepts at play in the grant competition that many people outside the process did not understand.
a. Grant applications are scored by readers who may, or may not, have expertise in the grant area.
b. Readers generally work in triads and it only takes one reader in the group who dislikes a particular proposal to sink its chances of receiving funding.
c. While most grant competitions allow applicants to protest the results, these protests are rarely successful because you are challenging the legitimacy of the process of scoring and those who will decide on the validity of the protest are the same people who designed and implemented the scoring process.
d. There are sometimes unstated priorities for funding that are not written in the RFP. These unstated priorities are generally unknown to novice applicants, non-grant writers, and program administrators of agencies. This is why it's important when hiring a grant writer to determine their level of experience with a particular grant, agency, and topic.
e. Often grants are scored on a 100 point scale and there are often priority points given that favor agencies with particular characteristics. In today's hyper-competitive grant environment, it is important to score as close to 100% as possible in order to ensure a possibility of receiving the funding.
f. Your legislator is unlikely to be of any assistance or value in helping you get a competitive grant approved. I am frequently asked by clients if their relationship with a legislator will be of any value and unfortunately it is not. Legislators can be helpful in contacting the agency to gain notice of successful funding or to request information about a protest. Aside from these limited areas, legislator intervention in the scoring process is not welcomed nor viewed positively by agency staff.
Grant competitions are exciting and a lot is at stake. Submission of grant proposals is a lot of work on the part of a lot of people in when you have that level of commitment you have a concomitant level of concern about the outcome. Winning a grant competition is a little like the clock striking 12 on New Year's Eve in I've done my share of victory dances down the aisle of my agency when we've successfully secured a large grant award.
It is important for grant writers, especially freelance grant writers, to help clients understand what the grant competition entails so that expectations are realistic and so that there is a shared understanding of the process and the pitfalls inherent in. After all, it is a human process and prone to human error.
By Derek Link
Grant Writing Rejection
Federal Grant Selection Processes: Random or Fair?
Focus on Your Mission for Grant Writing Success
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
It's possible to get so wrapped up in the competition of grant writing that one might forget that there's a grant to implement when that funding approval letter is received. So it's important not to waste time in between the submission of a grant and the notification of funding or you may wind up behind in your implementation before you get started.
Now as a grant writer, especially a freelance grant writer, you may not need to pay attention to implementation. Your job as a grant writer is frequently (and perhaps hysterically gleefully) done the moment you have submitted the proposal and received that date-stamped receipt as proof of submission. But I suspect that many of you are employed to write and implement the grant so you don't have time to dilly-dally as if there's no further work to be done.
Here are a few things to consider undertaking in anticipation of a successful proposal:
a. Prepare position notifications so you'll be ready to advertise for staff.
b. Research capital equipment costs so you can find the best deals; or, prepare requests for proposals that can be publicized as soon as funding is received.
c. Remain in communication with any project partners and collaborators to ensure that they are ready to start the work as soon as funding is received.
d. Educate other people within the agency on the goals and objectives of the proposal if it impacts their work.
e. Meet with the accounting department to discuss the proposal and ensure they are aware that additional funding may be received.
f. If you are hiring an external evaluator as part of the evaluation plan, now is the time to investigate which of the available contractors would best match your needs.
g. You may want to prepare a press release in anticipation of receipt of funding. This may be more of an exercise in positive thinking than is necessary if the grant is not funded; however, it never hurts to put positive thoughts out into the universe in support of your proposal.
You may feel that it's unnecessary to undertake any work before grant is funded. I would certainly agree that a long shot grant may not merit much preparation until he funding letter is received. But generally speaking I don't recommend applying for many long shot grants, there simply isn't time. So most of the grants you apply for should be closely aligned with your mission, represent a level of competition that is acceptable in proportion to the work of developing an application; and therefore, some preparatory work after the application is submitted is a good investment in time. Remember that successful implementation of a grant is an excellent way to build grant maker confidence in your organization and in your ability to successfully implement grant programs.
By Derek Link
Uh Oh: We Got the Grant But We Didn't Plan
Grant Writing Success is Just The Beginning
Control or Collaboration? You Can't Have It Both Ways
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Often when you are applying for grants clients get very excited and can tend to exhibit what Alan Greenspan called "irrational exuberance."
It is important to remember as a grant writer that developing grant applications without proper planning can create more problems than the grant funding would solve. There is a considerable amount of responsibility and work that goes along with implementation of a successfully funded grant. Careful planning throughout grant development is vital in order to ensure successful implementation.
Here are 10 things to consider when planning for submission of a grant proposal to ensure that your grant is well thought out, realistic, and is based on achievable objectives:
- Establish a planning committee before the RFP is publicized. Be certain to include all relevant partners who may be interested in participating, impacted by the grant services, and who are logical partners to share costs and in-kind services.
- Maintain meeting records for the committee including roster, minutes, and agendas.
- Engage the committee in a needs assessment and program planning process.
- Work out collaborative agreements and partnerships.
- Develop memoranda of understanding and letters of commitment among the partners.
- Gather resolutions from boards and leadership committees of the partner organizations.
- Obtain commitments from the partners for materials, services, budget commitments, participation in governance, and commitment to contribute data.
- Develop a program design that the planning committee is in agreement with to address the needs identified in item 3.
- Create an evaluation design to ensure that partners are aware and committed to data collection that will validate the achievements of the grant program.
- Engage the planning committee in reviewing the grant narrative as it is being developed in order to ensure its accuracy and feasibility.
My master teacher always told us that failing to plan was planning to fail. Grant writers must be proactive in assisting their clients in the planning process to ensure that the grant submitted is realistic both in terms of current reality and future feasibility for implementation.
By: Derek Link
Other posts from The GrantGoddess Speaks that you might like:
How Did I Learn Grant Writing? - Derek Link
Grant Writer Stalked by Client
Rantings of an Opinionated Grant Writer
Help! Grant Writer Downing in Paper!
How Positive Writing Makes a Better Grant
Also, take some time to visit A Writer's Journey for more thoughts on writing.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Non-profit consultant and expert grant writer, Derek Link, shares his experience as a freelance grant writer with others who believe they are ready for the task:
This is a serious question with serious consequences only to be considered by serious people because freelancing is a dangerous business.
First let us peer back through the annals of history to get some perspective on the term with the help of Wikipedia...
According to Wikipedia - The term was first used by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) in Ivanhoe to describe a "medieval mercenary warrior" or "free-lance" (indicating that the lance is not sworn to any lord's services, not that the lance is available free of charge). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freelancer, accessed on 9/16/10)
As you can see, the term referred originally to a mercenary warrior which is what we still are; however, to borrow an over-used phrase from literature, “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword” or in this case, lance.
Just as a mercenary warrior for hire wasn’t free, neither are freelance grant writers. We charge for our services reflecting the skill involved and the grave difficulty of overcoming the wicked enemies (RFP’s, RFA’s, Dragon Naturally speaking, etc).
We’re also similar to the warriors of old, in that if we aren’t really good at what we do, we’re likely to die a premature death; although, our death would be figurative and primarily financial involving a future of cardboard signs and shopping carts; while the warriors, on the other hand, simply died a hideous death.
You must possess certain qualities to become a freelancer. You must be brave to confront the possibility of failure and certain death, you must be skillful to defeat the enemies, and you must be active to find someone who will employ you (or you’re just a vagrant with a lance).
Ah indeed, the life of a freelancer is fraught with danger and intrigue. It is a life on the road, never sleeping in the same place for two nights (Motel 6), eating whatever you can forage along the road (AM/PM, 7-11, conference buffets), and trying to earn enough money to keep your trusty steed healthy and well-fed (oil change on your ’87 Honda Civic and gas at $4 a gallon – scary).
But you think still this life as a freelancer is for you? Ah, you’re hale and hearty if you do, but you’ll be forsaking allegiance to one master, a risky business (i.e., leaving your cushy government job). There will be mistrust because you’re a stranger; there will be misunderstanding (because you don’t speak their language); there will be blind attacks from the right and the left (from nasty Board members and inept leadership); and there will be times of feast and famine (carry trail bars and water in the trunk).
If freelancing courses through your blood then prepare well, for all your skills will be tested and re-tested.
Sign up now for our online curse - Becoming a Freeland Grant Writer. Sessions start soon.
Knight photo courtesy of Freerk Lautenbag.
Monday, September 13, 2010
- We don't have the time. Are you kidding me? Who does have the time? No one. If you want to bring in additional resources to your organization, you have to make the time. It's all about priorities. Instead of saying you don't have time, tell the truth. Say, "We are choosing to spend our time doing other things."
- We probably won't get it. As my mother would say, with an attitude like that, you probably won't. My mother also used to say, "No guts, no glory!" The bottom line is that if the purpose of the program is well aligned with your organization's mission, and if you have a solid idea, you have a very good chance of being funded., but you definitely won't get it if you don't make an effort.
- The grant will just end in 3 years anyway. Believe it or not, I hear this one a lot. Those who say this seem to forget that between now and three years from now, your clients will benefit from some great services. A lot can happen in 3 years (or 2 years or 5 years), and you can make a big difference in the lives of people over a year or two. Why would you give up that opportunity just because you may not have the resources to do it forever?
- We don't have anyone who can write it. This falls into the same category as "we don't have the time." You probably do have someone in your organization (or a team of people) who can write it if you just restructure the schedule for a while. And don't forget. you can hire professional grant writers to help if you need to.
Learn about the benefits of membership at GrantGoddess.com.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
An abstract is a short summary of your grant narrative, it gives the reader the big picture and should motivate them to want to learn more about your proposal. You’ll be required to submit an abstract for most proposals, but it is rarely part of the scoring criteria. This does not minimize its importance however, because it may be the first part of your application the reader sees.
These are the basic components commonly requested in an abstract. Be sure to read the Request For Proposals (RFP) carefully to see if there is a specified outline for you to follow that may deviate from this list below:
- Statement of Purpose: Who is applying? What does this proposal do, who does it serve, where is it located? What is the proposed grant period?
- Goals and Objectives: List or summarize the goals and objectives that this proposal seeks to address.
- Management Plan: Summarize the key features that ensure your project will be professionally managed. Adequate budget, agency commitment, supervision, commitment of resoruces, etc.
- Evaluation: Describe the key features of your evaluation methods and plans which will ensure that the project is properly monitored and that outcomes will be accurately measured.
Get more help to become a better grant writer. Become a member of GrantGoddess.com and gain access to hundreds of resources to imporve your skill.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Here's Derek's commentary on our two days of grant writing training this week:
Yesterday, Veronica and I completed two days of grant training for a State agency in Sacramento. It was lots of fun. I’ve delivered grant writing training in the past on my own, but I haven’t ever teamed up to deliver it. I think the participants benefitted a lot from having two grant writers giving hints and ideas from their experiences.
As we navigated through our daily agenda, I was reminded of how much there is to learn about grant writing and how much of it is learned by doing (and making mistakes) if you don’t have a good teacher and mentor. I’d like to believe that Veronica and I helped these folks move along the road to becoming highly competent grant writers, but I know that some of what we said probably went in one ear and out the other simply for lack of experience and ability to put the information into context. Hopefully they took good notes and the stuff they didn’t completely understand will become clear as they begin to write grants.
People holding jobs with the state often get a bad rap so let me just say that the fifty or so people whom we trained were on time, on task, and they were enthusiastic learners. Not only that, the people who organized the training were competent, available, and welcoming. It was refreshing and hopeful to see that there are so many quality people working in state government.
My boss and I gave a comprehensive 1-day overview of grant writing. At the end of each day, participants could see that there is a lot more to know - and there is - so maybe we will be brought back for a second round of training.
Some companies make grant writing training a dry topic but we have ways to spice it up which are so good, so innovative, and so darned special that if I share them here our competitors will steal them from us (you’ll have to attend to find out – no industrial spying allowed either). We were thankful to receive many positive comments on our evaluations so we’re pretty confident our methods worked. All in all, we spent a fun couple of days with a bunch of great people: what more can we ask for!?
Free e-book - 12 Secrets of Successful Grant Writers
Free webinar - Top 10 Tips for Grant Writing
Saturday, September 4, 2010
MaryEllen Bergh is our resident fashion guru, and she has come up with a list of chic (and helpful!) accessories for the savvy grant writing consultant:
- Large bag to hold your accessories and other things that you absolutely must have with you no matter where you go. The bag should be flexible and strong enough to hold at least three 85-page Request for Applications (RFA) and in a bright color so you can always find it and others can see you coming. I prefer red. It is neutral and goes with everything.
- Oversized sunglasses with a bit of bling (think Lady GaGa) when you just need a different perspective or want others to think you are sophisticated and have a certain “je ne sais quoi."
- A magnifying glass to maintain your focus on the criteria (or in my case, just to read it).
- A colorful hat preferably with a floppy brim. The hat not only makes you look stylish when having a bad hair day but, in case you don’t have your sunglasses, can, with a tip of the head, cover up the eye roll (“You never asked me for that data.”).
- Earplugs to save you from saying, once again, “You want to do WHAT??"
- A chime to center yourself when you become unbalanced. I find chimes in the key of E work particularly well.
- A leather belt to cinch in the narrative when you are 6 pages over the limit. It’s also useful to flog the nearest object if you become unbalanced and don’t have a chime.
- Trendy leather boots with a bit of a heel (black is good) to protect your feet as you wade through all the sh**, uh, information.
- A wand with a crystal of some sort (the kind of crystal does not matter but it does make the wand work better…unless you are at Hogwarts in which case a simple wooden one works best) to wave when you need the deadline pushed back or to erase the dark circles under your eyes.
- Last, but not least, a long scarf to tie up loose ends. The scarf lends a bit of flair to your presentation and covers up flaws such as neck wrinkles as well.
Check out all of the resources at GrantGoddess.com!
Friday, September 3, 2010
Here are the top 5 strategies that I used to learn grant writing:
Strategy 1 – Get Paid To Learn
Like most of the grant writing experts I’ve interviewed this year on my radio show, I started learning grant writing on-the-job. Luckily, I got paid to learn. In fact, I doubt that I would have learned grant writing at all had I not been paid to learn. That’s why when I designed one of the first grant writing certification programs in 2000, I made sure to include paid internships, so students would have the opportunity to get paid to learn, too.
Strategy 2 – Study Funder RFP’s
Here’s the story of my first grant:
On June 5, 1988 - actually the very next day after graduating with my master's degree - I received a phone call from an administrator at the local community college. She was looking for someone to write a grant proposal for the college and asked me if I would be interested. I responded that while I was flattered to be asked, I had never written a grant proposal before; how could I possibly write a successful one?
"Don't worry," she replied. "The proposal is pretty straightforward. And if you need some help, just let me know."
I spent over 100 hours on that first grant for $125,000. To provide some perspective, my last grant for $425,000 took 4 hours to write.
In that first grant, the guidelines were provided by the state Department of Education. Without any formal training, I started by studying – in great detail – the Request for Proposal (RFP). Why did I start there?
I had no grant writing experience to draw from. However, I had been successful with getting excellent grades in college by figuring out the grading criteria used by each university professor. The skill of studying a course syllabus and asking questions to clarify the rating scale used in a university class transfers to grant writing.
You see, the RFP from a funder is like the syllabus from a professor. It provides – occasionally not – how a paper will be evaluated. Whenever possible, ask questions to clarify the guidelines, and organize your proposal so that it can be easily and favorably reviewed. In college, you get good grades. In grant writing, you get money. How cool is that!
Strategy 3 – Interview Experienced Grant Writers
In that first grant, I tracked down the one experienced grant writer at the college and spent a lot of time interviewing him about his experience and any advice he had. He helped alleviate a lot of fears I had.
I have expanded this strategy to require students to interview experts in some of my courses. Also, I interview experts on my radio show. I find it helpful to have a beginner’s mind even with 22 years in the business and a 92% success rate.
Strategy 4 – Read Funded Proposals
Back to my first grant. I tracked down old grant proposals that had been approved at the college. While this was helpful to get some tips, I learned over the years that the best funded proposals to read are ones that the funder considers “well written.”
If the funder doesn’t provide you with a good proposal when you ask – my experience is that they almost always do - then check the funder’s 990 tax return to identify previous grantees. Find one that is comparable to your agency; call them up. Everyone I’ve ever asked has been flattered and more than willing to provide a copy of a funded proposal.
Strategy 5 – Teach Grant Writing
I was approached about teaching a grant writing seminar in 1993. A great advantage of teaching something is that you soon learn what you don’t know. One thing I didn’t know was a systematic way to teach-and-learn grant writing since I had no formal training.
So, I got a grant to attend a 5-day grant writing training offered by the Grantsmanship Center. They handed out this huge binder of materials that I haven’t looked at in almost 13 years. They did have one very good 49-page booklet entitled Program Planning and Proposal Writing by Norton Kiritz. It was touted as the “most widely used grant writing format in the world.” That got my attention.
The final part of the 5-day training was to write a mock proposal using the format presented in the booklet, which I now call the Kiritz Template. We could write by ourselves or team up with someone else. I was surprised with how few actually wrote a grant. I did, though. I found the template - summary, agency introduction, problem/need statement, objectives, method, evaluation, future funding, budget – very useful in organizing of a standard grant.
In fact, I liked it so much that I started using the Kiritz Template in my introductory classes. I expanded the Grantsmanship Center approach to …
- Create a list of 25 study questions of the most important concepts in the Kiritz template.
- Create a rating scale for the Kiritz template for students to critique draft proposals and experience what funder reviewers might experience when they evaluate proposals.
- Include conducting a mock review. I discovered after teaching for a dozen years or so that turning in a first draft of a proposal like we did in the 5-day training was mediocre at best. Now, my students conduct a “mock review” of their proposals in a way that mirrors how reviewers might rate them. They then revise their proposals with the feedback they get from the reviewers. The result is a remarkable improvement in the overall quality of their proposals; the scores of revised proposals are significantly higher than those of the first draft. One expert claims that mock reviews will double even triple your chances of being funded. We need every competitive advantage we can get, right!
- Getting paid to learn,
- Studying funder RFP’s,
- Interviewing grant writing experts,
- Reading well-written (in the eyes of the funder) proposals, and
- Teaching grant writing.
Special thanks to Phil Johncock, The Grant professor, for contributing this post. You can get more information about Phil and grant writing at http://grantwritingnewsletter.com/.
There is still time to sign up for Grant Writing 101, our popular online grant writing course!
Thursday, September 2, 2010
We all use both sides of our brain to some degree but in most people one side dominates. For me, the right brain has always taken precedence – creative, random, intuitive, holistic, and a whole to part perspective. This view has served me well for several decades as I only needed my analytical, logical, and sequential part to whole left brain perspective when I wrote lesson plans or balanced my checkbook. So how, you ask, did I learn grant writing, a mostly left-brain dominated task?
After many years as an educator and educational consultant, I thought the prospect of becoming a grant writer challenging and exciting as well as offering a great opportunity to unleash my creativity in helping clients design and develop programs and services. I enthusiastically jumped in with both feet and eyes wide open. I read successful proposals and tips for grant writing by experts in the field, and reconnected with journal writing to hone my writing skills, but, best of all, I was able to work beside a very successful grant writer who became my mentor. She helped me understand the nuts and bolts of the process and provided invaluable feedback (“Mmmm, I can see that you are excited about the design but where did you address the funder’s criteria?”). I was able to participate in her grant writing courses and learned how important it is to listen to clients and help them find the funding to make their dreams a reality. The first grants I wrote (and rewrote…and rewrote…and rewrote) helped me understand the need to create an outline of the narrative to ensure all criteria are addressed and to communicate complex ideas in clear, concise language. One day, after reading a draft of a proposal I had written, my mentor looked at me and said, “Finally, you’ve grown a left brain.” That did make me smile!
I have written many successful proposals over the last 10 years and, while I always don my “left brain hat” to actually write the proposal, I still begin the writing process by visualizing the big picture, drawing the project design, and scribbling my notes all around the design (usually in a variety of colors). So yes, I have grown a left brain over the years but I have found that there is still plenty of room for creativity in grant writing.
You can read more tips from MaryEllen Bergh, the Grant Coach, at the GrantGoddess.com member site.
Free e-book - 12 Secrets of Successful Grant Writers.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
The T-1 line brings us our telephone and Internet service so we’re pretty useless as consultants without a telephone or Internet connectivity; these are, after all, essential tools of the trade. It’s a bit like the Slurpee machine and the hot dog roller at the 7-11 going on the fritz, or Santa’s Elves emigrating to Thailand. Like convenience stores and Santa, there are some tools one must have to do business.
Oh sure, our computers still work. I can write fascinating blog posts (not necessarily this one), but I can’t post them. I can develop interesting videos and Photoshop pictures, but I can’t send them anywhere. Our T-1 glitch has rendered us electronically hamstrung as it were, and that’s frustrating to a bunch of propeller-heads such as we have become.
T-1 snits are unusual; these phone lines are quite reliable as a matter of course. This history of reliability brings me no satisfaction, it is but weak solace on this sunny afternoon. As I sit in electronic isolation, I fear it’s quite possible that the end of the world has come and I shall never know of it.
Oh joy! A technician has arrived to resolve the problem. After much trudging back and forth between his truck and the connection box, he informs us that a smidgen of corrosion on a connection has caused the snit just as a flight attendant in a snit can stop an airliner.
The problem has been resolved for today so we’re back online and there are pressing matters to attend to so I’d better end this short rant and move on to more meaningful activities.
*snit – adjective – An expression of aggravation roughly equivalent to a red-faced, screaming 2-year-old in the grocery store whose mother is waiting desperately for the person checking out ahead of her to learn how to use an ATM card. See also: Mel Gibson, Christian Bale.
(This post/rant was written by non-profit consultant and expert grant writer, Derek Link.)
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About Creative Resources & Research
- Grant Goddess
- Woodland, CA, United States
- Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.