4 Scary Things to Avoid in Grant Applications

It's that time of year: time for ghosts, goblins, and ghouls to emerge and make their mark.  While scary costumes and decorations can be fun, scary grant applications do not get funded.

Here are four scary things to avoid in grant applications:



1. Applications that ignore the funder’s guidelines or requirements

Most funders provide some sort of guidelines to tell grant applicants what they want to see – what they are willing to fund or not willing to fund, what their interests are, what information should be included in a successful grant application. And yet, a surprising number of grantseekers still submit grant applications that are outside the funder’s guidelines or do not include the required information. Why is this scary? It means the grant will not be funded, and the grant writer has probably missed the opportunity to build a relationship with this funder, since the funder will be unlikely to want to see another application if the first one is far off the mark. Missed opportunities for funding and impact? Scary.

2. Applying for grants that your organization won’t be able to handle or implement

The temptation is there. A new competitive grant with a big funding pool. The possibility for a grant that’s bigger than any grant your organization has ever received. It’s right up your alley. Your interests are perfectly aligned with the funder’s. You’ve written the most compelling grant proposal you’ve ever written. Then you win the grant, and it’s so big and the expectations are so great that your organization is unable to handle it. You have to hire new staff in a hurry, and they don’t get sufficient training. You have to scale up infrastructure, and the grant hasn’t provided enough overhead support (or maybe it’s a restricted project grant), so you can’t get your team the equipment it needs. The list goes on. This type of scenario can sink an otherwise successful organization. Terrifying.

3. Not proofreading before you submit

Typos? Frightening.

4. Getting too bogged down in detail

If you can’t see the forest through the trees while you’re writing, your prospective funder won’t be able to, either. It’s critically important to know all of the details of the program and how it will be implemented. But you don’t necessarily need to share every detail in your grant application. Provide enough information to give the program officer or other decision makers enough information about the problem your organization is tackling, why it’s important, and how your programs are addressing it, but not so much information that it’s overwhelming. The purpose of the grant application is to demonstrate the need and the opportunity for support from this funder to help your organization meet its goals and serve its constituents while also helping the funder meet its goals. There will be other opportunities for an interested funder to dig into the details with you. Get them interested first, then have the detailed conversation later. Too many details too soon can be scary.


Don’t make these scary mistakes in your grant applications!

While it’s up to you to avoid these scary grant writing mistakes, grant writing software can help with the rest of the process.

Learn

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kimstovring/15052960483
Author: Dahna Goldstein
October 30, 2015, 05:27 PM

Gateway to Grant Success: 17th Annual Grant Professionals Association Conference

This is a guest post from Kelli Romero, Membership Director at the Grant Professionals Association

GPA_Conf_Web-Banner-2015-300x250

The 17th Annual Grant Professionals Association* conference will be held in St. Louis, Missouri on November 11­14, 2015. This year, the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) has blazed a trail of new and exciting workshop sessions, innovative learning experiences and networking opportunities.

This is a must ­attend event for anyone involved with grant management and grant proposal preparation. GPA Conference workshops offer expert advice from the grant profession’s most successful and accomplished grant proposal developers/managers. Workshop tracks include: Proposal Development and Planning, Donor Relations and Research, Grant Management and Reporting, Evaluation and Collaboration, and Federal Grants. Sessions are targeted to individuals with varying levels of experience from beginner to mid­career to advanced topics (new this year).

Workshops cover topics such as:

  • State of Grantseeking and Its Implications for Grant Professionals – presented by Altum’s own Dahna Goldstein!
  • Grant Management (Not) For Dummies: The Price You Pay After the Award]
  • How to Stage a Proposal Like Staging a Home – Emphasize Best Assets
  • Understanding Online Grant Applications­Interactive Q & A
  • Overcoming the Challenges of Grant Seeking and Management in Large, Fiscally Diverse Organizations

Several workshops focus on specific fields, such as grant management, government, education, human services, and faith based organizations.

This year’s conference will highlight some keynote and featured speakers as well as some wonderful sponsors and exhibitors, such as Altum!

Who Should Attend:
Anyone involved in grants: Grant Writers, Grant Managers, Grant Consultants, Grants Officers, Grant Coordinators, Development Directors, Executive Directors, Government Relations Officers, Financial Officers and any other Grant Professionals. Any level of experience, beginner to expert.

In today’s extremely competitive world for grant awards, the organization that invests in the professional development of its grant professional increases its odds of receiving grant funding tremendously. The opportunity to meet and learn from this caliber of presenters will not be matched at any other venue.

Registration for this conference is a small investment for the knowledge and increased competency you will gain at this premier event. To find out more information about the conference or register go to: 17th Annual GPA Conference.


*The Grant Professionals Association (GPA), a nonprofit membership association, builds and supports an international community of grant professionals committed to serving the greater public good by practicing the highest ethical and professional standards. Founded in 1997, GPA has grown close to 2,000 active members representing all 50 states and internationally. More than 50 chapters have formed in the past five years.


Author: Dahna Goldstein
August 20, 2015, 02:49 PM

Finding Your Path Just Got Easier

This is a guest post by Cynthia Adams, CEO of GrantStation

 

Pathfinder-Logo

About a year ago, I (virtually) sat down with my staff and told them I wanted to build an interactive program that would help individuals who are trying to develop their grantsmanship skills. I thought this concept might stimulate some interesting conversation. I had no idea how quickly the staff would latch on to it!

Why was their reaction to this idea so positive?

Because we had all been experiencing the same thing, over and over. GrantStation Members (about 25,000) were hungry to learn more. GrantStation Insider subscribers (about 250,000) were always asking about learning opportunities.

Grantsmanship is somewhat of a mystery to many individuals, and most people assigned with the task of grant research, writing, or management, not to mention strategic planning, are often looking for guidance.

So, the good news was we had identified a real need. Our challenge became, how do we build something that will actually help individuals improve their grant seeking skills?

After much contemplation, planning, testing and programming we launched, on June 18, a new, public website called the PathFinder.

The PathFinder is designed to help individuals develop their career path as grant professionals. The PathFinder library provides profiles of top quality resources that can strengthen an individuals ability to secure and manage grant awards. Each posting is vetted by our staff, so you are getting the 'cream of the crop'.

To get started, you can browse the library, search the resources, or use the Find Your Path tool to develop your own learning plan. You can get a full tour of how this site works by watching this short, introduction video posted on the home page.

Whether you consider yourself to be a novice, somewhat experienced or a professional, I believe you will find the resources to be of high quality and useful.

We've organized the resources into three categories: timely events, quick study, and deep dive. Timely events include live webinars, workshops and trainings, as well as conferences. Quick study items include articles, reports, blogs, and other items that take a little time to absorb. And, the deep dive resources all focus on interactive tools, books, certificate and master programs.

This site, like many sites nowadays, allows you to rate the resources, so once you’ve read a book or a report, taken a webinar or attended a training, please come back and rate the resource so others can learn from your experience!

 

Cynthia Adams has spent the past 40 years helping nonprofit organizations raise the money needed to do their good work. Many of her early efforts centered on raising funds to set aside wilderness areas in Alaska. In 1990 she started her first company, the Alaska Funding Exchange. This endeavor served as the testing ground for a national company, GrantStation, which opened its Internet doors in the fall of 2001. Cindy built this business because she believes that grantseeking requires a thorough understanding of the variety and scope of grantmakers and sound knowledge of the philanthropic playing field. Her life's work has been to level that playing field, creating an opportunity for all nonprofit organizations to access the wealth of grant opportunities across the U.S. and throughout the world. Cindy enjoys hiking, gardening, and "movie night" with friends. Her husband, John Luther Adams is a composer, so she also listens to a lot of 21st Century music

Author: Dahna Goldstein
June 22, 2015, 06:32 PM

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket – Grantwriting Tips

Grantwriting eggs in one basket

The upcoming Easter holiday has gotten me thinking about eggs and baskets, and how combining the two – specifically putting all eggs in one basket – can be dangerous, for both grantseekers and grantmakers. 

I suppose I should be writing about Passover symbols, but unleavened bread only makes me think about predictions that grantmaking will be pretty flat this year.  But I digress.

For nonprofits, putting all grantwriting eggs in one basket – and more broadly, putting all fundraising eggs in one basket – can be a serious problem.  A future post will be about grantmakers, and why they should not put all of their eggs in one basket, either.

The notion of eggs and baskets brings to mind an image of an investment portfolio.  Those of us who have been taught about investing (either formally or informally) have been taught to diversify our portfolios, or not to put all of our investment eggs in one basket.  A diversified portfolio mitigates risk by combining different asset classes with different levels of risk and reward.

Simply put, imagine you put all of your money into one stock, the ABC Corporation.  If that stock price goes through the roof overnight, you could become a millionaire.  But if that stock completely tanks, you could lose all of your money instantly.  While a diversified portfolio (combining stocks and other assets like bonds, all with different levels of stability and predictability, and with different potential returns) means you are quite unlikely to become a millionaire overnight, it also means that you’re less likely to go broke overnight.  So a diversified portfolio is a cautious, smart investment strategy for long term stability and returns.

The same is true for fundraising.  Let’s say your organization needs to raise $200,000 from outside sources to support its programs for the year.  You have limited resources, so you need to decide where to invest your fundraising efforts and fundraising dollars.  While many nonprofits don’t think about fundraising this way, any staff time dedicated to fundraising has a cost – both the actual cost of salaries for the amount of time spent fundraising, and an opportunity cost in terms of other activities that cannot be pursued by fundraising staff.  Say there is an online fundraising contest with a top prize of $200,000.  All you need to do is have the most votes at the end of the contest.  If you win, your fundraising for the year is complete, and you’ll be able to deliver all of your programs and services.  All you need to do is win the contest.

If you invest all of your organization’s fundraising resources in that contest and win, that’s great!  It’s like becoming a millionaire overnight.  But how likely are you to win that contest?  And what if you don’t win?  It’s like putting all of your money on that stock that tanks.

Grantwriting is similar.  Some foundations and governments award large grants.  If you write one winning grant proposal for a $200,000 grant, then your organization is set for the year.  But what if you invest a lot of time and resources, and don’t get the grant?  What if, to have enough time to dedicate to writing the perfect proposal for a $200,000 grant, you let opportunities to apply for other, smaller grants pass you by?

Just as the economy impacts individual investing, and decisions investors make, it also impacts the nonprofit sector, and the funds available for nonprofits seeking support.  As many nonprofits are painfully aware, government funding has decreased over the past several years while demand for services has remained steady and has increased in many cases.  For organizations that were overly reliant on government funding, cuts in government support have been disproportionately painful – many organizations have had to cut programs or staff, and some have even been shuttered.

A wise approach to fundraising suggests a diversified portfolio:

  • Overall, grants should comprise one component of your organization’s fundraising, but not at the expense of individual fundraising, fees for service, events, or other fundraising activities that are appropriate for your specific organization and issue area. 
  • Your grantseeking portfolio should be diversified as well:
    • Pursue a combination of smaller and larger grants, ensuring that the total possible value of the grants far exceeds your needs.  If you write $200,000 worth of proposals, and only half of the proposals are funded, you won’t meet your fundraising needs
    • Pursue a combination of government and foundation grants.  If a government grant disappears, diversified nonprofits will still have support from foundations.  It’s not a panacea, but it is better to have some funding (and money in the bank) than none
    • Pursue a combination of levels of government grants, from small local agencies, to state and Federal grants.  Not all levels of government grants will be right for all organizations, so be sure to craft a diversified plan that is right for your organization
    • Pursue a combination of foundation types.  Different types of foundations have different mandates, and their giving patterns can differ when economic conditions or giving priorities change.  Get to know the community foundation in your area, as well as the family foundations and corporate foundations and giving programs that support organizations in your geographic area and issue areas.

A diversified grantwriting portfolio is a wise fundraising strategy. 

What are your tips for creating a diversified fundraising or grantwriting portfolio?  Share them in the comments below.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobydimitrov/3461353547/
Author: Dahna Goldstein
March 28, 2013, 10:11 AM

How Being More Empathetic Can Help Nonprofit Grant Writing

Empathy in Business

I attended a really interesting event last night hosted by Arlington Economic Development entitled "Empathy in Business."  The panel discussion, moderated by Jonathan Aberman of Amplifier Ventures, featured Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, the Meyer Foundation's CEO, Julie Rogers, and the President of George Mason University, Angel Cabrera.

I was intrigued by this panel for two reasons:

  • I'm a firm believer in the power of business to help address social issues and inequities
  • There seems to be a common disconnect between business and "touchy feely" terms like empathy, with business terms generally falling in the more intellectual realm, and nonprofit terms generally falling in the more emotional realm.  I was curious to see how "business" and "empathy" would interact.  

Also, the notion of Carly Fiorina and Bill Drayton on the same panel was just intriguing.

The panel definitely didn't disappoint.  It was provocative, but not controversial; all of the panelists agreed that empathy is an essential part of business (and nonprofits, and parenting, and life in general).

A few of my favorite quotes:

  • "Any good business is one that focuses on its enlightened self-interest" - Carly Fiorina
  • "Empathy is the tool that makes business happen. It starts with listening." - Angel Cabrera
  • "Empathy is a cornerstone of what it means to be human." - Julie Rogers
  • "Ask not what your Executive Director can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your executive director." - Julie Rogers.  She was actually wearing a pin with that quote
  • "Empathy based ethics are foundational to our society, including business." - Bill Drayton

My main takeaway from the event is that empathy is a key value in business, even (and maybe particularly) in businesses that do not have an explicit social mission.  If we accept Dr. Cabrera's notion that empathy starts with listening (which all of the panelists seemed to do), then creating a sustainable business -- one that will last and produce value for a long time -- requires starting with empathy.  That means listening to investors, to customers, to employees, to communities -- and using their perspectives to guide business decisions.  It also means not valuing the perspective of investors over all others. 

So what does this all mean for nonprofits and for grant writing?  That nonprofits should be - and are - motivated by empathy is obvious, and probably missing the bigger point.  What does it mean for nonprofits to be more empathetic?

To me, the key word is listening.  To be more empathetic, nonprofits have to listen - to donors, to constituents, to employees, to communities.  What that means for grant writing is two key things:

  • Listen to your funders and prospective funders.  Foundations have missions, too.  They make funding decisions based on those missions.  Trying to fit square pegs into round holes in terms of mission fit and funding priorities isn't really listening to the foundation.  Listen to the foundation.  If your organization is a good fit with its priorities, then apply (and see the next point).  If it isn't, then move on.
  • Listen to your constituents.  What do your service recipients need?  What are they getting from you?  What are they not getting from you?  Use their voices and perspectives to keep guiding the development and fine tuning of your programs and services.  And communicate those perspectives to your funders and potential funders when you write grant proposals.  Ultimately, everyone is trying to accomplish the same thing -- to help improve outcomes for the population or area that your organization serves.  By listening to your constituents, you can better convey to your funders how support your organization will help them better meet their own missions.
  • Listen to your employeesDan Palotta's TED talk is getting lots of attention (for good reason!) at the moment.  While he advocates better pay for nonprofit employees (and I agree), what I'm advocating here is listening to your employees' non-remuneration-related needs, as well as to things they express as challenges and opportunities to better serve your constituents. 

What do you think?  What is the role of empathy in nonprofits in general, and in grant writing in particular?

 

Author: Dahna Goldstein
March 15, 2013, 01:49 PM

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