Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Grant Proposal Writing Tips

After pulling together key documents belonging to your non profit organization, such as accounting reports, program results, notes from talking with programs (or service) staff, and other necessary information and research; you write a first grant proposal draft and then a second...you wonder after the third re-write 'what is the goal here'?

You and I know that the goal is to write a concise, clear, thorough, honest, and compelling grant proposal that will raise the grant money that your non profit organization needs. What, though, about getting the steps that make the difference between a good grant proposal and a great one?

I urge you to keep in mind that for every grant proposal that you submit there is always the possibility that it will not be funded. Not getting the grant is disappointing but more importantly it is the reason why your organization must diversify its revenue stream. In other words, be sure that you have other fundraising methods in place - or you may find yourself out of money in the middle of a new program or project. Never rely on just one method of raising funds now or in the future (even if you're just starting your non profit organization). Why? See my post http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2006/10/seeking-grants-for-new-programs-or.html

It is very helpful, especially when you are sitting down to write your first grant proposal, to have attended a good class, workshop, or conference sessionthat teachs the 'how to's'. The time and money that you invest in your education will be paid back to you and your organization many times over. It is worth taking the time to learn the basics and develop the skill before starting out in grant writing. I wrote a helpful post that provides resources for starting grant writing - check it out at http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2006/11/easy-resources-for-grant-writer.html

If you have not had the time to attend a course or read a good book on how to write grant proposals, but are going to go ahead and write and submit one anyway - it sounds like you're willing to learn through trial and error. People in this position my be tempted to pull an ancient grant proposal document out of your organization's file cabinets, or to ask a colleague for their agency's grant proposal and use that as a template for the one you're about to write. Keep in mind that while both documents may have garnered grants - you may also be using a document that works best for them and would not help your group. Or you may wind up putting the errors that they made in their document into your own proposal. When, though, you take a course or read a good book you have a clearer understanding of what works, what is expected, and how to do some of the required documentation (i.e. such as writing a budget for the proposal) - see my post on how to write budgets at http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2004/06/word-gets-is-in-budgets.html

So, if you are without time and want to just wing a grant proposal - ask a colleague who is an accomplished grant writer for assistance. Ask them if they could spare some time to show you what are the required components of a good strong proposal, and if they would be willing to proof read your first draft and help you shape it up into a great proposal. If you do not have an experienced colleague to ask for help - you can hire a consulting grant writer to do this for you and your organization - this is a common service that consultants provide. You can write a first draft and get them to proof it for you and suggest formating or missed information. It is one way to lessen grant writing costs and is also a good way to provide you; your agency's grant writer, with a one on one private lesson in the proposal process.

In general keep the following tips in mind;

1. It is most important that your document be honest. Never embellish the truth because you think it will help your organization get a grant. No non profit agency has it all - and if yours' appears to - that will be a red flag to the grant donor. Avoid getting a reputation for dishonest reporting - it will harm your organization and grant donors speak to each other - do not think that word would not get around. Your agency's reputation is at stake - never lie. Grant donors expect 'things to happen' or 'difficulties to arise' - they deal with that every day. Really.

2. Provide the grant donor with every bit of information, document, financial report, etc. that they request in their proposal directions also called giving guidelines. Leave nothing out. If your group does not have something that they requested - create the document that they're asking for. If it's something like a previous year's Balance Sheet and your organization's only existed for three months, call and speak to a programs person and tell them your situation - it will be fine, but your effort to keep them informed will be a proactive step in their eyes.

3. Write drafts. Do not submit a first draft of a proposal. You will have written long sentences that could be shortened and clarified for meaning. You will have misspelled words. You will have missed some required information. There will be errors. Be sure to have at least one proof reader go over your grant proposal EVERY time you think you've come to the final version. Provide them with the grant guidelines and ask that they check that you've included everything that the grant donor is requesting. Trust me, this is experience talking; you'll be glad that you did.

4. Speaking of experience, this point is where writing skills are crucial....Be clear, concise, and thorough. What do I mean? Let's pretend that you and I are working on a grant proposal and we work for Skateboards Forever - a group that collects skateboards for our museum. Let's say that I've written the following sentence in the first grant proposal draft: "Skateboards Forever has existed for ten years providing history, demonstrations, and other services to mostly children but adults, too, so that the community understands that skate boarding is a valid sport." You might read this first draft sentence and suggest the following edit of it: "For ten years Skateboards Forever has validated the importance of the skate board sport by providing our community with demonstrations, history, displays, and clinics." Not only is this sentence shorter - it is thorough (gives all of the information) and it is easier to read.

5. Keep in mind that the grant donor is going to read through tens if not hundreds of grant proposals - be clear, be concise, format for easy reading, and know that while they may want to read more about your organization - because of time, most grant proposals are only skimmed for the key information.

6. Set your organization and its request for grant money apart from others. How? Explain the need that your organization and its mission provides to the community - no other organization in your region provides it, perhaps. Or, maybe you're the only locally started organization doing what you do. Maybe you assist a certain specie or population that no other organization does. Something sets your group apart from all others in your region - this is your key. Where do you state this unique strength? In any section of the grant proposal that gives you the opportunity to. For instance, perhaps you could open your proposal with a strong statement such as "Skateboards Forever is the only skateboard museum in the nation."

7. While most grant donors will request specific information and documentation in your grant proposal, not all will. If they do require specific information - they may not request key or basic information that all grant proposals should include - they may assume that you'll give this information to them. This is another great reason to bone up before sitting down to write your first proposal. For instance if the giving guidelines do not state "provide us with your organization's mission statement" I guarantee you that you are better off including it in each and every proposal you submit, as your mission statement is the backbone of your organization's work.

Experience, whether hired or acquired makes the difference in getting more grant proposals approved!

Monday, January 22, 2007

More About Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Corporate Investing Practices

One last thought on the news that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested in businesses that may practice poor ethics...even poor ethics in conflict with the Foundation's own mission and values...

Last week, on the Public Broadcasting Channel's "Charlie Rose Show", Mr. Rose interviewed Starbucks Chairman, Howard Schultz. Interestingly, the imagination behind one of the largest corporations in the Pacific Northwest, stands firm on available health care. I say 'interestingly' because arguably he faces the same dilemmas that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation faces. In the case of the foundation, it wants to maintain its charitable works so assets must be grown, but, where does it stand in growing its assets, given its goals in our community?

Schultz was not speaking of any philanthropic work, per se, nor was he speaking on behalf of a donation, or a foundation. He, personally, worries about the American worker and the future of health care in this country. He grew up in the projects in Brooklyn and watched his family struggle when his father injured his ankle, could not work, and lost his health insurance. Schultz explains that his and his father's experience led to his forming a company that offers health insurance and stock options, even to employees who work a minimum of 20 hours per week. In the US, of course, part time employees usually receive no benefits; let alone health insurance. Starbucks is a leader in this concept.

Schultz built social responsibility into his corporate business plan when he grew the world's largest coffee retailer. He's doing ok, financially, too. To be fair, he did explain in his interview with Charlie Rose, that the reason that Starbucks had to increase its retail prices this year is because of the high cost of health insurance. So, we'll watch, and see what investing in social responsibility winds up doing to the business of this major international employer.

The issue that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been linked to is not unique to their foundation. It's not unique to any investor.

There is an interesting counter point to this dilemma which was raised in the January 14 2007 The Seattle Times article "Gates Foundation Faces Multi-Billion Dollar Dilemma" by Kristi Heim at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003524534_gatesmoney14m0.html

At the end of the article, the Aldus Corporation's founder Paul Brainerd, also a Seattle based philanthropist like the Gates Foundation, empathizes with them and their recent press. He makes the point that when he began investing his wealth, he too faced the same issue; 'how do I both manage investments AND know that the investments aren't harming our community or world?'

"He soon realized his money would be much more effective by "managing both sides of the equation," he said." the article states of Brainerd.

He is paraphrased as saying that he now works with his investments manager to effect ethical change when businesses he invests in harms the environment (his pet cause). The article ends with Brainerd stating that it's not a perfect solution to the issue raised by the LA Times about the Gates Foundation - but it's a step.

I think these are interesting times; we will see more of the same issue come up, I think, especially since investors are becoming more savvy in having to be more responsible (i.e. Sarbanes Oxley Act); investors such as individuals, corporations, and foundations.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Gates Foundation Donations vs. Foundation Investments

This post is in reference to the January 8, 2007, The Seattle Times article, "Gates Foundation Invests In Firms Accused of Abuses" by Charles Piller at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003514469_gates08.html?

This issue is an excellent red flag. Do we fundraising professionals need to understand a donor's investments and business practices; and how these day to day business operations relate to giving?

For instance, let's say that hypothetically you run a (made up, here) private, local, non profit organization, Back To Home, and your mission statement says 'Back To Home assists, educates, and connects local resources to people so they regain housing after losing their residence due to wrongful eviction, lawsuit, or emminent domain'.

What if Back To Home worked the past year and a half raising donations for a brick and mortar project, Back To Home's Temporary Housing Shelter; and a substantial donation comes in from one of the largest donors in the world? You'd jump up and down and your clients would smile in relief. They and their families are going to have somewhere safe, warm, and clean to live until they can get their own housing, again.

Let's say that in the next moment, suddenly, the above news story comes to mind and it crosses your mind, 'hmmm...maybe we don't want to accept this donation for ethical reasons?'

"Question everything and know where you stand!" More than one teacher encouraged me to be a critical thinker in life. Let's be critical in our analysis, too.

If your organization is aware that one of your donors is related to business practices that are creating clients for your agency (or, in other words, hurting your clients) you are wise to consider the situation. Here is where that relationship you've developed with the donor is critical.

1. Don't assume. Research whether there are people being hurt by the allegations. Look into your clients' cases and see if they are related to the business donor's case.

2. Call the donor and be clear, honest, and fair. Don't indicte anyone without a fair and honest investigation. Ask, 'is there a direct connection between their foundation (the actual donor) and the corporation whose business is hurting your clientele and people in the community?' If there is, ask, 'what is their position on the allegations?' If they can't share that with you at this time (do to legal proceedings), ask, 'are the allegations true?'. Gather the information that they can share with you.

3. Talk the situation out with your Board and staff. Consider everyone's point of view, concerns, and suggestions. Get the opinions of legal counsel and clients, too.

4. In the end, really, your organization will have to take some of my educators' advice; "Question what you've been told and know where you stand". You and I know that no one can know everything; no one can know the truth. This means that your organization will have to know what donations will they decline (graciously) and why? Please see my post, "Is There A Donation That Our Organization May Not Take?" at http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2004/05/is-there-really-grant-that-our.html

Undoubtedly, Bill and Melinda Gates made most of their wealth off of the Microsoft Corporation. Their foundation, the Los Angeles Times discovered, invested in businesses that are being charged in court with business practices that are in direct conflict with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hope, "bringing innovations in health and learning to the global community".

So, what's the solution? In the end, each non profit organization must decide their comfort level. Some non profits may decide that they can't accept funds from an organization that hurts its cause. Other non profit groups might decide that they can accept funds from donors with connections to businesses that are 'creating work for them', as the money is being used to fix the problem through the non profit's mission and work.

This is a very interesting situation and the dialogue that it encourages is a good one. Please share your thoughts in a comment to this post. Thank you.

[Note: in no way is this post, or any post by me, legal advice. This post is meant to spark dialogue about this recent news.]

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

How Do We Afford Grant Writing?

[Note: This post specifically addresses how NON PROFIT entities can pay for grant writing services or staff. If you are an individual looking for grant money, see my post about Individuals and Grants http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2006/10/are-there-grants-for-individual.html]

Applying for grant money (especially as a start up non profit or for new programs or new projects) is a great way to raise donations that should not be avoided. Grants are important ways to raise money because usually they are larger amounts than an individual donor gives in one donation; grants are community support for your organization, project, or program; and the most beneficial outcome of receiving a grant is that the grant donor (i.e. a foundation, local business, local government, etc.) likes what you are doing, likes your organization, and sees a future for your work and mission statement. That is a vote for a future donation and it should not be taken lightly. Developing this relationship will be important to your organization's future fundraising. No organization can afford to ignore any of these benefits. See my post http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2006/11/dont-leave-money-on-table.html

How, though, do you apply for grants if you don't have the staff, volunteers, or money for a contractor to do the grant application work? You may know that it takes a coordinated effort to raise grant money. The person who is going to apply for grants for your organization is going to have to understand what work is done at your organization, specifically what projects and programs are happening now, and what work your group is planning for the future. The grant writer will also have to understand what your fundraising work is and what was done historically to raise money. Next, they will have to research who will donate to your agency (based on your mission, cause, and work) and they will have to whittle this list down to 'who will most likely donate a grant to us based on our work and mission and their history of giving?' (i.e. which projects/programs do they like to fund). Frankly, this is a lot of work and it takes someone who is dedicated to completing the grant raising process and can follow through. You can't just pick one of your volunteers or a staff member and ask them to get your group $10,000 in grant donations. You can, I should say, but you shouldn't expect specific results if they don't have experience successfully raising grant money. Consider, too, that getting a staff member to raise one grant for a project or program that they're heading up next year is one thing. It's quite another to have someone dedicated to raising grants for your organization regularly, and for all new programs and projects. This is an investment in not just your upcoming programming, but it's an investment in your organization's overall revenue stream.

This leads us back to your question, above. How do we raise grant money if I can't find staff or money to do so?

1. Plan. You must plan. The planning should involve determining what program(s) or project(s) will require grant money. Perhaps they're each partially paid for by your current operating budget. So, maybe you're hoping the rest could be covered by sponsors and grants. The planning should also include creating a description of the project or program including all of the details (who, what, when, where, why, how). Also state what the expected outcomes are and how you will determine if these were met or not. A budget, date, location, list of staff/volunteers, expected clients/attendees, etc. must be included. All of this information will need to be handed over to the grant writer who will include this in the grant application.

2. Give Yourself Time. Your planning must be done well in advance. You can't start planning months or weeks before the project or program and expect that this allows enough time to raise a grant. Raising grant money takes time. Expect to plan at least a year before your project or program starts if you are also needing to hire a grant writer. You will have to hire a good grant writer (staff or contractor), they will need a small amount of time to learn about your organization mission and projects. In addition the application process to apply for the grant will take at least 3 or 4 months, usually. You, of course, can try to locate a good grant writer volunteer but these are rare; most grant writers who are good at what they do charge for their professional service. Do not plan on finding a volunteer grant writer who IS GOOD at what they do. See my post http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2004/07/what-are-steps-to-hiring-grant-writer.html

3. Implement a new or additional revenue stream to raise money specifically for the grant writing work. Perhaps you don't need to start a new fundraising event or appeal. If there are costs in your current annual operating budget that can be cut, re-allocate that money to the cost of a grant writer. Then you have that much less to have to raise in extra 'new' fundraising. If you are going to begin a new fundraising method specifically to begin to raise and save money for grant writing costs - keep in mind that it takes approximately 3 - 5 years to begin to MAKE MONEY on a fundraising method.

If none of this leaves your organization with enough potential to begin that grant writing that you need - take a dedicated major donor (who gives regularly and usually in large amounts) out for lunch and tell them about your agency's need. Ask them if they can support your grant writing costs. You may also want to consider sending an appeal letter to your regular individual donors and ask them for a set donation amount to support your organization's grant writing needs. I must warn, though, that these two suggestions do not allow for future sustainability. If you get a one time large donation from one of your major donors and some substantial amount from your one time appeal to your individual donors; you will still need to raise the same amount of money for your grant writing (if not more) next year.

4. The best plan is to set aside any extra donation money raised this year to save towards a new grant writer, and budget for a grant writer in your annual operating costs for the coming year and thereafter. If there isn't room to add this cost then go to your Board, Development staff, and Development Committee and ask them to work with you to plan out and then implement additional fundraising for the additional new cost to pay for grant writing. It is an investment in your organization's future. If your organization's managed well; the cost of grant writing will be far less than the grant money raised. Pull the numbers together and study the cost/benefit ratio.

This leads to a very important point. No portion of a received grant should ever be paid out as a commission payment to a grant writer (i.e. writer's payment contingent on receiving a grant) because the grant writer is providing a service, as a lawyer or an accountant does. Grant writing is a long term fundraising strategy requiring more time than it takes to form and mail one grant application. Grant writing, as a component of the agency’s overall Development Plan, is an investment in acquiring donations. Any consultant should mostly be removed from the relationship between a non profit and potential donors. Staff grant writers should also be removed from the relationship, as your organization will want to have 'peer to peer' contact with grant donors. This means that if a representative from a potential grant donor contacts your group you'd want them to talk with your Board President or agency Executive Director so that they understand that you take the communication (or relationship with them) very seriously and it's important to your leadership. Lastly, foundations do not want to pay for a non-profit’s grant writer fees. A grant is given to any non profit because the money is intended to go to meet the non profit’s program or project, not to a consultant. If a grant donor finds out that you're using their donation to pay for grant writing costs (and not using their donation to meet the need in your community that they gave the money to your organization for) they may never donate to your group again; and worse, they may share their experience with you with other grant donors. This could be a catastrophe for your organization and its future.

Grant writing is a sound investment; I'd argue that it's a critical one. It requires planning, saving, and allocating annual operating money, or budgeting. It is a part of your organization's total fundraising plan and therefore also a part of your organization's fundraising cost. Grant writing is an investment in your group's future programs and projects and if your group's operations are managed well; the cost of grant writing should be much less than the money that your grant writing brings in annually (if they're staff, probably after two years; if they're a contractor it should be from the start).

You can afford grant writing and need to as no group can afford to leave money on the table.