Grant Writing: Part I

15 May

To borrow part of a phrase from my mother, “If I had a dime every time I heard XXX, I’d be a wealthy woman.”

 Well, if I had a dime every time I heard ‘just write a grant’,
I’d make Bill Gates look like a pauper.

 For the past dozen or so years, I’ve taught a bootcampish grant writing course for graduate students during the three week span after finals week through the first week of June. In theory, this class should be easy-peasy compared to the usual stuff.

You don’t have to read a TON of thick, ponderous academic books and journals.

In fact, I don’t assign ANY reading.

You don’t write several papers where you’re expected to synthesize said content into a summary analysis in response to a prompt (and it’s always a diabolical, what-the-hell-does-she-want prompt).

You only have to develop an application for use by a nonprofit or public sector organization. That’s it.

Heh heh heh . . .  it seems so easy . . . at first. But those of you who’ve written grants know the process is analogous to an iceberg . . .  or the ‘gee, I think I’ll write a novel’ impulse.

What you can easily see on the surface, the expected deliverable, only captures a very, very, very small proportion of the ‘berg. I can’t claim taking on an iceberg has a chance of succeeding. However, like writing a novel, any eventual success in grant writing means putting your butt in the chair, doing your homework, gutting it through, and preparing for a long process that may have more hurdles than high moments. Ahhhh, but those high moments ~~~     😉

For three posts (5/15, 5/29 and 6/5), I’m planning a quick and dirty introduction to grant writing. The secrets? As in fiction, know what you want to accomplish (e.g., project, or book, or short story, or genre) before you start and, to borrow a line from one of my favorite, not-exactly-art-film movies, Galaxy Quest:  “Never give up, never surrender.”

We approach the grant application in four broad stages: know your organization and need,  identify a compatible project and one or more viable funders, and write, on behalf of a public or nonprofit organization, to the selected funder’s ‘request for proposal’. Through a series of exercises distributed between twelve 4-hour classes, students develop a proposal suitable for submission or cannibalizing for boilerplate on future grant applications.  This week, we begin with the foundation . . .

Knowing (and Articulating) Your Organization and Need

 The narrative statement is critical. As in a query letter, the overworked target reader (who probably has an enormous stack of queries or grant applications to get through) must see something promising to warrant expending more time on your submission. So, aside from the basic typos, failure to follow submission directions and mastery of the English language (or lack thereof), you must draft a narrative statement that concisely explains the problem your agency intends to address AND the agency’s capacity to do so with the critical assistance of the funder. Let’s start with your organization.

Agency Capacity

 The strength of an organization lies in its focus, people, and processes and the coherent blend of those components. For all three, you need to have documentation (and depending upon the funder, you might be expected to provide these specifics). Your focus is captured in the mission statement of the organization and is also demonstrated in its history (what’s been done) and current scope (what’s being done) and who benefits. Often, grant writers are so focused on the ‘problem’ they take for ‘granted’ (couldn’t resist) a funder’s acceptance of the legitimacy of agency existence and action.

Your responses to the preceding question should implicitly set up your application. If the reviewer is not convinced you know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and for whom you’re acting, then there’s no point in continuing to review the application. In addition, if you haven’t established this legitimacy, your reviewer won’t buy your problem statement no matter how authoritative.

Problem Statement

Not all problems have solutions. But, we do tend to have lots of pet solutions floating around looking for problems. We’ll consider more about this point in the final post on program evaluation and budgeting. For now, you should identify the need you plan to address (and this means considering all of the variables and cause/effect relationships).

‘Need’ demands you can identify and document the person or persons affected by the problem and how they might be affected. This helps you establish the significance of the problem for the target population, confirms for the funder the appropriateness of their participation and allows you to answer the pivotal question: Why should your agency/organization take action?

In the next post, I’ll discuss funders, dissecting their request for proposals and the initial sketch of your proposed action.

In the meantime, what experiences have you had with grant writing?

Will you share your advice/cautions/tips on the process?


Posted by on May 15, 2012 in grant writing, Idaho


Tags: , , ,

24 responses to “Grant Writing: Part I

  1. ramblingsfromtheleft

    May 15, 2012 at 6:39 AM

    Okay Liz, this is where our two minds meet. It was a long time ago, in a far off land called Washington Heights in Northern Manhattan. Our catchment area was from 155th St. on the border of Harlem to 235th Street at the channel that separates Inwood from Marble Hill. We were Community Board 12, School District 6 and had the most over utilizied schools in the five boroughs, the highest number of youth between ages 5-21, and the highest numbers of senior citizens of 55 yhears and older. Those two populations joined in one of the most controversial neighborhoods in the city and offered the greatest challenges and opportunities for programming.

    Gees, we could teach this class together. This was my life’s work for almost 20 years and other than being an executive secretary before, during and after college, it was the best training for what I am doing now. I’ll break up my usual LONG response into your three posts. Thanks “teach,” life does indeed have but a mere six degrees of separation 🙂

  2. Liz Fredericks

    May 15, 2012 at 6:47 AM

    I’m always struck by how much our two minds meet. This is really the amazing thing about this blog. I feel so lucky to have met you – in a virtual sense. Your points and experience resonate once more. Wow, a grant writing past (sounds kind of nefarious, doesn’t it?). Please weigh in on any comments that come up. As you can attest with grant writing (and all writing, I suppose) there’s so much ‘craft’ that we can share informally with each other.

    • ramblingsfromtheleft

      May 15, 2012 at 9:39 AM

      Yes, there is much we can share. The best that grant writing teaches that is of great value to fiction writers is structure. To have a strong sense of communicating a purpose, the who, what, where and how of it all 🙂

      • Liz Fredericks

        May 15, 2012 at 11:06 AM

        You’re right on the structure . . . and precise language. You often don’t have much space in a grant . . . and in a story it’s so easy to throw your reader off with the wrong word.

  3. Janis McCurry

    May 15, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    No grant experience here, but I’ve never taken the process for granted. I grant you, it seems a difficult process. 🙂

    • Liz Fredericks

      May 15, 2012 at 7:46 AM

      Grant me the grace to say – it’s not difficult as much as complicated and time-consuming. Ok, I’m all out of ‘grant’ applications and, as it is, I think I duplicated your last sentence. Anyone?

      • johannaharness

        May 15, 2012 at 9:33 AM

        I love that response: not difficult as much as complicated and time-consuming. That’s the case with so many things–most of them things I don’t wanna do.

        • Liz Fredericks

          May 15, 2012 at 11:04 AM

          I’m having that very same reaction to the pile of grading from last night’s class.

  4. Kyrsten

    May 15, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    You are sooo right! Grant writing is a highly technical endeavor and those who think you can “just take a weekend and do one” will end up with an unfundable pile of words. Thanks for sharing!

    • Liz Fredericks

      May 15, 2012 at 8:35 AM

      Kyrsten, I bet you have quite a few stories on grants given your experiences with the Boy Scouts. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Clarissa Southwick

    May 15, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    Interesting topic, Liz. I know nothing about grants except that I want one. 🙂 I’d be interested in hearing about which grants are available to writers and writing organizations.

    Going way off topic here: Could you get one of your students to write a grant application to provide for transportation to Treasure Valley Math & Science? It’s a half-day program and the kids have to find their own transportation back to the Meridian School District because–as you know–MJSD has the money to teach bagpipes and Celtic dancing, but they can’t afford to bus their kids to a NATIONALLY recognized Math and Science program that is supposed to serve the entire region.

    Transportation keeps a lot of really bright kids from taking advantage of the program, and then the local businesses complain that they can’t find tech-savvy employees to fill their jobs. Seems like somebody would be willing to fund a bus.

    Sorry. I’ll fall off my soapbox now and get back to the world of writing.

    • Liz Fredericks

      May 15, 2012 at 8:55 AM

      Hi Clarissa,

      I’d have loved to assign that project if I’d known. Maybe next year? I’m glad you’re back to the world of writing!

    • ramblingsfromtheleft

      May 15, 2012 at 9:49 AM

      Clarissa, I could not help commenting here. In the dark ages it was all done with grant books and often with the help of dedicatged librarians. These days it can all be accessed on line. Google a topic and up pops thousands of links. However, a search for grants available to writers and writing organizations would best begin with the web page for Poets & Writers Magazine. They have the most extensive data base of small literary press, and also have staff that can answer most questions fegarding these funds. Carnigie Mellon, Breadloaf Writer’s Bakeless … retreats and small grant funds in the private sector.

      For the bus? Go local and begin with a small local business or bank that has strong community ties and a vested interest in the area. Many school districts through out the country also have auctions of school buses … a small one time grant from a local trucking or bus company. Keep it tight and local and use cold calls to contact everyone you can think of in your local YELLOW PAGES … the way some places love to put their names on the back of baseball jerseys, you might find one or two that would fund a bus and have their name plastered on the sides.

      Have fun … as a wise librarian told me once … the sleuthing if the best part of the learning process 🙂

  6. Meredith Allen Conner

    May 15, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    Never written a grant. Don’t want to. Unless they have a grant for writing mothers which would go towards a cleaning service, taxi service, cook and a therapist. Then I might consider it 🙂

    • Liz Fredericks

      May 15, 2012 at 1:23 PM

      So, here’s the plan. I’m going to buy a lottery ticket tomorrow. I’ll win. Then, I’ll establish a foundation and we’ll set up an RFP and then . . .

      Is that before or after the hollywood party thrown for my blockbuster screenplay? Oh. Wait. I don’t write screenplays. 😉

  7. marsharwest

    May 15, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    Love you gals. The “grant” applications were too funny. You know only really bright people can come up with those. LOL
    I do have grant writing experience–not tons, but while a principal (with the help of my parents) I wrote a successful grant for maybe $5000 (hate to say I really can’t remember) towards playground equipment from The KaBoom organziation. The best part of the experience was having to attend a “build day” in New Orleans after Katrina. We started with prepared ground and by the end of the day, the school had a new playground. It was a remarkable experience shared with incredible people. As was the day we built the one at our school. One of their key components was the grantee had to show how they would collaborate with the community.
    If you believe all children need a safe place to play, check out their web site, sorry If I can’t do that.
    Filling in all the blanks was a real pain, but worth it in the end. Their moto was: Believe. Plan it. Build it.
    Guess we could apply that to our writing, which I need to get to. Look forward to the rest of your points, Liz.

  8. Liz Fredericks

    May 15, 2012 at 7:18 PM

    Hey there Marsha, how are you? Schools are heavily dependent upon funding opportunities. In my class, about 1/3 of the 18 students are writing for an elementary or middle school – everything from laptops to playground equipment (so, thank you!! for the hint, I’ll pass it along). It’s always good to see you here.

  9. maryvine

    May 15, 2012 at 8:50 PM

    This is very timely for me, my herione is a mayor of a small town and she wants a grant to help the city. I only hope that’s possible. Looks like I may just learn a lot with your three blog posts. Thanks!

    • Liz Fredericks

      May 16, 2012 at 5:16 AM

      Yea!!! As excited as I am when someone receives money for a good cause, using grant writing to advance a story is even better. Thank you, Mary.

  10. Lynn Mapp

    May 15, 2012 at 10:01 PM

    Back in the old days, when I had energy, I wrote grants. I worked on one to get $10,000 for our school library. I wrote a grant to get a laptop, that was really a long time ago. I wrote a grant to get a computer.
    I learned a few things. Some questions were asked on the application. Answer them. Don’t be cute. Don’t say what you think the agency wants to here. Answer the questions.

    • Liz Fredericks

      May 16, 2012 at 5:19 AM

      Energy is the key isn’t it? Seems like there are so many demands on our time and even prioritization is overwhelms (especially in April and May, Lynn!). Your advice on grants translates well for stories too. Tell the story. Don’t be cute. Just tell the story.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: