Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Shift In Giving: Proactive Philanthropists Instead of Passive Donors

During the American (and world) economic uptick in wealth in the 1990's, philanthropy began to proactively seek out how to contribute to non profits in a way that allowed donors to sleep well at night. This means grant donors, too. Gone, more often than not, were the days when donors just wrote a $50,000 check, hoping that the money would be spent responsibly to a good end (this is often referred to as "checkbook philanthropy"). Donors started to learn that, as they had hoped, they did have a role to play, beyond just handing money to an agency, in effecting positive change in our world. New philanthropy focused money advisor services popped up, and continue to do so, that teach donors that they don't have to passively provide resources to causes. As the modern donor - they could and should ask for outcomes; investigate non profits to determine their organizational health and success rate; and be as actively involved in where their money goes, how it's spent, and to what end. Grant donors, such as family or individual foundations, are a good number of this new breed of philanthropist.

On March 18 Julie Bick wrote "Write A Check? The New Philanthropist Goes Further" for the New York Times. The article is available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/18/business/yourmoney/18legacy.html?ex=1331870400&en=910a57e1e3be77e4&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

In her article Bick starts out by describing one new trend in American giving - donating money to organizations during one's lifetime instead of leaving bequests to be spent without the donor's oversight, after one passes on. Warren Buffet is a great example of a philanthropist thinking along these very lines. On March 2 Josh Funk wrote "Buffet wants charities to spend fast" for Businessweek.com. The article is available at: http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D8NJVR2G0.htm

Funk describes the sentiment that Buffet, the second wealthiest man in the world, feels about donating money. Buffet announced to his shareholders, the Thursday prior, that he is donating all of his shares of Berkshire Hathaway to charity. Five foundations, three of which are run by family members, will receive money during his lifetime. These recipient preselected organizations must spend all of the money he donates within ten years of receiving it.

Funk writes, "I've set this schedule because I want the money to be spent relatively promptly by people I know to be capable, vigorous and motivated," Buffett said. "These managerial attributes sometimes wane as institutions -- particularly those that are exempt from market forces -- age.

"Today, there are terrific people in charge at the five foundations. So at my death, why should they not move with dispatch to judiciously spend the money that remains?"

In closing, Funk writes, "Buffett said he chose not to set up a perpetual foundation with his money because he wanted to be able to choose which organizations would distribute his wealth.

"Wills, of course, can always be rewritten, but it's very unlikely that my thinking will change in a material way," Buffett said."

To return back to earth and the donor who is not among the wealthiest people in the world, as Bick's New York Times article expresses, American philanthropists giving at all financial levels are either being introduced to this paradigm, or are already acting on it.

Fundraisers also really like this new effort in giving. If a donor donates passively, as Bick points out, and is disappointed by the results, they may lose interest in donating. This is a hard loss for all non profit organizations.

The modern donor is organized, focusing their giving on the causes most dear to them. They are giving beyond dollars; their skill set and desire, too. Gifts of gratitude, or reacting to an issue are the old way. Proactively working towards a better world by not just handing money over, is adding the donor to the team in the non profit's work. This collaboration is the more powerful relationship. As I've said over and over again in this blog - relationships with donors are everything. Seeing donors (grant donors and others) as a partner in your work is a modern perception of the contemporary donor. As a fundraiser, you approach your work differently if you keep this view in mind.

As I've said before, donors are also talking to one another. All donors do; philanthropists, corporate donors, foundations, family foundations, municipalities, and others. They share experiences with potential donation recipients, successes in giving, and lessons learned.

Modern day donors plan out their donating rigorously. They determine the causes that they want to work on, research which organizations they want to work with and why, firm up the outcome that they hope to achieve, and they ask the donation recipient organization for the results. The donor does not just give money blindly, anymore. This is a win win situation for the donor, organization, and our world. Accountability, involvement, follow through, results tracking, and asking how it can be done better next time moves grassroots work along faster more efficiently towards a specific goal. The donor, the non profit organization, and the community see results and this leads to collaboration again at another time.

We grant writers will raise more money if we understand where giving trends are going. We won't just keep in touch with our grant donors (and all donors), we will understand their motivation, and can then anticipate the level of interest and perhaps involvement that they expect in collaborating with our non profits. The modern donor is not just passively handing a grant over without regard any longer.

Target's Local Store Grants Program (Small Grants) Request for Proposals

From The Foundation Center...

Target Invites Applications for Local Store Grants

Program Deadline: May 31, 2007

Target is accepting applications from organizations in communities where the company does business for its Local Store Grants program.

Grant applications are accepted from nonprofit programs that impact any of the following areas: _ Arts;
_ Early childhood reading; and
_ Family violence prevention

Description of Accepted Programs: Arts grants are awarded to programs that bring the arts to schools or make it afford- able for families to participate in cultural experiences. Early childhood reading grants support programs that promote a love of reading and encourage children, from birth through age nine, to read together with their families. Family violence prevention grants support programs that strengthen families by preventing or reducing the cycle of family violence.

Target does not make grants to individuals; programs located outside Target communities; educational institutions for regular instructional programs; religious organizations for religious purposes; treatment programs such as substance or alcohol abuse; athletic teams or events; fundraiser or gala events; or advocacy or research groups.

Applicant organizations must be located in communities where Target does business; and must be tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code or a school, library, or public agency.

The average grant amount is between $1,000 and $3,000.

To learn more and apply online, visit the Target Web site at:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How Many Grants Should We Apply For?

When you have something that you're trying to raise grant donations for - it can be difficult to know how many different grant donors you should ask for a grant from. Will one foundation donate half of the total amount needed if another donor will match their donation? Will the second foundation donate one third of the total budget? Will the third potential grant donor decline your grant proposal? You'll need to apply to enough grant donors to raise the money needed. To do this you need to know some specifics. You have to know the specific details of the program, item, or project that you're raising money for; you have to know which donors would be interested in supporting it; and you have to know which donor would be interested in what amount of the total expense. Even when looking for grants for lower costing programs, it is difficult to know whether you've requested buy in, or grant donations from enough potential donors.

Let's say that you and I are grant writers for Preserve Dance (PD), a non profit that researches, documents, and teaches all kinds of different popular American dances to our local public.

Let's say that at the last staff meeting, Christy, one of our program managers who teaches, said that in a year she's going to start a new dance program specifically aimed at low income families. She looks you and I in the eyes and says, 'I'm hoping that you will help me raise money for this program,'

After we meet with her and get all of the information about the new program, you and I sit down and discuss how we're going to approach raising grants for her new class. Christy told us the following:

1. The dance class will be held in a fully accessible location (i.e. handicapped dancers are welcome) starting a year from now in April, 2008 and will run for at least one year (through April, 2009).

2. People of all ages, income levels, and dance abilities are welcome. Christy is hoping to have up to 50 participants, per class.

3. The class is going to be held on Wednesday evenings and on Saturday mornings so that dancers can attend a class that is easier for their schedules.

4. The class is being held because Big Brain University just released a major study in which they discovered that there is a strong link between good family health and spending time together doing fun recreation. This is an opportunity for Preserve Dance to meet a need in our community and achieve one of our mission statement's goals.

5. The class will be free. This means that Christy's staff time, two dance instructors, music, CD player, room, and other overhead costs (i.e. postage, paper, photocopying, etc.) will need to be covered by the grant money. See how to form a grant proposal budget at(http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2004/06/word-gets-is-in-budgets.html) Christy plans to put a donation box out at each class, but will not require any donation of attendees. She wants to proceed with the fundraising assuming that little or no donations will be raised by the donation box, based on her experience from teaching other classes. While they wish they could, most of our clients can not afford to donate towards the classes.

6. The dancers will be taught a variety of different dances; Native American, Country Western, Swing, Cha Cha, Be Bop, Waltz, Hip Hop, and Jazz.

7. Transportation will be provided to families who can not get to the dance class safely or easily. The van, gas, driver, insurance, and maintenance will need to be financed, too.

8. Christy must know by December 31, 2007 whether or not we have the funding for her to proceed with this new program that starts in April 2008.

9. In total, the final budget for this proposed program indicates that the total cost of one year will be $5,000. We approximate that the income (the donation box) from this program to be $50 or less, over the year.

This hypothetical scenario is a great example of a lower cost program that, while we aren't going to be looking for $50,000 capital campaign grants, is no less important to raise money for. Grant writing is fundraising, and all fundraising is building relationships. Relationships build community (which is buy-in to your organization and cause) and this leads to support or donations now and donations later.

You and I decide to take the approach that we will need to raise the full $5,000 in grants, for the whole year. We consider the grant donors that we know (who our non profit already has relationships with) and think through whether there are grant donors, who we haven't approached in the past, who might be interested in giving a grant for this particular program.

Part of deciding who to submit grant proposals to and how many to send out has to do with, of course, how many grant donors would be interested in funding this particular program. If after prospecting for grant donors, for this particular project, you know of only three grant donors who, through their giving guidelines and recent IRS Form 990s appear to be potentially interested in funding this kind of program; then, you know you are going to apply to at least one of them, and possibly all three of them. (To learn how to research who to apply for grants to see my post at
http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2004/08/how-do-i-prepare-to-find-foundations.html )

Let's say, though, that we found these three grant donors in addition to knowing of two other grant donors that our non profit has a good relationship with, who would be interested in supporting this program. So, we determine that could apply to between 1 and 5 grant donors.

The other important factor in considering how many grant donors to apply to is what, according to their giving guidelines, does each grant donor like to give, and towards what needs? In other words, let's say that one of the foundations, Vans For People In Need likes to donate used vans in good condition, along with their fuel, maintenance, driver, and insurance to programs that are accessible by all people (including handicapped folks). Well, this foundation is a natural for our program and its needs! We have to apply to them.

Now that we have decided that the van and its needs may be paid for by this foundation, we turn to covering our financial needs (the van and its associated costs were budgeted at $2000 of the $5000 total budget).

Christy walks into our office as we decided to apply to Vans For People In Need, to share with us that she just got off the phone with a nearby private school. They said they'd be happy to donate their gymnasium, its heating, lighting, etc. for a year to our non profit for this program (it is considered an in kind donation to us by the IRS). So, $500 budgeted for a location's rent, heat, lighting, etc. has now been removed from the remaining $3,000 in our program budget.

$2,500 could be raised by one or two of our non profit's major donors. It's an amount that we've seen our donors give, before. You and I decide to talk to our Executive Director and ask her if she wants us to raise grant money for the remaining budget costs through grants, still; or if she and the board want to talk with a few of our major donors. She decides that she will speak to one of our major donors who she happens to know is a former ballet dancer and very fond of dance, still; but that we should still try to raise the remaining $2,500 from a grant or two.

Fair enough!

We each sit down and call a local foundation. You call our local regional community foundation and I call Family Functions for Fun, a foundation that we've worked with in the past who likes to donate money towards programs and projects that brings families together through arts, recreation, or literacy. The program manager at the community foundation tells you that she thinks that there could be a good fit between our program and their goals. I hear the same from Family Functions for Fun's program manager.

Through this process (which demonstrates how critical communication, listening, and prospecting skills are), we have decided we're going to apply to three grant donors for grant donations and our Executive Director and a couple of board members are going to talk to our major donor who supports dance arts for a donation. Varying who we ask for support from helps our odds to fully fund anything. http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2004/10/bring-in-donations-from-many-different.html

As we've covered all of our needs, remembered a potentially interested major donor, and have made contact with foundations who indicated that they would be interested in reading a proposal for the program; things look good. We'll cover all of the costs for this new program. While there are no guarantees in applying for grant money (or any fundraising) - we can sum up a safe guess as to whether we'll raise the money by researching the level of interest a potential grant donor has in supporting a program. We located more than one foundation interested in our program and we know of at least one of our major donors who adores dance. We know our odds are good; what's more, we researched and applied to enough potential donors to cover our odds.

How much should you ask each donor for? See my post "What Amount of Money Should I Ask For?" at http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2004/09/what-amount-of-money-should-i-ask-for.html

Friday, March 16, 2007

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Request for Proposals

Friday, March 16, 2007

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Funding Alert: New Routes to Community Health Call for Proposals:

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has just posted a call for proposals related to Vulnerable Populations.

New Routes to Community HealthApplication Deadline: May 17, 2007

New Routes to Community Health supports local partnerships among immigrant organizations, media production centers and established community institutions to foster collaborations to improve immigrants' health, work life and civic participation. Up to eight geographically and ethnically diverse sites will receive awards of as much as $225,000 over 39 months.

More details and how to apply

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Grant Writer's Little Helper: IRS Tax Form 990 Post 2 of 2

[Note: This post, as with each of my posts, is in no way legal or accounting advice. This post should only be used to learn what the benefit of the IRS form 990 can be to grant writers and fundraisers.]

In the previous post, post 1 of 2 about the IRS form 990, I list the questions that come to mind when considering who to apply to for a grant.

This post will get specific about form IRS form 990 and using it for research to help you get that grant.

What is this IRS form 990? When a public non profit forms it has to apply to the federal government, among other entities, to incorporate. Federally designated (legal) non profit grant donors, commonly called foundations, are required to report their financial situation, annually. But, form 990 is not a tax form (as US non profits do not pay federal taxes). It is a report of the non profit charity's finances for a given fiscal year. If a legal, public, non profit charity receives more than $25,000 annually, is not a religious organization, and is not a subsidiary organization - they must file either IRS form 990 or 990 EZ. In 2005 the 990 form changed but the information is the same, more or less. You just have to find a couple of line items in different locations on the forms. [Update: The IRS, as of 2007, will require all non profits, even those receiving less than $25,000 in income, to file a tax form 990. In order to maintain their legal non profit status, every American non profit organization will have to report to the IRS the information that the 990 asks for.]

Where can I locate a 990 for a given potential grant donor? The handiest resource is the non profit http://www.guidestar.org/ . While memberships are an option and donations help Guidestar continue to provide 990's, there is no charge to search for, and read over, 990's. To use it you will need to register (for free) and they do not sell your information or solicit you. Guidestar began scanning charities' 990's in 1998. Since then, they have continued to do so. So, you can potentially research a charity's finances as far back as 1998, if you'd like; but looking back three to five years should be enough. You can also look up 990's at The Foundation Center's website (foundationcenter.org) under "Find Funders" and cursor down to the "990 Finder". Each of these methods of reading 990 scans requires the free/safe Adobe Acrobat Reader software available at http://www.adobe.com/.

How do I interpret the information on a 990? There are some great step by step, line by line directions on the web that explain how to interpret the answers to each item on the 990. If you go to any of the following links, you can read or print out their handy 'how to' guide. Three 'how to interpret the 990' documents are available, for free, at foundationcenter.org. Go to "Find Funders", then "990 Finder" and on that page, in the middle of the page, there is a paragraph that begins "For an at a glance look...". Click on whichever set of directions sounds helpful. Another free resource that will help you understand the 990 is the Non Profit Coordinating Committee of New York's info sheet available at http://www.npccny.org/Form_990/990.htm

Having said what I did in the previous post (Post 1 of 2) , let me temper my encouragement to use 990's by saying - while you should use them in research, a grant donor's 990 should not be your sole source of information about them. Why?

- IRS Form 990 was designed for the IRS (and states) to check that charitable services are being served, and that the organization is not funneling wealth instead of giving charity. In other words, this IRS form was not designed to be easily read by the public.

- The 990 does not require a Schedule A list; the compensation of the five highest paid employees (other than directors, officers, and trustees).

- The 990 form does not tell us whether the filer has fulfilled their organization's objectives or not.

- Guidestar.com in 2003 researched what is reported on 990's and found; 29% of their sample had mistakes, 11% had three or more mistakes, required attachment documents were usually not submitted to the IRS, and there were inconsistencies. For instance, many public organizations who raise money, reported no fundraising expense!

- Remember, it is not always required that non profits complete audits, according to federal law. This is why the 990 is not technically a tax report. It is an accounting of the organization's finances - and perhaps unchecked by a professional audit.

- A 990 shows a snapshot of time (one fiscal year). Organizations change. This is another reason to look over more than one year of the organization's reporting. Health one year does not automatically indicate health another year. Organizations are required by law to provide, upon a member of the public's request, their three most recent year's 990 filings for a fee.

- All factors need to be considered when comparing potential donors. Financial indicators can be misleading. For instance, organizations in different regions, fields, or at different ages will have different amounts of money and costs. They do not compare to each other easily.

- The mark of a good organization (non or for profit) is if it is effective and efficient in its operations. The 990 does not indicate that.

- You can not determine who made large donations to a non profit via their 990, except for private foundations. If a donation is $5,000 or more, the donor and their contact information is masked.

- 990's are filed at different times of the year, for a given fiscal year, because organizations may (legally) have different fiscal year cycles (i.e. 7/1 - 6/30 vs. 1/1 - 12/31). With extensions and other legal filing allowances, it turns out that non profits can legally file their 990 up to 11 months after a fiscal year has ended. Time lines are different organization to organization.

- Not all organizations that file 990s are available on Guidestar.org. Only 990's filed by 501(c)(3) groups (public charities and private foundations) are available for reading.

Research potential donors in a few different ways. Never rely on one source. Having said this, yes, the 990 is a good resource for grant writers/fundraisers. As I state over and over again, relationships are everything. Building relationships with potential donors, including potential grant donors, will help you know your potential grant donor's trends, likes, and dislikes.

IRS Form 990 can be extremely helpful in research when tempered with an understanding of what it does and doesn't tell, and when it's coupled with further research.

[If any of my links no longer link, please e-mail me via the "My Complete Profile" link at the upper left side of my blog home page, under "About Me". Thank you so much.]

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Grant Writer's Little Helper: IRS Tax Form 990 Post 1 of 2

In the United States tax filings are public record. It is a good thing because, for grant writers, IRS tax form 990 assists us like maybe no other public documents can. Grant donors' IRS form 990 tax filings give us information that help us, as grant writers, work smarter and succeed.

When you sit down to research who will potentially donate a grant to your non profit for that specific program, project, item, building, or whatever your organization needs grant money for; there are a few questions that you need to know the answers to, every time. Why? The answers to these questions will help you cull down the long list of who you might apply for a grant to, to a healthy shorter list of who most likely will really give your non profit a grant. This step is the difference between an experienced grant writer and one who is a novice. When you research potential grant donors' IRS form 990's, the information you gather will save you time and resources.

The questions that we wind up asking about each grant donor who is new to us include:

1. What is the foundation's correct (legal) name? Always good to know the correct name when asking for financial backing!

2. What is the their current contact information?

3. Is this foundation a non profit (a legal 501(c)(3) entity, in the United States)? If they appear to be in business specifically to 'give' grants be very cautious. There are entities who squeak by all of the legalities to remain in business, but may be less than ethical in their practices. Always research grant donors more than through one or two resources, and when some potential donor is new to you - ask colleagues working for other non profits about their experience with that grant donor.

By the way, private foundations are legal and can be excellent ethical grant donors, but usually contribute to a focused cause, such as religious organizations.

4. How much do they spend on their operating expenses vs. how much they donate annually? This is another way to sniff out a rat.

5. How much income do they receive, annually, on average?

6. How much do they give, annually, in grants, on average?

7. How strong are their assets (another test as to their legitimacy and ability to give larger grants)?

8. What are the name of the officers overseeing the foundation? One of you non profit's volunteers, clients, or staff may know one of them, which is extremely helpful in building relationships with grant donors.

9. Are staff compensated? This can be another way to ferret out whether you want to do business with them. If this organization compensates its employees, and at extremely large salary amounts, you may want to research their operations further. For example, after 9/11 there was a world known American non profit that came under scrutiny. It was delegating donations where it saw fit, even when donors designated where they wanted their donation spent (which is illegal in the US). They were also paying their executives very high salaries. Non profits who partnered with them were linked to the controversy, in their local communities. The notoriety and controversy faded, but the relationship may have led donors to think twice.

10. Does this donor only give grants to preselected non profits? In other words, there are grant donors who (can legally) only give grants to non profits that they select on their own. These grant donors do not accept grant applications or any request for grant money.

11. What is the current name and contact information for the staff member who receives grant application for the foundation.

12. What form do they require? What are their giving guidelines? What are their deadlines?

13. Who do they give grants to? More importantly, who has recently received a grant from them? This information is invaluable. This is a biggie. You can tell, from a list of recent grant recipients, the size, field, cause, geographical location, and type of organization (local school, private hospital, national direct care provider, etc.) that the grant donor has given to recently. This gives you a strong indication if you would be of interest to them. Is your non profit the same size as the grant recipients? Are they based in the same geographical location as your organization? Is your field and cause the same as other recent recipients? If it appears that your organization is not what they're interested in - research this further. If they have new giving guidelines - your organization may be a possible candidate. If, though, they have a history of giving to pretty much the same kind of organization and haven't changed that approach, your energies may be better spent on another potential grant donor. Knowing this could save you and the non profit you work for time and resources.

Also, another waste of your time may be if they give grants, typically, between $500 - $1,500 and you're looking for a $100,000 grant. Even if you're looking for a $20,000 grant; asking for $1,000 towards $20,000 isn't worth your time or resources. You want to find grant donors who typically give in the amount range that you're needing money in.

As grant writers you and I could really use the answers to these questions. Yes, grant donors' IRS form 990 filings usually answer each and every question, above.

In my next post I discuss how to easily find the IRS form 990 filings for the grant donor that you're considering applying to a grant for, for free. I also explain how to decipher the 990 form so that you can know the answer to each of the above questions, for any grant donor in the United States.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Free Web Class Re: New Tax Laws & Nonprofits

I just received this information...as we all deal with donors, fundraisers, just like bookkeepers, etc. need to know what the new laws say about donation tax benefits and more....

Watch: March's LIVE (free) Webcast program at www.taxtalktoday.tv

When: Tuesday, March 13, 2007, 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm ET (Note that the time is Eastern Time)

Topic: "Exempt Organizations: Emerging Issues"

CPE Program Level: Overview1

CPE Credit Recommended; NO prerequisites or advance preparation

CTEC Course #: 3022-CE-0045ELMS Course #: 22878Program Information: New tax legislation, the Pension Protection Act of 2006, contains numerous changes to tax law provisions affecting tax-exempt organizations and individuals making contributions to these groups. Join tax practitioners and IRS experts from Exempt Organizations and Office of Chief Counsel, Income Tax and Accounting, for a discussion of the impact of these new rules on charities and their contributors.

Who Should Watch? Tax professionals who prepare returns for tax-exempt organizations and representatives of individuals who contribute to exempt organizations.

Program Outline: - New Laws Governing Exempt Organizations - New Rules for Deducting Cash and Noncash Charitable Contributions - New Definitions and Penalties for Appraisals and Appraisers - Increased Charitable Deductions and Exclusions from Income

To download this month's Resources and Outline, go to:

This Month's Expert Panel: To learn more about the program and expert panelists,go to:http://www.taxtalktoday.tv/index.cfm?page=8.765

Questions for our panel? Don't wait. - - - Send them to: Questions@TaxTalkToday.tv

Please forward this info on to your colleagues who may be interested.

Earning Continuing Education Credits? - - - Pay (for Continuing Ed Credit only) in advance to avoid delays ($20 per CE hour or save by purchasing programpackages)http://www.taxtalktoday.tv/index.cfm?page=20.0

To View The Live Tax Talk Today Webcast - - - On the day of the Live program, go tohttp://www.taxtalktoday.tv, choose View Live Webcast from the left menu and log-in. The live links to the Webcast will become available 45minutes prior to the start of the program.

Avoid Delays: Log on 15 - 30 minutes early!

To Register - - -If you are a new viewer, you'll need to complete a simple registration process to gain access to our programs. Please visit our homepage athttp://www.taxtalktoday.tv, and register as a member(free). You only need to register once! Once registered, you will have complete access to ALL our live, archive and podcast programs.

Next Program: Tuesday, May 8, 2007 We're Working For You! 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. ET

Copyright 2000 - 2007 L&M Production Design Group Produced by L&M Production Design GroupThe distinctive Tax Talk Today logo is a U.S.registered service mark of L&M Production Design Group, Inc.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Be Succinct In Your Grantwriting

You and I remember learning the proper way to build a sentence in the English language. We took our spelling tests and did pretty well. Later, we wrote compositions, essays, reports, presentations, term papers, and more. Maybe you even dabbled in poetry, technical writing, or short hand!

Through all of these lessons we learned that writing is about being clear, following the rules, and creating a written piece that conveys meaning, is of interest, and is succinct.

William Strunk Jr., a noted Cornell University English Professor wrote The Elements of Style. His book is still considered THE English rules and style guide in the United States. His "rule 17." is "Omit needless words." as found on page 23. In his explanation he compares using unnecessary words to a machine that has unnecessary parts in it. This is an excellent analogy! I can't recommend his "little book" enough.

The fact is, as I've explained in this blog before, when you submit a grant proposal - the person responsible for reading it has at least tens if not hundreds of other grant proposals to read and consider. Your proposal will be weighed as the others are, but how are they weighed? Most grant donors do not have the time to read every single line and page of each proposal that they receive. It may seem unjust, it may seem misleading, but it is true. This does not mean that you can scrimp or cut corners on the content or quality of your grant proposal. It does mean that you need to be clear, succinct, and you need to format for quick and easy reading.

Typically, a good sized foundation, when accepting grant proposals will give each proposal about three minutes of their undivided attention. Let's say our example foundation received four hundred of them. That is fifty hours of reading. Let's assume that this particular foundation has three program managers responsible for reading all of the grant proposals received. That means that each program manager will have about seventeen hours of reading to complete. Remember, this is only giving each of the four hundred grant proposals three minutes' attention. Those three minutes will probably involve: making sure that the proposal meets all of the foundation's guidelines, that everything that is supposed to be submitted is there (on time), that nothing additional has been submitted without being requested, it will be well skimmed (saying that it will be read is pushing it), notes will be taken on the proposals' strength and weakness, and a final appraisal will be appointed to it. Then, for the program manager, it's 'on to the next one'!

Have pity on these people who will read your proposal and make yourself well known for writing excellent proposals. How do you do that? Once again, by being succinct, formatting well, following the guidelines, and being clear, honest, compelling, and thorough.

1. Be succinct. For example, let's say in your first draft of a proposal you write, "We, here at Red Ruby Relic Curators (RRRC), pride ourselves on working hard to clean, preserve, display, and educate about any historic piece with rubies in it; and we have since 1945." You know when you reread your draft that this sentence needs editing. On the second try you rewrite, "Red Ruby Relic Curators works hard to fulfill our mission statement and we have since 1945." Now you know that you've lessened the number of words in this sentence, but some meaning has also been dropped and that needs to be included. Finally, your third draft of this sentence reads, "Since 1945 Red Ruby Relic Curators (RRRC) has fulfilled its mission by cleaning, preserving, displaying, and educating the public about ruby artifacts." Now, you've gotten where you need to be! You may ask, 'Arlene, hasn't the "...pride ourselves on working hard..." sentiment been dropped from the final draft of this sentence? I would reply, 'Yes,' You may ask further, "Shouldn't it also be mentioned?" I would say 'No,' This is where experience in writing comes into play. It is your job as the writer to convey truths that are not required to be stated overtly, but rather by demonstrating that they are the case. In other words, do not tell them that you work hard - show them that your organization works hard. How? Through the accomplishments its made, the longevity of the organization, your strong reputation for excellent curator work, etc. How? By stating statistical facts, numbers of the public educated, explaining how the public benefits from your curatorial work, etc. Where? When it comes time to explain what it is that your non profit does. In doing this you do tell them that your non profit does excellent work without taking extra space and time by stating so in a sentence.

2. Format so that reading is easy. This is where you can set your proposal apart from others'. If you know that the person who is going to evaluate your proposal can't read the entire document because of their time constraint - make it easy for them to scan it. Scanning is reading for specific information (i.e. mission statement, need for the grant, successes, why your non profit's work is valuable, etc.). This means that when you can, for instance, list information by bullets. Everything does not have to be written out in paragraphs. If you are able to, cut and paste a graph or chart if it can replace describing information in a written paragraph. To be clear, something like your mission statement must be written out, as the nature of it is a written phrase or sentence. But, when you go to list something (i.e. the ethnic minorities served, the number served, and the percentage of each sex) you could choose to make a bullet list of the information. For example:

"As reported by attendees' surveys, RRRC proudly taught 3,762 people about ruby preservation during the 2006 fiscal year. Those attendees' demographics are:
- 1,542 Caucasians; 60% Male, 40% Female
- 900 African Americans; 37% Male, 63% Female
- 120 Native Americans: 20% Male, 80% Female
- 100 Pacific Islanders: 15% Male, 85% Female
- 100 Asian Americans: 45% Male, 55% Female"

This bullet list allows the reader to get the gist of all of your information without having to read sentences. The list still gives the same information it would in a sentence format, but it is clearer to read.

3. Drop unnecessary words. I attended a professional grant writers' talk, once, where the guest speaker was a contractor for many Seattle area grant donors. She manages the grant proposals that they receive. She provides the services of reviewing and evaluating each proposal. She suggested, 'Drop all adjectives or most of them,' I think that this is sage advice. Once again, if your description of your work (i.e. "our excellent work,") is true, then it will come across that your organization does excellent work through the hard facts that you share in your proposal. You can drop sentences and space taken up by too many words by getting rid of all of the unnecessary adjectives (i.e. when you describe your work quality, your staff or board's qualities, how valued you are in the community, etc.). You should already being conveying these 'truths' via your reputation, the board and staff's affiliations or names, your service record, and other hard information that you've provided. She said that she actually crosses out every unnecessary adjective that she sees in an overly wordy proposal because it makes for easier reading and truer reporting. It would've saved the non profit who wrote the proposal, and her, time and space, if they had dropped them, originally. This puts your organization in the grant proposal reader's good graces - which NEVER hurts when your organization could receive a $50,000 grant! Also, if there is a page limit to the proposal - cutting unneeded adjectives will give you more space to write in.

I can't give Professor Strunk enough credit. Even though the man was not a grant writer (to my knowledge) his tips on how to write in English confer a great opportunity to grant writers. Not only will your writing improve, your document will be easier to read - and that only improves your chances to receive that grant!