Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Top Ten Grantwriting Tools

Each time that I sit down to write a letter of inquiry or a grant proposal (as a staff member or for a client), I use the same resources. I recommend the following, and while none of them are REQUIRED, I think that as you write more and more grant proposals one finds that you also have a regular pool of resources. If you get a chance, please post a comment sharing the tools that you recommend.

I was going to make a list of ten, but once I thought about what I use, I realized that this list should be a 'top twenty' list...

20. "William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White The Elements of Style" (also called "Strunk and White") by Allyn and Bacon - This is a standard in English writing that provides rules, composition, form, and style.

19. "Hodges Harbrace College Handbook" by Hodges and Whitten - This is another standard in the rules and 'how to's' of writing in English.

17. "Guide to Proposal Writing" by Jane C. Geever - A great 'how to' and formatting referral for grant writing. I can't recommend this book enough.

16. "Webster's Collegiate Dictionary"

15. "Webster's New World Thesaurus"

14. Notes about what we're requesting money for, taken during an interviewing with the program/project head, for the program/project/item that I'm applying for the grant for.

13. The file on the foundation, government, corporation, or whomever we're applying to for the grant. I'll have in that file their contact information, copies of anything we've sent or received to/from them before, their current giving guidelines, a copy of their most recent IRS tax filing form 990, and any recent press clippings that I've found on them.

12. The preeminent recent journal, recent press clippings, and latest books in our field that are directly related to the project/program that I'm applying for a grant for (to use for reference or to quote in support of our work, etc.). It must always be the latest information in that field.

11. Our non profit agency's latest and current client survey results, or studies findings, and our most recent service numbers, such as number of clients served, or numbers of species assisted, etc.

10. The Foundation Center's professional message board (via Internet connection) - this message board is frequented by knowledgeable, seasoned, helpful fundraising professionals. More than once I've needed a question answered (quickly) by a fundraising colleague, and I've always received great (free) assistance in response to my queries. The board is called "Philanthropy News Digest PND Talk", located on the web, at http://members4.boardhost.com/PNDtalk/ Again, it's free!

9. A typewriter - in this day and age technology is convenient but whenever I'm filling in a foundation's form I like it to look clean and professional. I never hand write on forms, and instead revert to the typewriter to type in answers. Be sure to make copies before typing, just in case you need to start over on a clean form.

8. Guidestar at http://www.guidestar.org/ to use in researching the grant donor's recent grant donations. I look up the grant donor in the Guidestar search field, click on the grant donor in the results, and then click on the most recent IRS Form 990 that they list. The 990 is public record and Guidestar (a non profit, itself) compiles and scans in grant donors' tax returns to provide them to the public, free of charge, for research. The most current 990 available can provide you with the list of grant recipients (which tells you who the donor likes to give grants to, and for each cause, how much they gave); the list of Board members; their annual giving amount; and other information. This is invaluable in deciding how much to ask a potential grant donor for. You get to know your potential donor a bit through this document.

7. Copies of clippings of any recent press on your non profit to include with your application.

6. Access to the staff member or volunteer who is heading up the program, project, or thing that I am applying for the grant money for. Whenever I'm unsure about anything I walk down the hall or pick up the phone and speak to that colleague. Never guess - get the information and listen.

5. Our most recent financials; the last year's audited financials, last quarter's balance sheet, and the budget for the program/project/or item that I'm applying for the grant for.

4. Any recent notes or audio recordings (sometimes I'll take a tape recorder) from any round tables or talks that I attended where a representative for the grant donor spoke. The Puget Sound Grantwriters Association (http://www.grantwriters.org/) hosts monthly lunch time talks where they gather area foundation's representatives to talk about a chosen topic and answer questions.

3. Notes from any discussions that I had with the grant donor's program manager about our application.

2. My patience - I always give myself plenty of time to write, edit, write a second draft, re-work wording or composition, and edit again.

1. Two different well read and well written colleagues to each proof read the final draft of anything that I am mailing out the door. This is a life saver!

Again, not all of these resources are REQUIRED but these have been very helpful each time I sat down to write. Again, if you get a chance, please share your resources - we'd all love to know!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tracking Grant Writing Work & Organization

When writing applications for grants you begin to need help. You'll be swimming in applications, giving guidelines, copies of letters of inquiries or applications, and contact information FOR EVERY GRANT DONOR YOU SERIOUSLY CONSIDER APPLYING TO AND THOSE YOU APPLY TO. This winds up being a lot of papers for a good number of foundations, corporations, governments, and more.

Plus, you'll need to know for each of these grant donors where you are in your process with them; have you received their giving guidelines if they don't have a website? Have they received your letter of inquiry and responded that your organization may apply for their grant? Again, you'll be dealing with a good number of organizations that you'll have to manage information for.

Non profits are not without resources, but having said that, you know that they wisely conserve them to achieve their mission statement's goal. Unfortunately, a part of this experience is the difficulty in managing operations. We all know that one of the benefits of being in business today is the advent of technologies such as computers and software.

I have not heard of a good computer program that manages the grant writing process well. If you know of one, please post a comment and share that information with me and my readers. Let us know what the software is called, who makes it, any negatives, and why you recommend it.

My experience remains that the best way to track grant writing is managing both a hard copy set of files and creating a spreadsheet. For instance, if your office works on Microsoft software create a grant work tracking spreadsheet in either Excel or Access.

I created and use a spreadsheet that tracks everything for my grant writing work, in Excel, and have used it as both a staff grant writer and as a contractor for various clients.  You can create your own.  In mine I typed across a blank Excel sheet as column headings: Prospective Grantor, History With Our Organization, Grant Amount, Asking For Grant For, Date LOI Will Be Sent, Date LOI Was Sent, Response Date, LOI Response, Date Proposal To Be Sent, Date Proposal Was Actually Sent, Date Response Is Anticipated, Proposal Response, Amount Received, Goals/Future Relationship, Notes each into a column (as the heading).  Enter information for each grant donor your organization plans to send a proposal to (after narrowing down which grant donors are most likely to give to your organization as discovered from prospecting research), by listing each foundation (going down the spreadsheet), one after another, under the first column (titled Prospective Grantor).  Then fill out the information for each foundation (to the right).  Each foundation is different from the next and operates differently from any other, so each potential grant donor's information will be different.

The spreadsheet is a chart with every stage of the steps to grant writing as category headings, along the top. Down the chart, to the left, are each entity that I am researching or applying to for grants. So, for each foundation, corporation, business, government, etc. that I am considering sending an application for a grant to, I have the opportunity to note (under each pertinent heading) whether I've completed each step to apply, when I heard back from them, whether they've said that we can apply, what I'm applying for, when the deadline is for applications, and information like this. I also have a "Notes" heading for each entity where I state any information that I learn such as, 'no longer accepts applications for medical equipment', or 'phone number has changed from 555-2233 to 555-1212'.

The benefit of this information management system is that it is quick. If my client or if my Executive Director asks, "Hey, Arlene, where are we with the Boeing grant?" I can simply cursor down my long list to the Boeing line in the spreadsheet and toggle across and look at what I've done, what we've heard back, and what the next step is in the process. Obviously, the down side of this method (or any software tracking method) is if errors are entered into the spreadsheet, then it isn't helpful. Data entry must be followed up with checks with the hard documents, communication with the grant donor, and your colleagues. Just making sure that what you have down, every so often, is a great time saver in the future. Trust me!

For all of our modern technology - the old method is still invaluable. For every client and certainly when I was a staff grant writer, I kept files. The filing system that you either set up or inherit should both be easy to use (for you, your co-workers, and future users) and should be complete with each entity your organization has ever applied to a grant for and is anyone your org is receiving a grant from. You could also organize a set of files for every organization you consider applying to, if you have the time, but I hazard to guess you'll only wind up applying to half to two thirds of the long list of potential grant donors. I only maintained files for two groups; organizations we were seriously considering to apply to and those we'd received grants from (which wind up being one in the same, eventually)). For each potential grant donor I kept all communication, their information, or printed info (that was current), any articles I found in the newspaper or on the Internet, copies of anything sent to them or received from them, and any other pertinent info. When I went to call them, I had in the file everything that I knew/received. If the office's computer network was down for a day, I could continue my work by using the hard copies. The downside of having paper files is that maintaining files means keeping them up to date, having space for filing cabinets, and as documents get old you'll need to either recycle/destroy the old files or find a place to store them.

The benefits of keeping organized are obvious; you'll know what's going on with each organization that you're applying for grants from at any time via your software and hard copies. You'll have a current copy of each grant donating entity's giving guidelines, current application, and contact info in their files. On the spreadsheet you'll be able to see where you are in your work at any given time. If you work in a team that does the grant writing, this of course keeps you all on the same page (information, time line, and progress made - wise). If you leave your position you'll pass on current, clear, historied information to the next person. Most importantly, your organization benefits the most; everything will be documented, recorded, and clear. The cause, population, or effort that your mission strives to benefit - will benefit, in the end.

Keeping organized is not natural to everyone - it helps to be, though, because a little stress is reduced, knowing that you at least know what is going on with each potential grant donor, and each application. If you aren't one of those automatically organized people ask a regular in-office volunteer, who is, if they have time to manage your grant files and grant spreadsheet. Or, ask your Volunteer Coordinator if they know of someone, who is really organized, that wants to help in your office with data entry and filing.

If, like all of us, you are very stressed and are more so just thinking of the suggestions that I've made here, check out my post "Where to Put Overwhelmed On the Calendar?" at http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2004/07/where-to-put-overwhelmed-on-calendar.html

Once you get your system underway the organizational management system that you establish will become an invaluable ally and a great asset to your grant writing success.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Non Profit's Mission Statement, Program/Project Impact, and Your Field's Current Trends

I know; it's a long post title. I don't apologize for it because I love the three critical factors it lists. These are necessary to raise funds today.

As I've written in this blog over and over again in my 'how to do it' posts; clarity and relevence of mission statement, the results of your work in our community, and how up to date and in touch with the latest in your field that your work is - are very important to raising funds. These three non profit qualities are now of utmost importance to one of the United State's largest donors, The Kresge Foundation (www.kresge.org). Kresge announced this new grant donating mandate in a February 12, 2007 public announcement.

Kresge's foundation tag line is "stronger non profits, stronger communities". The foundation has existed since 1924 and is now valued at $3 billion. Receiving a Kresge grant is considered, in professional grant writing circles, a litmus test; if you can apply for and receive a grant from the Kresge Foundation - you have passed a test of sorts. The Kresge grant process is detailed, the requirements are strong, and getting a grant is a sign that your organization and your grant writing capabilities are both very good.

If Kresge is focusing on mission, the impact (or results) of your work, and the latest trends in your industry/field; this means that your organization should expect to be responsible for these three attributes more and more when applying for grants in the United States. Kresge is a leader among donors. While not all foundations or grant donors ask for the same things from applicants, some do listen to the larger donors to... find out what is the latest in their field; donating grants. In other words, other foundations are going to require this of us non profits, too, when applying for grants.

Requiring that a non profit's mission statement be strong and clear, that the work you do is effective, and that your work is up to date with the latest thinking is not new. This direction in giving from one of the larger donors in the U.S. solidifies how important it is that a non profit:

1. Truly know what it is they do, why, and for whom. This requires a long group exercise of brainstorming, clarification, looking at the big picture, clarifying again, and stating finally as clearly and succinctly as possible what the mission is of your non profit. If your mission statement is a long rambling paragraph with several sentences; my guess is you have some work to do to clarify and solidify it.

2. Follow through on new programs and projects. If your non profit studies what and where needs related to your mission are, in designing new projects and programs (researching instead of guesstimating) - you're on the right track. The effectiveness of meeting a community need through your agency's work is usualy measured with surveys, feedback, asking what the results were and listening, research, and other methods. If your non profit doesn't determine the results of your work - how do you know that you're meeting your mission statement's goal? Donors don't want to give to a group that means well but is not effective. These kinds of post-program/project studies also allow for your program/project managers to learn and make adjustments to serve your consituency better. Follow up is win win.

3. If your mission statement is strong and clear, and if you study the results of each of your programs and projects - but none of the efforts that your non profit is making are current; then your group may be re-inventing the wheel. No donor wants to fund what has already been done, learned, or found. Being current in your field also indicates that you network with others in your field - and donors love collaboration between non profits - it shares knowledge, saves repetition and funds, and creates community. Being up on the latest paradigms also indicates that your professionals are keeping up - to the benefit of your consituents, keeping costs down by not repeating what has already been done, and educating themselves. You aren't working in a fog; you're staying in touch and sharing your findings.

If you want to raise funds your non profit must create a regular donor base. The only way to do that is to demonstrate that you are meeting the need in your community that your agency's mission statement lays out. If you are a well managed, effective, honest, and needed non profit - you will not have any difficulties in raising funds, now or in the future. Apply for all grants from a strong position and work to achieve the best of these three attributes!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Grant Writers On Commission

A grant writer should never be hired on commission. If a grant writer approaches your non profit organization offering to apply for grants in exchange for a percentage of the grants received - decline the offer. Grant writers accepting contingency pay is considered unethical in American professional fundraising.

The foremost national professional fundraising organization in the United States is the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). The AFP (http://www.afpnet.org/) requires members to adhere to a set of professional standards. The AFP considers raising funds on commission unethical. Membership may be revoked if it is determined that a member is raising money on commission. The Northwest Development Officers Association (NDOA), based in Seattle, also discourages members from raising funds for a portion of the money raised (http://www.ndoa.org/).

Why? Two reasons. First, if you request grant money for a specific program, project, building, etc. - the donor believes that is where 100% of their donation is going. Second, fundraisers are not supposed to develop relationships with donors - they're supposed to develop relationships between donors and your organization. In other words, when that fundraiser leaves the relationship between the donor and your organization is still in place - to receive donations now and in the future.

No grant donor is giving the grant to an agency so that you can pay your fundraising staff (unless you're applying for a grant for overhead costs - and most grant donors do not offer grants for operational expense - proof that most donors want to connect with the needs in our community - not with your bills). They give grants to connect with successful programs that fulfill a given non profit's mission. They give grants to the program or project that the grant was requesting funds for. That money is expected to be spent on only what the grant proposal asked money for. They are not donating grant money to pay for fundraising - they want their money to serve our community.

Fundraisers, whether staff or consultants, should be working in the effect of your mission statement; to the end goal of that statement. Unless your mission statement includes the phrase, "and we provide fundraisers with a percentage of our donation revenues," then your work is to serve the goal or population you're aiming to assist. It is not to raise money for fundraisers. I guess I'd ask you why is it that your organization needs to give portions of donations to fundraisers? Why isn't your non profit budgeting for operations costs (i.e. salaries, benefits, consulting fees, etc.) and investing in the long term existence (i.e. fundraising, belief in your mission statement, etc.)? If your own agency won't invest in itself (your operating costs) why should other donors invest in your agency? Excellent fiscal management is essential for raising money - if you can't manage your operations and costs - why would anyone donate to your group?

I urge you to consider these points. Your agency could get a reputation for spending grant money less than ethically and that would be the kiss of death. Donors talk with one another - including grant donors. If word gets around that your non profit does not spend donations on the programs, projects, capital, etc. that you said the money would be spent on - why would they trust your group again? Why would they donate to your group ever again? Would you donate to a group who told you that they're requesting money for a need that you want to help serve - only to find out that part of the money went to some fundraiser? How much went to the fundraiser? 40%? 80%? Why can't the entire donation go to serve the issue?

Lastly, a grant is not received based on whether a grant writer writes a good proposal or not. A strong well written proposal is necessary, but grants are donated based on what you propose you're going to do with it. It is received because that foundation wants to be a part of completing your mission. A good grant proposal is just part of the equation. Remember, the goal here is to develop a relationship with the grant donor so that they give to your group now AND in the future. Your agency's track record and reputation are equally as important as to whether a grant is received or not.

To raise money you will have to spend money. Sounds crummy? You have already been doing this! To raise donations from your donor base you send them newsletters complete with donor envelopes, or you mail them annual appeal letters, invite them to special events, and solicit them. The solicitation cost time and money to create, design, print, mail, and manage. These costs are part of the cost of raising money for non-profits. Hiring a grant writer is no different. If your organization requires a lawyer or an accountant - you pay those professional fees. Grant writers are also professionals whose fees need to be budgeted for in your fundraising budget.

I recommend a few other of my posts:

"Your Track Record Is Out There" http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2004/06/your-track-record-is-out-there.html

"What Are the Steps To Hiring A Grantwriter?" http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2004/07/what-are-steps-to-hiring-grant-writer.html

"How Do We Afford Grantwriting?" http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2007/01/how-do-we-afford-grant-writing.html

Talk to local grant writers, other non profit staff, your fundraising colleagues, and local professional fundraising associations in your region and ask them about hiring fundraisers on commission. They will say the same as I have here. Ask them, too, how do they afford grant writing.

Be sure to raise money in a way that will insure that your non profit will be able to now and in the future.