Archive for the ‘Grant Writing’ Category

Reader Question: Starting a new program and convincing foundations to fund?

February 26, 2010

Photo by tacomabibelot

I recently did a session on Programs: Developing, Managing, and Evaluating for the Emerging Nonprofit Leadership Network and I was asked a question by a participant about starting a new program. The participant was wondering how does convince a foundation to fund a new program when you have never done it before, and therefore don’t have evaluations showing it was effective?

This question surprised me because I thought most would know the answer, but I found that many at nonprofits were wondering this same thing. The answer is research. You should rarely, if ever, start a new program without research supporting your intervention. So, what if no one has ever done what you want to do – or someone has done it, but there isn’t research supporting it yet? Well, then you find research supporting components of the program.

I’ll take an easy example, say you want to start a program where 10th graders become tutors and mentors for at-risk 6th graders to help them improve academic achievement. Sure, there might not be research on that specific program, but you should definitely be able to find research on whether mentoring is effective, at what ages mentoring has been effective, what research has found to be successful interventions for academic achievement, research on causes for low achievement for at-risk youth, etc. Using this research you should be able to build a case to support the program you want to do.

So, what if you can’t find research or research does not support what you want to do? If you can’t find research to support any component of your program in any way, then it probably isn’t the best choice. If you find research but it doesn’t support your approach – then figure out why and think of ways you can address that.

Where do you find this research? Online, articles, journals, etc. Personally, I use Google Scholar when searching for articles, but you can also use local libraries to access journals and books. Also keep in mind if you find a good article that fits what you are looking for, look at the citations and who the author cited. It is more likely than not you will find a bunch more support or useful information that will help build your case!

Guest Post: Make Your Reports Accessible – Three Easy Tips

February 26, 2010

Photo by Leo Reynolds

by Luise Barnikel at IssueLab

The shifting landscape and expectations of information seekers leaves your nonprofit with the difficult task of catching up and rethinking dissemination.

Your research provides valuable insight into critical social issues. To generate the biggest impact from the knowledge shared, your research report should be engaging to the various audiences it will touch, and adapt to today’s expectations for knowledge sharing.

So here are three easy tips to keep in mind when you are planning and designing your next research report.

1. Make your research usable, and re-usable. We understand the time and effort that goes into creating a thorough research report. Still, choosing a restrictive copyright can discourage readers from sharing or using your information – even for a good cause. There are copyright options that allow your audience to use the information in a wide variety of ways and even build upon it to create original research. An easy way to apply non-restrictive but legitimate copyrights to a document is using Creative Commons. IssueLab encourages its contributing organizations to use Creative Commons, because it “increases sharing and improves collaboration.”

2. Leave Them Asking for More. The research abstract can be a great way to generate further interest in the entire body of work, but really it should tell a journalist on deadline everything they need to know. Abstracts that leave out vital information – or are too long to read quickly – can actually deter readers from downloading the report to learn more. There’s a fine line between cliffhanger and information overload, but those who are truly interested in reading your report will ultimately do it when they have the time. So, distill valuable information, make the abstract comprehensive and quotable, but don’t just copy and paste the executive summary.

3. Get the facts out there. Once your report is released, go through it and extract short phrases, quotes, and statistics that can easily be shared online. Micro-blogging (sending brief text updates) has become an increasingly important skill and tool for organizations that wish to keep constituents informed. You can also create graphic summaries or pull charts that can be posted on Facebook or displayed alongside the abstract. Lastly, always make sure you include a direct link to your report listing page or .pdf – nothing worse than not finding the source of good information!

What are your thoughts on other easy ways to make research more usable?

Sing for your money…no really: A unique funding opportunity

February 26, 2010

Photo by Stuck in Customs

I was recently sent an email about an interesting and unique funding opportunity called the Heart and Soul grant (made possible by the CTK Foundation Philanthropic Fund and Grammy award-winners, Los Lonely Boys).

To apply for the grant, the organization must submit a 4-8 line poem (lyrics) that represents the “heart and soul” of their mission. After the grant closes a jury panel of recognized independent music artists and producers from around the country will select a winner based on the quality and impact of the lyrics. The selected nonprofit will be awarded $10,000 and have their poem put to song by Los Lonely Boys.

If you are interested in applying, do so by August 15, 2009. Any 501(c)3 nonprofit is eligible. To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit the CTK Foundation website and click on the gold Foundation tab.

What an easy fun grant application – at least it’s not the 5-10 pages you will typically have to write! If you apply for this, please feel free to submit your “lyrics” below in the comment section. Thanks!

Some thoughts about grant writing

February 26, 2010

Photo by Churl

When I wrote my very first grant, I had no idea what I was doing. I leaped at the opportunity to write a grant so I could have that experience under my belt. At I can honestly say that I probably didn’t do all that great of a job…I got the money…but I saw several typos and upon reflection, realized I had made numerous mistakes. I thought I would share some of my lessons learned, so maybe you won’t repeat my mistakes 🙂

  • Proofread, proofread again, and when you think it is perfect, proofread one more time.

I can’t tell you how often I see grants with typos, errors, etc. My first grant had some, and it’s likely yours do too. It’s very difficult to get every single typo in a 10-20 page grant, but you should try, and proofreading is the best way to help avoid all those typos.

  • Don’t wait to the last possible minute to write the grant.

I have done this, as have most people. Waiting until the last minute guarantees you will be stressed as you rush to get your grant done in time. You won’t be able to proofread it as well or as much, people will be less willing to help you, and it overall won’t be as good as it could be. Plus, it doesn’t look that great to the funder when you call them the day the grant is due with a question about the application requirements.

  • Use other staff.

I often find that the grant writer (or whichever development staff person that gets stuck with/volunteers for grant writing) is a lone pillar. They write the grants on their own with minimal outside help. Often times they are using templates from past grants. Please try not to do this. While it is completely ok and often good to use templates/past grants when writing a new grant, don’t just copy and paste. Make sure to talk to other program staff. Sit in on your organization’s programming. Attend the class or day program. Experience it first-hand. This will make you a better writer. Plus, having an ongoing relationship with the program staff ensures that you have the most updated information on that program. Programs, especially new ones, tend to slightly alter themselves as they grow and develop continuously getting better. Last year’s grant may not have the most updated and relevant information.

  • Finally, use updated research!

Some organizations don’t use research period. You read their grant and they make their case, but don’t really back it up. Others do back it up, but don’t have the most relevant or recent research. This is important – particularly incorporating evaluation information. Funders want to know why your approach works, why it is best, and why it is needed. Including statistics like “One in three teens currently get no education about birth control at all, and of those who do, many do not get it when they need it most—before they start to have sex.” when writing an application for comprehensive sexual education, or “Children whose parents read to them tend to become better readers and perform better in school” for a family reading program, they can help build your case and demonstrate the need for support. But don’t only use this sort of research, use internal research and evaluations. Include evaluation information from your program, for example 90% of program attendees increased competencies after attending X program as evidence by pre- and post-test results (for this, you would need to be evaluating your programs).

If you have your own lessons learned or tips, please leave them below for others to learn from!

Grant Writing Resources

February 19, 2010

Photo by churl

While there are hundreds of blogs that deal with aspects of nonprofit life, one that I particularly enjoy is 79 Grant Writing Resources. This blog is useful for anyone is useful for anyone that writes grants. Posts include obvious tips like check out the foundations 990 (#61), to more obscure resources like “SMART Maps for Grant Writers” (#55) and very useful posts like “Thirteen Proofreading Tips for Grant Writers” (#52). I highly recommend you check it out!

Foundation Highlight: The McKnight Foundation

February 19, 2010

The McKnight Foundation is a Minnesota-based private philanthropic foundation that makes grants to nonprofits throughout the world, with about 75% of its’ grantmaking taking place in Minnesota. The McKnight Foundation grants over $93 million annually to the following program areas: Arts, Children & Families, Environment, International, Neuroscience Research, Region & Communities and Minnesota Initiative Foundations.

Process for applying: The McKnight Foundation has different guidelines for each of its programs. The Foundation requires a letter of inquiry prior to submitted a full proposal. They do not currently have an online submission process. The Foundation does site visits before granting to an organization.

Timeline: Each program has different deadlines, make sure to check their website for detailed instructions and deadlines. Once you send in a letter of inquiry, the Foundation will respond within 60 days. When I sent in a letter of inquiry they responded much quicker, in only a couple weeks to invite a full proposal. Here is the timeline of my application: I sent in the letter of inquiry by August 1st, received a request for a full proposal in mid-August (the full proposal was due by the end of August), and submitted the full proposal by the last day in August. We had a site visit in late-October. I found out that our grant had been approved by the McKnight board late December and received the check within a week (before January 1st). So, the entire process from application to receiving the check took about five months.

Grants: The foundation funds project, planning, operating and capital grants. They also fund multi-year grants. The grant size ranges from millions to tens of thousands depending on the program and program area. It seems most grants fall around $50,000, with 85% of their grants being smaller than $100,000.

A few organizations they have funded: Metro Blooms, Africa 2000 Network-Uganda,
Cambodian Rural Development Team, Center for Effective Philanthropy, Northern Prairie Performing Arts

Side notes: The program officer I worked with was extremely helpful and was able to secure us an additional $10,000 more than we requested for a challenge grant to help increase our individual donations. So, don’t forget, the program officer is your advocate and can help get your program funded.

The Blind Proposal

February 19, 2010


Photo by partie tramatic

What is the best approach to grant writing? Many development professionals and grant writers believe that the best approach to grant writing is to apply to as many foundations as they possibly can each year. Others argue that this is a waste of time and not an effective approach.

This is a common issue in organizations that have new staff or find themselves with a cash deficit. Development staff often feel pressured to get applications out and will skip key steps in grant research. In my experience, the best approach is to send out fewer, targeted proposals to foundations that you have already spoken with and have at least a 50-50 chance of receiving funding. Here is the process I use for grant writing:

Grant Writing Process
1. Identify prospects (similar organization’s annual reports, RFPs, referrals, etc).
2. Review their online guidelines to see if there is a potential fit.
3. Look at their latest 990 on GuideStar to see who they have funded and what size of grants they have given out.
4. Develop an outline of two ideas or programs that you can pitch to a program officer.
5. Call the program officer.

A conversation should go like this:
1) Explain who you are (development person at Nonprofit SOS).
2) Ask if they are familiar with Nonprofit SOS? If yes, great! If not, then take a minute to explain the mission of your organization.
3) Tell them that you have reviewed their guidelines and are interested in submitting a proposal.
4) Ask them if this would be a good time for you to take a few minutes to tell them about the proposal, get their feedback and make sure it is a good fit with the organization.

Make sure to take detailed notes from the conversation. If the program officer is interested and thinks it is a good fit, they often will use the wording you need to use to interest the Board. In most cases, this phone conversation will tell you whether or not it is worth your time to submit a proposal.

Before ending the call, make sure to ask about the proposal amount. You can say something like this: “From what you’ve said, I think this project might be a good fit for the foundation. I’d like to ask for this amount $–. Would you welcome such a proposal from Nonprofit SOS at this time?

I almost never send blind proposals. If I cannot reach the program officer, then I will send a blind letter of inquiry (LOI) to find out if they are interested. Although, some people do find success sending dozens of blind proposals every year.

What approach do you find works best for you?

You can find some great tips about grant writing here.