Monday, August 18, 2008

Grant Proposal Writing - YOUR Best Tips!

Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student.

No matter how long you’ve been writing grant proposals, or how successful you’ve been, you can always learn something new. It pays to refresh your thought processes from time to time, either by taking another class in proposal writing (or even a short story writing class) or reading another grant proposal writing book.

Think outside the box to boost your creative thought process. If you’ve never read Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” do. The writing is so succinct, so eloquent – in the words of one reviewer “I haul my copy out every 2-3 years just to remind myself how wonderful the rhythms and nuances of the American language can be at the hands of a master.”

Get yourself outside of your organization to actually meet your constituency. Talk to your board members. Find out why they give of their time and money.

Recently I posed the question “What is your best tip?” to the Grants listserv of CharityChannel. Following are some responses that may help your proposal writing.

I find that an important aspect of grant writing is putting the proposal in the right "voice" for the funder. In general, funders respond well to language that is personal but not overly familiar; for example, using "we" instead of "The X Organization" when referring to yourself. Don't use slang or colloquialisms; define technical or discipline-specific terms a potential funder might not know. Sound enthusiastic about your proposed project but not wildly exuberant.

However, some funders--especially government and academic funders--respond to a more formal voice--"The X Organization" rather than "we." They also generally do want to see technical and discipline-specific terms in the proposal, whose correct usage demonstrates your knowledge of the field.

One way to try to identify the correct voice for a specific funder is to look at their application guidelines, and use the voice they do. If you can get copies of proposals they've funded, that may give an even more specific view of what they'll respond well to.
Another idea is to avoid writing in BIG BLOCK paragraphs. Break such
paragraphs into bite-size pieces. Readers don't like having to wade through
huge blocks of print.

throw out the jargon and mean-nothing phrases. If you are having a hard time explaining the project, its outcomes or the need for it in a straight forward manner,
it appears that you don't really know the answers or are hiding behind
convoluted language.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Six Critical Things to Look For in a Foundation’s 990 For Successful Grant Funding!

Prospect research is the absolute key when you're investigating potential sources of foundation funding. And there is no finer tool for truly observing the workings of a private foundation -- and whether or not their mission provides a match with your organization -- than with a thorough investigation of a foundation's federal 990-PF form (downloadable at a number of sites for free, including Guidestar and Nozasearch).

For a clearer picture, download the past three years of the foundation's 990.

What, exactly, should you be looking for? Let’s take a walk through a typical grantmaking foundation’s 990-FP:

1. Do take a look at the foundation’s Fiscal Year. Why? Well, if they happen to be closing in on the end of their fiscal year, they may have already spent the required 5 percent payout. On the other hand, if they’re fairly new to grantmaking, the foundation may have yet to hone their grantmaking policies – and you may get lucky if they’re looking to send some last minute grant checks out the door.

2. Assets: Note, of course, the total fair market value of all assets recorded on line 16 for the last year reported. Now take a look back - has the XYZ Foundation's assets declined or grown over the past few years? Are they a fairly new operating foundation?

3. Part I, Analysis of Revenue and Expenses summarizes other sections of the report. Pay particular attention to line 1. If major contributions have been made during the year in question a founder or trustee may have recently passed – and an increase in giving could be in the future.

4. Part VIII – Take note – here’s one of your most important resources. Information about officers, directors, trustees, foundation managers, highly paid employees and contractors: You will certainly want to note the names of the trustees. Could members of your board possibly know any of the trustees of XYZ Foundation? Does the XYZ Foundation have staff members or is it entirely family-run? Are the trustees paid?

5. Part IX-A - Summary of Direct Charitable Activities: Here's where you find out the exact dollar amount given in grants. If the foundation you’re researching tends to give many grants in the $2,500 to $10,000 range (as opposed to a few grants in the $25,000-$100,000 range) and you are a first time applicant, you’ll want to frame your first ask accordingly.

6. Part XV: This section will tell you how grant applications should be prepared, if there are any deadlines, etc. along with a listing of grantees. Although it's still a good idea to phone and get grant application guidelines directly from the foundation in question (or their website), this section will get you started (and don't write a foundation off if they specifically note that they only grant to pre-selected organizations - I've had success with smaller grants of $250-500 with these foundations when there was an otherwise good match in giving!) Are there organizations similar to yours on that listing of grants given in 2003? What is the dollar range in their grantmaking and where would your organization fall? Income from investments: Why would this be of interest to a potential grant-seeker? Taking a look at the XYZ Foundation's investments can give you a generalized idea of their overall philosophy. Are their investments centered in "grandfather" stocks? Their philosophy may be rather traditional and conservative. Do they invest in eBay and Amazon? Perhaps they're more open to creative approaches to problem solving and would welcome a more inventive grant application.

Have your basic funding research form ready and do a little detective work to really "get to know" the foundation you're seeking funding from. You’ll dramatically increase your chances of successful funding!