Grant Writing: Part 2 of 3

29 May

In my itty bitty junior high, we watched an educational filmstrip every Friday. While our teacher slept (I can’t remember his name, and here I thought it’d be seared into my psyche until death), we explored anything vaguely related to biology from ‘The Wonderful World of Earthworms’ to ‘So, Your Body Is Changing’.

Why do I share this little ditty? As you read the next line, hear the sonorous voice of the announcer  . . . it’ll make this blog seem just as exciting as those filmstrips

Continuing our saga through the fascinating world of grant writing, we now explore economic sectors, request for proposal structures, and the initial draft.

 See, aren’t you glad I suggested the announcer voice?

 Who am I? Who are you? Can we make a profit?

Organizations giving, and those requesting, grants have a legal home in one of three economic sectors – public, private or nonprofit. You’d think it would be easy to sort these out.

Not so much anymore ~ with the rise of contracting, public services are delivered through businesses or nonprofits. Grants are an increasingly common way to fund actions in the public interest.

We sort the economic sectors in terms of private (nongovernment) versus government (in the US, democratically derived, representative blah blah blah, that lecture would really put you to sleep). Also, private not-for-profit versus private for-profit are distinct legal structures. This matters. Eligibility for funding and funding distribution options are both tied to the legal structure.

What do you want from me?

Funders want to award grants. However, they want resources distributed to organizations likely to be successful in accomplishing policies or programs important to the funder. The ‘request for proposal’ (RFP) outlines the exact information the funder believes important to make this assessment. Heck, they may even tell you if they want paper clips or binder clips. You may receive guidance on all types of technical details (e.g., margins, font, length). Most significantly, the funder will want to know what you hope to accomplish, why you hope to accomplish it, and how much it’ll cost. Sometimes, they’ll expect you to explain how you’ll evaluate success and how you plan to sustain the project beyond their contribution. As you’re developing the proposal, you may want to draw upon general background on your organizations, (e.g. mission statement, history, or legal authorization). You’ll need the usual contact information (e.g., address, telephone, fax, email, and contact timelines/guidelines).

The RFP should provide information about the funder’s goals, the grant parameters, dos and don’ts on the funds and recipients, deadlines, budgets, administrative costs and expected match requirements. RFPs could be several pages long including the sections delineating the substantive content of your proposal (e.g., the narrative mentioned last time, the problem statement, anticipated project, budget, evaluation section, and required attachments or supporting letters).  For the larger and more experienced funders, you’ll see an appeals process, along with information about the criteria used to evaluate your proposal, the notification process, and funding distribution methods.

Ok, well, here’s what I’ll give you.

This is the easy one.


Y’know, the same way we approach query letters and contests.

Give your funder EXACTLY the information they outline in the RFP. Provide this information in the EXACT order, format, and length they specify. Do NOT get cute, creative or confrontational. Do not use perfumed, unusually organic (don’t ask), or florescent paper. Actually, do NOT use/do anything beyond what they specify. If they don’t specify, then use standard weight, standard dimensions . . . standard, standard, standard.

Provide clear signposts. Approach this as you would dialogue. If you make your reader/reviewer search too hard to determine what’s going on, they’ll throw the book/grant across the room.

Part 1 of this trilogy offered an introduction for grant seekers. Today’s blog takes you through more technical considerations. Stay tuned for Part 3 (6/5/12) where we explore grantisms highlighted with blood loss, kidnapping, and massive fines. Just kidding . . . except about the fines.

Now, it’s time for you to weigh in . . . I know many of our visitors are experienced grant writers . . . what would you add?  Do you have any horror stories?


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14 responses to “Grant Writing: Part 2 of 3

  1. Janis McCurry

    May 29, 2012 at 7:14 AM

    The part about evaluating success mimics what writers have still been unable to quantify. How many direct sales of books are related to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. At least in grant writing, there should be more quantifiable methods of tracking success, yes?

  2. Liz Fredericks

    May 29, 2012 at 7:18 AM

    Hey Janis, I don’t know what the implications of social media are for grant writing . . . maybe someone reading this post could weigh in on that point? In terms of tracking success in grants – it’s all in the money, baby.

  3. Meredith Allen Conner

    May 29, 2012 at 9:48 AM

    I still need to research if there is a grant for housekeeping, etc. . . for writing mother’s – then I would consider the ABSOLUTE, UNQUESTIONED OBEDIENCE part. I like that. Cracks me up. And I’m not sure how you’ve done it Liz, but you’ve made grant writing very interesting. I would have loved you as a teacher 🙂

    • Liz Fredericks

      May 29, 2012 at 10:09 AM

      Well, true confessions here. I just received an email from a student who asked why I didn’t hang around after class last week. It seems that after I released everyone for partnered review, I neglected to double check that all of the teams were accounted for when they returned with their assignments. We all left and one team was still working. They came back to discover us gone and the classroom locked. Their feelings were hurt and I’m wracked with guilt. It’s a little like leaving your kid at Walmart. I’m a bad bad teacher.

  4. Clarissa Southwickc

    May 29, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    Great tips for almost any kind of submission. I laughed at the Friday biology pics. We must have had the same teacher. Ours showed only Florida Seafood Commission films and kept reminding us that he was retiring at the end of the year. Whenever anybody says, “short-timing it,” I think of him.

    • Liz Fredericks

      May 29, 2012 at 10:10 AM

      I’m drawing a blank on the Florida Seafood Commission films but am now compelled to google it. This, I have to see!

  5. Amanda Bonilla

    May 29, 2012 at 10:20 AM

    My hubs is a fire chief and grants are essential to their funding. I attended a grant writing class once for his fire department and I was floored by how intricate and detail-oriented grant writing is. I admire anyone who manages or writes grants!

    • Liz Fredericks

      May 29, 2012 at 10:27 AM

      Thanks Amanda! Grant writing can be fairly lucrative and the successful writers earn every penny.

  6. Peggy Staggs

    May 29, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    This blog combined with the list of questions Johanna gave us in her blog on conferences are exactly what writers need to remember when submitting. Figure out where to go then give them exactly what they want.
    As for grants…I always wanted to write one for the Boise RWA group, but found the process daunting. I still think it’s something we should do.
    As for films in biology class…the military had the lastest and greatest from the 40’s when I was in Jr. high.

  7. Liz Fredericks

    May 29, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    Okay, more stuff to google! Thanks Peggy! I feel a blog coming on . . story telling through 8th grade educational films. One of my favorite mockups was the one on dodgeball – courtesy of, you guessed it, ‘Dodgeball’. Dodge, duck, dive, dip . . .dodge. Classic.

  8. Lynn Mapp

    May 30, 2012 at 5:31 PM

    Liz, I always enjoy your post, which is to say, they have me giggling like a school girl.

  9. ramblingsfromtheleft

    May 31, 2012 at 5:27 PM

    So sorry, Liz … My computer had a virus and I was out of it for an entire week. To say that this has never happened … well … it has NEVER happened.

    I did grant writing sans computers, wrote the draft on yellow legal pads, read the outline of the RFP until I was blind, always had tons of extra copies of each section, had four people proof read, I felt like Ginger Rogers … “I did all the same steps as he only backwards in high heels :)”

    The most important element is to have something viable, and then stick to the subject. Get to the point, aim for the whites of their eyes and go for it. Catchment area, demongraphics, mission statement, needs statement, program desc. … Don’t even mention budgets and staffing. We were in a high need area, but our programs were strickly prevention and not intervention … get to them before problems begin 🙂

    I am going to have a nightmare and I just spent a week having nightmares that my baby would return without my files !! Ah, but she is okay and we survived and thrived and I am proud to say I had a hand in that.

    It is so much like a book, sometimes the great ones go unpub’d for a long time. If you have a dedicated staff and provide great services, it does not always mean you will get the grant. Politics and community back biting are always a variable you cannot control. Mostly, the cream surfaces and you get to work another season. Still going strong our agency, founded in 1968, began with a four hour program on Saturday mornings for 50 children in arts workshops and is today servicing over 1,000 youth ages 5-21 in five year round arts, recreation, education and emloyment programs. Send those checks to …. 🙂

  10. maryvine

    June 2, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    I am very impressed with those who apply for grants-and succeed. Thanks, Liz.


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