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Posts from the ‘Fund Development’ Category

The “How To” of Writing and Winning Grants

Book cover of Winning Foundation Grants by Martin Teitel

Here’s a quick read that offers some solid tips for writing grants and building program officer relationships.

I’m a sucker for “how to” books. To overcome the monotony of walking the track at the gym, or to mentally escape when trapped in an airplane seat, I always have at hand someone’s advice on writing, organizing, healthful living or whatever.

During a few recent laps at the gym, I scanned “The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants” by Martin Teitel.  This book’s been around for a few years, but the advice is still solid for writers in all types of nonprofits and foundations.

Teitel understands both sides of the funding equation. For more than half of his career he was a grantmaker, but he also led nonprofits and knows first-hand the challenges of grantseekers.

May the Best Writer Win
So, to win the competition for grants, Teitel offers these tips:

  • Have a brilliant opener and summary.  When you’re writing your LOI, he recommends spending a quarter of your time on the two-sentence summary of how you will solve the problem and another quarter on your opening sentence.
  • Use facts and action verbs.  As he says, “Show, don’t tell.”  Be concrete and specific, especially regarding outcomes of your work. (But as you write from your head, show your passion from your heart, too.)
  • Cut the words and cut the jargon.  Ask for funds to build a “park,” not an “outdoor recreation facility.” Buzzwords add fuzziness, not clarity.
  • Be modest and be positive.  Blaming and finger-pointing tears down you, not others. And the program officer is smart enough to recognize overstatements and embellishments.
  • Skip the emotional manipulation. Guilt won’t make the funder open up his or her wallet.

Be Accurate and Neat, Not Flashy
As you can see, Teitel’s advice draws heavily on sound communications practices.  He says outright: Write like a journalist, think like a marketer.

And that brings me to a cardinal rule of journalism: Accuracy. Take time to proof, says Teitel, and while you’re at it, be timely. Last-minute submissions with errors send the wrong message to the grant reviewer — that your proposed project work will also be late and sloppy.

“Winning Foundation Grants”  has many more useful tips for grantseekers, like how to build effective relationships with foundation staff, what are red flags in proposals, and how to follow up and write reports.  Pick up the book yourself, or wait for highlights in a future post — after my next cross-country flight or 30 minutes on the treadmill.

Design Thinking While You Work

Charities Review Council design thinking

At the Charities Review Council Annual Forum 2014, participants engaged in design thinking exercises about disruptive philanthropy.

When I ran into a former colleague recently, she asked me what I liked about freelancing.  Without hesitating, I commented on how stimulating it is to work with such a diverse group of nonprofit and foundation clients.

As I explore fields that are new to me, I meet fascinating people, and best of all, I get to apply what I learn in unexpected ways that benefit my clients — and my community.

For instance, before I was introduced to CornerHouse in Minneapolis, I knew little about child and adolescent abuse.  Plus, I was completely unaware that this local agency is known worldwide for training of forensic interviewers, or that it is the only children’s advocacy center in the country that is offering healing home visiting services to children and families dealing with the aftermath of abuse.

Experience the Creative Rush
So in the course of just a day or two, I’ve written about families recovering from trauma, grocery delivery services for seniors, and rural broadband access, among other topics.  Shifting from one subject to the next, I see surprising connections between ideas and audiences, and new communications strategies emerge . . . it’s a sort of creative rush.

And it feels like that creativity allows me — in my own small way — to participate in the  local “disruptive philanthropy” movement.  The Charities Review Council team members — who championed the movement at their annual forum last fall — defined disruptive philanthropy as:

“a transformative event or moment, an act of giving and relationship building that is a departure from the status quo. It may not be easy, endorsed or comfortable, but it is necessary to inclusively create a shared vision, a new sustainability, innovation, imagination and growth.”

Personal Design Thinking
In another way, my work on behalf of my clients and their beneficiaries feels like a personal design thinking exercise.

During participation in the Giving 2.0 MOOC last fall, I heard David Kelley from IDEO speak about design thinking in philanthropy and use of the Human-Centered Design Toolkit.  Its underlying premise is that problem-solving in philanthropy must be preceded by deep empathy for the people who will benefit and close engagement with them in “need-finding.”

No matter what how you describe it, I feel happy to zig and zag while I work, using my neurons to connect seemingly unrelated dots . . . and making my small contributions to the third sector and our greater community.