Saturday, December 7, 2013
NOTE: This blog is a re-post of one of my best articles of the past year. I will be back with original content next week!
As I discuss grants and the grant writing process with clients and co-workers, I often find that there are many misunderstandings about grants. I would like to take the opportunity to try to set the record straight.
Misconception 1: "If my company gets a grant, we will never be able to get another one from that funder."
Truth: This is absolutely not true. Some funding agencies do preclude a previous grantee from applying for funding again or prevent them from doing so for a certain amount of time from the original award. I have found, however, that this is the exception rather than the rule. If you receive a grant and do a good job of meeting the goals for the project and satisfy reporting requirements in a timely manner, your organization will stand a very good chance of getting another grant from the same funder.
Misconception 2: "I can put this grant project together by myself. No one has time to help me anyway."
Truth: Do not think that you can come up with a project, including the budget, goals and evaluation methods, in a vaccuum! You will need input from other people in your organization if you expect the project to become reality if you do get the grant. If you can't get everyone in a room at one time due to scheduling constraints, meet with the necessary people individually, or collaborate by email. It takes a village to come up with a good grant project! See my blog post on picking a great grant team to support your effort.
Misconception 3: "If we get this grant, all of our problems will be solved."
Truth: A grant can be a catalyst for investment or training or capacity to provide a new service. It is not a panacea for poor management. By starting an initiative or expanding capacity while ignoring other fundamental organizational issues, you have simply plugged the dike with your finger. Eventually, it will leak. Many organizations that have received significant grants have failed despite receiving the funding, primarily due to ongoing poor leadership or lack of direction.
Misconception 4: "All it takes to be a good grant writer is the ability to come up with a good narrative".
Truth: There is so much more to grant writing than writing. It does help to have a good writer, but you also need someone that understands the budgeting process; can identify outcomes and state them clearly; and understands the evaluation process. The grant writer must be able to clearly articulate the problems that your project is going to solve and find data to create a strong supporting argument. Someone who works in your organization and can write a good letter when needed is not necessarily the best choice for a grant writer.
Misconception 5: "There are no grants available for my project."
Truth: While I won't go so far as to say that there is a grant for every project, there are thousands of grants out there. It takes some skill, patience and research expertise to find them (and a good database like the one that the Foundation Center offers doesn't hurt either), but they are out there. A good freelance grant researcher may be the best investment your company can make!
While there may be others, these are the ones that I have heard the most. If you have questions about grants or grant writing, do not hesitate to contact me either via the blog comments or by email.
Question: If you could ask one question about grants or grant writing, what would it be?
Posted by Micki at 8:09 AM
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
It was a year ago this week that we lost a member of our community, and I intend to repost this every year at this time as my way of saying, "We remember".
It is the holiday season. A time filled with hectic Christmas shopping and a never ending stream of things to do to prepare for family gatherings and gift exchanges. I have always found it a little odd (and somewhat spiritual) that, just when we become very consumed with our busy schedule and start to lose sight of what is truly important in our lives, something significant happens that shakes us to our core and puts things in perspective. The little village where I live experienced such an event this past week.
On Sunday, December 3, while fighting a fire, a man from our town, a husband and father of two young girls, was killed in a freak accident. I live in a very small rural community where this man and his wife grew up and where he owned a popular restaurant. Though a rather quiet man, he was always willing to give to his community through his service to the fire department and by volunteering his time at local and church events.
Now, our little town is in mourning.
This has effected virtually everyone in our little town. Many are related to the family and are coping with the loss of a family member. Those who were at the scene of the accident tell in the paper of waking up in a cold sweat as they deal with the trauma of seeing one of their own die in the line of duty. The fire department, made up entirely of volunteers, their loved ones, and everyone in the community, is truly in shock. The community is a whole lot quieter this week, even as evidence of the hustle and bustle of Christmas is all around us, as we prepare to bury "one of the truly good guys".
But, where there lies suffering and heartache, there is also tremendous opportunity to realize what is really important. And, in this holiday season, that is a very good thing.
During this Christmas season, remember this man and his family and those who participated in and witnessed this horrific event. Remember all others like him who have died protecting us.
Tell your spouse how you can't imagine a life where he or she is not in your bed at night or there to kiss you goodbye in the morning.
Tell your kids that you love them and thank God they came into your life.
Think about others who have lost their lives so that we can be safe and free.
Look at the stars in the sky and think about those you have lost and how lucky you are to still be here to enjoy all of life's blessings.
Think about the true meaning of Christmas and appreciate the season and its beauty, because someone in your life may have one less person to share this Christmas with.
I have done all of these things this week (and have shed a few tears in the process). I will appreciate this season more because I did.
Posted by Micki at 9:11 AM
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Winter has come quickly it seems this year! As the cold weather hits for most in the United States, people turn their attention to writing holiday cards, relaxing by the fire, and getting some long-ignored projects done inside the house.
Isn’t it the same in business this time of year? Company leaders’ attentions turn to showing their appreciation to customers and employees by buying gifts or dinners. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, for many organizations, is a time for catching up on reports that have long been ignored (but have a January 1 deadline), sharing holiday cheer, and making those end of the year sales calls.
I was reading an article one day written by an avid gardener. She spoke about how she loves to spend winter nights reading her seed books and planning next year’s garden. At a time when the ground is the least fertile, gardeners passionate about their craft are thinking about the next bountiful harvest!
I think organization leaders can take a cue from gardeners. Many times, we spend so much time fighting fires and then celebrating our past successes, that we don’t take the time to plan for the future. December is a perfect time to not only consider what went right and wrong about the past year, it is a great time to plan for the future and look forward to the good things on the horizon!
Our gardening friends do four things that I believe can make a huge difference for your organization in 2014 (and beyond).
· Gardeners study their 2013 garden notes. Many gardeners make notes on their computer or in a notebook. They document when they planted, which plants produced well and which did not, and how they laid out their garden. Similarly, companies can look at the products they offered in 2013, which were successful and which were not, and the layout of their processes. What worked and what didn’t?
· Gardeners peruse the seed catalogues. What could be more fun than looking at beautiful summer flowers and healthy vegetable plants when the snow is falling outside? Gardeners explore the possibilities for next year’s garden. Companies can do the same by researching best practices and consulting with experts. What techniques can you use to get more grant funding or improve your throughput?
· Gardeners plan next year’s garden. Most avid gardeners and farmers don’t wait until winter breaks to plan next year’s crop. It is often better financially to order seed in the off-season. Companies can’t wait either. If you wait for the problems to occur (again), they will and you will be unprepared. I read in a recent article that the best approach for organizations to plan is to find a relaxing place to meet with your key team members (offsite if that works best), and spend a day or two focusing on the planning activity. Create an agenda, stick to it, and focus on the future.
· Gardeners enjoy the fruits of their labors. I had a bumper crop of tomatoes and sweet potatoes in my garden this past year. It is so satisfying to know, when I eat chili or a baked sweet potato, that the meal is possible because of my watering, weeding and harvesting. Leaders, enjoy the fruit of your labors. Share your joy in your successes with your employees, and be grateful for the customers and funders that make your existence possible.
I hope this winter is a time of preparation and reflection. And, I wish you a bountiful harvest for your organization in 2014!
Question: Do you have planning activities planned in December or January? Share how your organization or your clients plan.
Posted by Micki at 8:19 AM
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
NOTE: Teaser! Exciting news at the end of this blog!
I contend that these are two of the most underused words in the English language. We don’t say thank you when we should. We sometimes say it rather half-heartedly. We sometimes say it sarcastically.
I was recently watching Michael Hyatt’s interview with his good friend Robert D. Smith, an author and sought-after public speaker. Mr. Smith speaks with such passion, he literally bubbles when he talks. He preaches the value of gratitude and celebration and certainly walks the walk. He told the story of a time when Michael and his wife Gail came over to his house for dinner. As long-time friends of the Hyatt’s, Robert had always had respect for Gail. He saw the way she supported her husband, and wanted to show his gratitude. So, he threw her a surprise party! He had a cake, balloons, and her name on the windows. Michael said that she was absolutely speechless. Can you imagine? While this is taking gratitude to a whole new level, how much better would our world and our organizations be if everyone gave thanks for everything, big and small?
I wouldn’t expect to think that you have the time or energy to give a “gratitude party” every day for your friends and family. But, I can think of one very special and simple way to honor those that you respect, love and appreciate. Write a thank you note!
You many think that a simple thank you note couldn’t possibly replace the impact of a grand party. You may be surprised!
The value of the written note or letter, much like the written word in business, has been lost with the advent of social media, texting and emails. My son recently got a rejection letter by email! No call or letter, just an impersonal email.
I propose that we all use the written word in the very best way it can be used, by writing a thank you note!
Now, I know you have a dozen reasons not to do this.
- It takes time.
- It will probably not be appreciated.
- You aren’t good at putting your thoughts down on paper.
- The recipient will think you are silly.
I have been writing thank you notes more frequently lately, and I can tell you unequivocally that all of these objections are unfounded.
There are so many benefits to writing and sending thank you notes:
It surprises the recipient. - Deep down, don’t we all love a good surprise? Especially one that celebrates something we did? Because we spend so much of our day interacting with cell phones, computers, and TV’s, a note received in the mail is a rarity. Rare things are more appreciated.
Everyone loves to get mail. - While this may be a sweeping generalization, isn’t just a little exciting to go to the mailbox, open it up and see an unexpected package, letter or note? Doesn’t that just make your heart jump just a little and put a spring in your step?
It allows the gratitude to sink in. - When you receive a thank you note, do you just read it once? I don’t. I read it two or three times. When you see the sender’s feelings written out on paper, you believe their gratitude. You want to read it over and over, because it makes you feel good. And, you believe the sentiment, because it is in the sender’s handwriting. I don’t think too many emails or texts give you that same feeling.
Gratitude perpetuates gratitude - While I haven’t done any scientific studies, it has been my experience that people who receive heartfelt thank you notes will be more likely to send the same to other people. When something makes you feel good, you want to share it.
What a wonderful world this would be if more thank you notes were written and sent! I believe we would all place more value on gratitude and gratefulness.
In that spirit, I would like to propose the Thank You Note Challenge! Once a month until next Thanksgiving, send a thank you note to someone. Anyone! You can send one to your mailman for delivering your mail in a timely manner, no matter the weather. You can send one to your nemesis at work for elevating the level of your work and generating a competitive spirit. You can send one to your spouse for loving and supporting you. Once you have done so, share your experience with others via Twitter at @lakeviewgrants, and use the hashtag #thankyounote. I will send out Twitter reminders once a month to help you remember to get out your pen and paper.
This will be fun! More importantly, it will foster two important concepts - gratitude and the effective use of the written word.
This Thanksgiving, I am so very grateful for those of you who follow this blog and have supported my business. While I can’t send each and every one of you a thank you note, I will honor you by helping others as you've helped me and by delivering the very highest quality blog content in the coming year!
Posted by Micki at 5:31 AM
Friday, November 22, 2013
One of my clients recently received a denial letter from a foundation for an application that I wrote. They were rejecting my application for $9,500 for to help a local non-profit offset the costs of a dental program for adults with developmental disabilities. The application was submitted in February of this year, and we just received notification this week.
I don’t receive these types of letters as a matter of normal business. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be in business very long! One of my strengths is my ability to write grant applications and narratives that result in funding for my clients’ projects and training. Approximately three out of every four of the grant applications that I submit get funded.
I had three choices from which to choose when I got the letter:
- I could rationalize it as the funder’s problem.
- I could obsess over the fact that my “hit rate” went down.
- I could learn from the situation and use my newfound knowledge to write a better application next time. And, I could let my blog readers in on what I learned so that maybe they wouldn’t make the same mistakes!
I chose option 3. And, to help me with the learning process, I decided to harken back to the old days of TV and do an autopsy of my application, Dr. Quincy-style.
Step 1: Review the body of evidence.
In Dr. Quincy’s case, this was a real body. In my case, the grant application was the “body”. Here is what I found:
- The need wasn’t defined clearly. If someone is going to write you a check to help fund a program, you had better clearly state why the program exists. While there was a lot of rhetoric about the situation, the need could have been more clearly stated.
- The narrative was a little too wordy. When I re-read the application, a lot of words were used to state a pretty simple case. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in making our case, we lose respect for the reader’s time.
Step 2: Talk to the people involved with the case.
Dr. Quincy always interviewed those involved with the case. So, I called the funding organization for additional feedback on the rejection (a practice I highly recommend).
The very nice gentleman from the foundation told me they received over 1100 applications. They funded 325 of them! So, we were not in the minority.
He did give me some great tips, which I am happy to share:
- He recommended that, before we apply again, we schedule a conference call with their program staff to better acquaint them with the program. That way, we can find out if what we offer is a fit for what the foundation wants to fund before we put the time and effort into an application.
- He also told me that their board members read each grant application. The application was restricted to two pages in length plus a budget page, know I know why! If there isn’t something that attracts their attention, they will quit reading.
Step 3: Find out “who-dun-it”.
Well, this isn’t too hard since I wrote the grant. I take my responsibility as a grant writer very seriously and very personally. Any grant application that I submit that isn’t funded is a felony in my eyes. However, I would assure any court that, even before this foundation’s decision was made, I took some steps to address the above problems that I think will please any judge and jury.
- I got training to improve my writing skills. I attended a five-day grant writing training through the Grantsmanship Center in May of this year, which I highly recommend to both new grant writers and those looking to hone their craft. I learned how to properly organize and word a grant application. I can assure you that my more recent applications are more succinct and better written than this one.
- I studied for and got my GPC (Grant Professional Certified). I learned how to be a better grant consultant by studying for the exam. I learned techniques to research, write and evaluate grants. The GPCI’s website has more information on this certification, if you are interested. These are not just letters behind my name, they are an indication that I have diligently worked to perfect my grantsmanship skills.
- I regularly call funders before starting an application. There are many grants that look good on paper, but, in reality, are only a good fit for a small subset of programs. I now call or email a contact person at the foundation to see if the project is a good fit before I even apply. This one step has saved me a lot of wasted time. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone!
While it is not my nature to dwell on bad news, I thought it important that I discuss my failures as well as my successes. None of us are perfect, but if we can learn from our mistakes and teach others based on this knowledge, failure becomes a blessing!
Posted by Micki at 6:06 PM