SHOW ME THE GRANT MONEY!
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01/28/09
Grants for Libraries - Thinking Outside the Bookshelves Part 4
Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN, GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 6:27 am

Q. What are the three things grant applicants can do to better their chances of receiving funding?

A. Compartmentalize. Be specific. Avoid asking for general funds to do general things or operational tasks. View your agency like a department store and asks for grant funds to support the efforts of one of those departments. Grants are about requesting a specific amount of money to address a specific problem with a specific solution that will help a specified target population.

Second, don’t view grants as financial band aids. Few grants are awarded to participants who are running out of money, are victims of budget cuts or are in the red because of some kind of finacial mismanagement.

Third, view grants as seed - or start up - money to be used for starting up an existing program expanding an existing program that will continue long after the initial grant period expires. Funders don’t want to think that the only way your program will exist as long as they keep throwing money your way. So, for example, if you are asking for grant funds for a new technology lab – your ask would be greatly enhanced if you could tell them: we have a roster of volunteer experts to maintain the equipment, furniture has been donated, we have another donor who will pay for software site licenses, and we have a list of volunteers who will staff the lab and make sure equipment is used properly. All we need now is the money to buy the computers and hardware and we’re off and running. Funders love to be the last piece of the puzzle.

Q. Why are you at ALA this year?

A. We’re convinced ALA attendees will find the book of interest on three levels. First, as a book that fills an unmet need; that is, its approach is offbeat, easy-to-follow and accessible to all. It doesn’t read like a textbook nor does it feel like it’s written in a foreign language that can be deciphered by only a select few. One of the most common pieces of feedback we get is, “I didn’t know the subject of grant writing could be so entertaining.” On another level, attendees will find the book of value for their own cause. Who at this conference isn’t looking for additional funds and supports for their special project or program? And if everyone here is applying for the same grants, then who is going to stand apart from the pack? How are you going to beat your competition? Reading RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE will help answer those questions. Third, this is the way for attendees to help other nonprofits and worthy causes in their community. Put this book on your shelf and promote it as a resource that makes a process known only by an elite group of grant writers available to every one.

4461 comments
01/26/09
Grants for Libraries - Thinking Outside the Bookshelves Part 4
Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN, GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 6:25 am

Q. You promised to share “three reasons your past grant proposals may not have been funded.”

A. We just talked about one of them. In my book, I devote at least three chapters to the concept of collaboration with the basic theme, “collaborate or die.” Funding agencies frown upon applicants who try to make a go of it alone. You are expected to collaborate with new partners in new ways. Ultimately, the process of coming up with a fundable concept is really the process of building a new, or expanding an existing, collaborative. Second, most applicant don’t do their homework; that is, research funding agency guidelines to determine exactly what type of programs they do and do not fund. All this information is available in the application and guidelines. Third, they don’t apply. Seriously, most applicants don’t win awards because somewhere along the way they throw in the towel and don’t bother to apply. Understandably, the process can be daunting. But that’s why we published the book, to offer people a step-by-step guide to coming up with a winning concept and then applying for funds in a way that’s going to beat out the competition.

Q. There’s that word competition again. Many don’t apply because the competition is so great and it’s just a crapshoot.

A. It’s only a crapshoot if you write crap. Seriously, I’ve been on the other side of the desk, reading and selecting grants, many times and I can tell you that 80% of submission are sub-par. Why? Applicants haven’t thought it through. They don’t get it right before they write. So, while you may read that for any given grant there may be , let’s say, 200 applicants for five grant awards, I can tell you with great certainty that maybe 40, at best, will be seriously considered. Then, another 25% of those don’t align with the funding agency’s guidelines. Now we’re down to 30-to-1 odds. More than 20% of those will not qualify for technical reasons such as nonprofit status, geographic locations, etc. Now we’re down to 26 and I guarantee more than half of those will be weeded out because their applications lack one of the seven key components to a winning grant applicant. I call those Jon’s Almost World Famous Seven Cs and they are the core of my new book. Now it’s down to 10-to-1. And those ten applications are all excellent candidates to be seriously considered for funding. But then it’s out of your control and – as I say in the book – “in the hands of the Grant Gods.” What we can control is getting to the “seriously considered for funding stage.”

More about this in the next Blog and in my new book: RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 In Competitive Grant Awards.

3711 comments
01/23/09
Grants for Libraries - Thinking Outside the Bookshelves Part 3
Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN, GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 6:22 am

Q. Now that we have the concept where do we find grant money?

A. One place is all the usual suspects. Most governmental agencies and libraries are bombarded with announcements about grants. Then, you can easily occupy several days by searching the Internet for “grants,” “grant resources,” “grant funds,” etc. Also there are many grant writing firms that compile ListServs about upcoming grants and they are happy to have you on their emailing list. These are usually update and reliable. Just keep in mind they also want you to become overwhelmed, give up and hire them to do all the work. My experience with library staff is that they don’t think outside-the-box, toward more untraditional grant sources.

Q. For example?

A. I’ll give you three.

After school funds. These are some of the most lucrative and consistent funding streams flowing into communities right now. And with a new administration on the horizon, there’s talk of this money being doubled. So what I’ve done in the past is partner up local libraries with local after school programs and had them submit joint applications. After school participants can make regular visits to their local library for reading groups, research, to help out staff, to use technology – and any other number of limitless activities.

Second, corporate sponsorships. Most large corporations have local and/or national community giving divisions. And what I’ve learned over the years is that for some reasons schools and libraries seldom apply. They see themselves as government entities and corporations only giving to the private sector, and that’s not true. Often the application process to these corporations is very simple and the awards long-term and generous.

Third, technology grants. Again, the mindset of many libraries is to apply for money from those grants earmarked technology for libraries only. That is too limiting. There are many other sources. Let’s go back to education grants again. Libraries can partner with schools and say “you help us get money for new computers and we will put all your reading and math programs software on our library computers so students and families can access them at any time. ” It’s a win-win for everyone involved. I guess what I’m saying is that libraries shouldn’t limit themselves to grants that they think are exclusively for libraries only.

Think beyond the bookcases, reach out to new partners. Be creative. Come up with a new concept. That’s what wins grants.

More about this in the next Blog and in my new book: RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 In Competitive Grant Awards.

3570 comments
01/21/09
Grants For Libraries - Thinking Outside the Bookshelves Part 2
Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN, GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 5:18 am

Q. So it’s not about the writing?

A. Make no mistake, funding agencies expect proposals to be clear, uncluttered, easy-to-follow, concise and compelling – meaning persuasive and creative. They don’t give bonus points for big words are technical jargon and they certainly aren’t impressed with anyone who tries to come across as a professional writer. It’s all about the concept and how well the applicant documents a need and how creatively they will address those needs through the proposed program.

Q. Where does one who has interest in applying for a grant but has never done so begin?

A. They can begin by not making a mistake made my most applicants, focusing on finding where the grant money is and then throwing together a program that they think will win them some of that money. Instead, they should begin where most professional grant writers and grant winners begin – with a concept or an idea. And that seed of that concept germinates from need. At your local level, determine a specific need, discuss why that need is currently not being addressed, come up with a specific solution and ask for a specific amount of money to help fund the activities that will lead to that solution. That’s the concept – and that should be the first step.

More about this in the next Blog and in my new book: RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 In Competitive Grant Awards.

3366 comments
01/19/09
Grants for Libraries: Thinking Outside the Bookshelves - Part 1
Filed under: PROGRAM DESIGN, GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 10:14 pm

After completing an interview for an article for the upcoming American Library Association Mid-Winter meeting this month in Denver, I thought the content would be appropriate to anyone with a good heart and a good cause.

Q. What can you offer attendees beyond what the ALA Website offers, which has an entire section devoted to “Grants and Fellowships.”?

A. The ALA site, and others like it, do a great job of offering a comprehensive list of traditional grant resources. And most applicants think that their primary task is to solve the mystery of where the grant money is and follow the guidelines, fill out the application and roll the dice. Unfortunately, “most” applicants don’t win. That’s because they don’t get it right before they write. The critical factor is not to find out where the money is. Instead, it’s coming up with a program and proposal that’s compelling, competitive and creative enough to stand out from others and matches the vision of the person or place that’s giving out the grant money. All this should occur before any actual writing begins.

Q. Writing – the W-word – not all of us are professional writers or technical writers, so how can we compete with professional grant writers?

A. You don’t have to be a professional grant writer. You don’t have to be able to afford to hire a professional grant writer. You just have to THINK like a grant writer. And that’s what my new book is about, demystifying the whole grant research and writing process so anyone with a good heart and a good cause can tap into some of the $500 billion dollars in grant funds that’s out there each year. The book revolves around a topic we all love and are experts in – movies. I incorporate my background as a professional screenwriter and teacher to show how the FUNdamental principles of storytelling and screenwriting can be applied to the process of telling the story of your grant proposal. It’s all about the concept and strategizing – work that should take place before any writing begins.

More about this in the next Blog and in my new book: RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 In Competitive Grant Awards.

15788 comments
10/28/08
HOW TO RECRUIT, INTERVIEW, SELECT, USE, AND ABUSE, A GRANT WRITER - PART TWO
Filed under: GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 5:45 am

How can we hire a top-of-the-list grant writer within our limited budget?

To write the best proposal possible, will take the best writer you can find. Good grant writers command a pretty decent hourly rate or flat fee.

So your first question about looking for a good grant writer candidate is probably: How can we hire a top-of-the-list grant writer within our limited budget?

First, as you are well aware now, grant writers love an underdog. And maybe, in addition to your clientele, your own agency is a bit of an underdog: that is, is determined to succeed despite the tremendous odds against you. So if your cause is good, if the bottom line is delivering the best possible human service and not personal gain or ego fulfillment, and if you breathe life by living example into the quote about having the mental fortitude to do the job and take the job seriously, but yourself not too seriously, then you are not out of the running.

Second, most great grant writers I know donate many hours a year (gratis and at reduced rates) to help underdogs with a good cause.

Third, astute grant writers know that if your cause is good and your staff is good and the grant is good — that equals success. Success means that you grow as an agency. Growth means needing and winning more grants. That means that if you’re loyal, and you should be, there will be more work for the grant writer down the road.

Fourth, you can also get several great grants out of a writer for the price of one. You can hire the best to write one grant and then use their words and research as boilerplate for future grants that you write. While we of course caution you not just to cut and paste but to adapt their words to the specific needs of each grant, at least you will have a solid, professional foundation to work from.

Fifth, you can use a great grant writer as an editor, after the first draft. In other words, involve them in the planning and outlining process. Then you and your staff go ahead and do the grunt work, the first words-on-page draft that follows the planned structure. Following that, have the writer come in and do an edit and a polish. This also solves the problem of a writer being willing, but not available, to work full-time on your project.

Finally, don’t be shy about being honest and asking the grant writer directly: “Is there a way we can benefit from your services within the parameters of our limited budget?” With a great grant writer, there is always a way.

More about this in my next posting. Meanwhile, for more about how a grant writer should work as part of a planning team for your grant proposal, please read my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT FUNDS. Go to www.SandyPointInk.com.

3456 comments
10/27/08
HOW TO RECRUIT, INTERVIEW, SELECT, USE, AND ABUSE, A GRANT WRITER - PART ONE
Filed under: GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 5:44 am

A good grant writer/program designer, like a good man (”good man” — is that an oxymoron?) is hard to find. Finding a great one is tougher. Finding an excellent one is the Mother Lode. Why is it so hard to find a great grant writer?

Because there is really is no training ground for grant writers out there. There are no minor leagues. There are very few good grant writing classes. The process of training a grant writer is difficult, expensive and risky.

Astute agencies and programs, once they find a grant writer they can work with and who can win — do what they can to hold onto that grant writer and never let them go and never share them with anyone.

Headhunters and high pay. Because great grant writers are in such high demand the competition to find them and even steal them away from other agencies is fierce. Often times, he who has the best headhunter and the best offer wins.

The issue of compatibility with your staff. You may have found a very talented grant writer with a very impressive winning record, but what if they can’t or won’t work with your staff? What if, forever reason, the chemistry is wrong? What if their working style is drastically different from the working style and philosophy of your agency and its staff? Pretty much you’re out of luck because incompatibility is a sure signpost for failure.

More about this in my next posting. Meanwhile, for more about how a grant writer should work as part of a planning team for your grant proposal, please read my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: THE GROUNDBREAKING PROCESS USED TO WIN MORE THAN $385 MILLION IN COMPETITIVE GRANT FUNDS. Go to www.SandyPointInk.com.

3441 comments
10/16/08
Abstract Thoughts, Part 4
Filed under: GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 12:42 pm

4) THE ABSTRACT SHOULD BE THE LAST PART OF THE PROPOSAL YOU WRITE

The abstract should be one of the very last parts of the proposal that you write. Why? Because it’s a summary of the main points you have already written — not what you intend to write about.

One technique I use to ensure that all the main points are covered is that when we finish the final draft of the entire narrative portion of the proposal we will pull down “SAVE AS” and make a copy that is labeled “ABSTRACT.” Then I go through and delete everything but the main point/s of each section. I’ll also save other pertinent elements such as outcomes, needs research results, catchy phrases, and brief descriptions of certain elements such as a curriculum or a partner agency or an existing program that we intend to fold into our new program.

Now I have an Abstract document that includes all the key points made in the proposal. I also have a document that is formatted the same as the rest of the proposal.

From that, I begin organizing those saved elements, deleting those that are redundant or that I know will have to be removed because of length constraints. By the end of the process, I have whittled down 20-25 pages to one page. This one page is comprised of the same phrases used throughout the entire proposal. This is good because a key factor in persuasive writing is echoing and continually stressing key phrases, or selling points.

Think this is too much trouble? Takes too much time? Saying to yourself, “why bother with all that?”

Remember: By the time the typical grant reader is finished reading your abstract — they are 85% certain whether they are going to recommend your grant or deny it for funding.

3324 comments
10/15/08
Abstract Thoughts, Part 3
Filed under: GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 12:36 pm

Can the who, what, where, and how of your proposed program be understood in the first paragragh of your abstract?

Understanding the function of an abstract helps you better understand this question. Many times, the function of an abstract is to make it easy on the decision-makers so they don’t have to go back and re-read your entire proposal to remind themselves what your program is about.

Hopefully you will be fortunate enough to have your grant make it to the final decision process where, for example, the grant makers have narrowed it down to 20 finalists — but only have 12 grants to allot. It’s at this point where: the pros and cons of each program are weighed, similarities are and differences are categorized, geographic location is considered, target population is pinpointed, cost per client is compared, experience and track record of the lead agency is considered. The role of the abstract in this type of meeting is for those decision-makers to have all those facts easily retrievable on one page, at their fingertips.

If at this point your abstract is not clear enough, chances are you lose. These reader/scorers don’t have the time and patience to skim through the reams of facts and figures of your proposal. And c’mon, common sense tells you that a person doling out grant awards is going to lose their faith in you. They’ll think “…the applicant wants us to trust them with hundreds of thousands of dollars and they can’t even get their act together enough to write a friggin’ simple one-page abstract?!

With this in mind, a reader should be able to read the first paragraph and understand:
WHO is the lead agency and the target population served.
WHAT the proposed activities and the desired changes (through-line) are.
WHERE (i.e., community, district, neighborhood) wthe services will be offered and where within that community the services will be offered (i.e., schools, clinics, homes).

Assume that the abstract will be the only part of the proposal — other than the budget — that is carefully reviewed before the decision is made to consider the project further. If that won’t convince you to get every important fact on the first page than nothing will.

Of course, you can only have a good abstract if you have a good program design. Designing a winning grant program is what my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE, is all about (www.SandyPointInk.com).

3651 comments
Abstract Thoughts, Part 2
Filed under: GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 12:32 pm

According to one of the forefathers of modern acting, Russian actor and director Constanin Stanislavski, an actor/actress in order to develop continuity in a part needs to find the super objective — or the through line — of a character. That is, what motivates or drives the character during the course of a play? If a tangible goal can be established that the character strives for, than that becomes the single overriding action that all that character’s individual actions serve. Every decision that character makes, and every action the character takes, becomes a through line to achieving the super objective.

For example, a character’s quest in a sports story might be to prove to others that he is not a bum, that he has the grit and guts it takes to be a champion. The through line to every scene is about him overcoming the obstacles and conflict to prove that to himself and others.

Your program and proposal needs a Through Line as well. That is, the super objective your organization wants to achieve. A single overriding quest that every activity, every staff hired, every assessment, every partner, serves.

Let’s use a literacy program as an example. You may introduce the phrase “…empowering the parent/s to become their child’s second teacher…” Well then, that super objective becomes the reason for all activities within that program. Another Through Line might be, “1,000 children, 10,000 books…” meaning that each child and their parents will read 10 books over the course of a year. Then every activity within the program will help achieve the 1/10,000 goal.

Don’t make the reader/scorer guess what your Through Line is. Spell it out for them as soon as possible in the abstract. Having this overall glimpse of where you intend to go with the program will help the reader/scorer fit all the various pieces of your program into place. This Through Line — like those examples above — should be first introduced in the abstract and then resonate throughout your proposal.

More about this can be found in my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE (www.SandyPointInk.com)

3386 comments
10/14/08
Abstract thoughts
Filed under: GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 12:26 pm

The next few entries in this blog will be about ABSTRACTS. Why so much importance given to abstracts?

Because, by the time the typical grant reader is finished reading your one-page abstract — they are 85% certain whether they are going to recommend your grant or deny it for funding. This is true, even though most rubrics don’t include the abstract as part of the scoring process. This is true even though most grant writers write their abstract after all is done — almost as an after thought – when their exhausted, cranky, confused and just want to get it over with.

Whether it’s called an Abstract, Executive Summary, Brief Overview, Introduction — it all has the same purpose. The abstract is a clear, interesting, succinct and polished summary of the key components of your proposal: the need, the partners involved, the proposed outcomes, the timeframe, numbers served and the budget. Oh, and you usually have no more than a page to do it in… double spaced. But ultimately, the abstract should be looked at as a sales tool.

I often compare the abstract to an overture. When you sit down to watch a musical, the orchestra begins to play the overture that establishes the tone of what you’re about to see and hear. In this overture, they also establish various themes that will be introduced throughout the piece — themes that underscore the highpoints of the story that is about to unfold. When it comes time to write the abstract, think of it as an overture. And no, wise guy, we don’t expect any of your readers leaving their office that night humming the words to your proposal!

What the reader should expect is that throughout your proposal — starting with the abstract — that you’re going to establish various recurring themes, underscore high points of your program, and present a challenge that you and your community are uniquely qualified to solve…with a little help of the funding agency.

It’s all about good story telling – which is covered in my new book RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE (Www.SandyPointInk.com)

More thoughts and suggestions about abstracts in the next entry.

3494 comments
10/04/08
But A Good Grant Writer Is Too Expensive
Filed under: GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 11:18 am

After trying to write several grants themselves and realizing what a daunting and competitive task the process is and how it can cripple a smaller nonprofit, many CBOs realize that hiring a professional whose only focus is to write the best proposal possible is a great idea — that is, until they find out the writer’s hourly rate and say, you’re just what we’re looking for…but you’re too expensive.” But there are ways to get a topnotch grant writer on board:

First, as you are well aware now, grant writers love an underdog. And maybe, in addition to your clientele, your own agency is a bit of an underdog: that is, is determined to succeed despite the tremendous odds against you. So if your cause is good, if the bottom line is delivering the best possible human service and not personal gain or ego fulfillment, and if you breathe life by living example into the quote about having the mental fortitude to do the job and take the job seriously, but yourself not too seriously, then you are not out of the running.

Second, most great grant writers I know donate many hours a year (gratis and at reduced rates) to help underdogs with a good cause.

Third, astute grant writers know that if your cause is good and your staff is good and the grant is good — that equals success. Success means that you grow as an agency. Growth means needing and winning more grants. That means that if your loyal, and you should be, more work for the grant writer down the road.

Fourth, you can also get several great grants out of a writer for the price of one. You can hire the best to write one grant and then use their words and research as a boilerplate for future grants that you write. While we of course caution you not just to cut and paste but to adapt their words to the specific needs of each grant, at least you will have a solid, professional foundation to work from.

Fifth, you can use a great grant writer as an editor, after the first draft. In other words, involve them in the planning and outlining process described in my new book RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE (click on the Sandy Point Ink link to the left). Then you and your staff go ahead and do the grunt work, the first words-on-page draft that follows the planned structure. Following that, have the writer come in and do an edit and a polish. This also solves the problem of a writer being willing, but not available, to work full-time on your project.

Finally, don’t be shy about being honest and asking the grant writer directly: “Is there a way we can benefit from your services within the parameters of our limited budget?” With a great grant writer, there is always a way.

24698 comments
09/30/08
Stats Don’t Mean A Thing If They Ain’t Got That Schwing!
Filed under: GRANT WRITING
Posted by: Jon @ 5:50 pm

Okay, so I butchered a great lyric by combining it with a Wayne-and-Garthism, but I’m trying to make you remember a very important point. A statistic standing alone doesn’t mean a thing unless it’s compared to another statistic. Why is this important? Because statistical data is the lifeblood of an excellent grant proposal. It’s your job to turn the statistics into a story and to make all your data have meaning to the Reader/Scorer.

For example, MOST applicants in a school-based grant application might write: “The Generic Unified School District has a high school drop out rate of 28%.” Okay….so? What is our reaction supposed to be? 28% is merely a number in limbo. But if they were to instead write: ” The Generic Unified School District has a high school drop out rate of 28%, seven times the county average of four percent (4%)…” Now that stat has some Schwing! We have something to compare it to. It means something. We know how to react.

Never assume the Reader/Scorer will make the connection or a comparison. YOU must make the connection for the reader. YOU must make it easy for the reader to understand—to get the point.

More about this in my new book RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE: The Groundbreaking Process Used To Win More Than $385 Million In Competitive Grant Awards available at www.SandyPointInk.com. Click the Sandy Point Ink logo in the left column for more info.

3430 comments