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.
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.
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?