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Putting an Application Rejection Into Perspective

Most grant writers tend to blame themselves unduly if an application is rejected. Granted, there are sometimes instances where obvious mistakes have been made on the part of the grant writer. However, I have found that most professionals in this field are sincerely dedicated to their jobs and really want to receive the grant money. This is a very big incentive to do the very best job possible on the grant application.

This field of work has some features which are different from many others. There is a need to remain focused and stay on track, as tangible products must be produced. It is hard to “slack off” when there is a submission deadline to be met. The funding agencies will not accept late applications. Grant writers who do not produce an application on time will not have many more chances to redeem themselves. Not meeting the deadline and therefore not being able to submit an application is considered to be a failure of the worst sort.

This of course produces a pressure to perform, which can, in extreme cases, induce performance anxiety. This is exacerbated by the highly competitive field in which the grant writer operates. In the case of most federal and state grant opportunities, all municipalities, counties, or nonprofits applying are in competition with one another. This does nothing to reduce the pressure.

Conversely, when an application is approved, the grant writer becomes a “rainmaker”. As one can imagine, this is a highly respected person who is given a great deal of importance within the organization.

The purpose of saying all of this is to caution the grant writer to not become overly identified with the results of any one particular application or even several applications. In order to preserve one’s sense of balance, it is necessary to not become overly dejected when an application is not funded or to take too much of the credit for successful applications.

Documenting What You Say in the Grant Application

This is nothing more and nothing less than proof or backup for what the grant writer says in an application and is invaluable in establishing credibility. This also pays off not just in the current application round but in subsequent rounds, as funding agencies begin to see that your agency always presents truthful and complete information.
Examples of documentation include the following:
• Proof of matching funds (this can be a letter from the funding agency or a grant agreement)
• Rejection letters from other funders
• Memorandum of Understanding with a cooperating agency which shows that the applicant has solid partners to carry out the project
• Resumes of key project personnel
• Engineer’s or architect’s estimate of costs
• Income survey results
• Census or Bureau of Labor Statistics maps and tables
• Other research results
• Letters of support from community organizations or groups which will benefit from the project
• Drawings or renderings of the facility to be constructed or rehabilitated with the grant
• Map(s) of the project area
• Progress reports for previous grants from the agency from whom the funds are being requested
• Photographs
• Organizational documents (charter, Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws)
• Certificate of Good Standing issued by the state (for nonprofits; this may have different names in different states)
• Environmental review documents
• Financial statements, audit reports, operating budgets and tax returns
• Proof of 501©(3) status
• List of Board of Directors
• Resolution of support from a local government or the Board of Directors of a nonprofit organization

Putting a Grant Rejection Into Perspective

Most grant writers tend to blame themselves unduly if an application is rejected. Granted, there are sometimes instances where obvious mistakes have been made on the part of the grant writer. However, I have found that most professionals in this field are sincerely dedicated to their jobs and really want to receive the grant money. This is a very big incentive to do the very best job possible on the grant application.
This field of work has some features which are different from many others. There is a need to remain focused and stay on track, as tangible products must be produced. It is hard to “slack off” when there is a submission deadline to be met. The funding agencies will not accept late applications. Grant writers who do not produce an application on time will not have many more chances to redeem themselves. Not meeting the deadline and therefore not being able to submit an application is considered to be a failure of the worst sort.
This of course produces a pressure to perform, which can, in extreme cases, induce performance anxiety. This is exacerbated by the highly competitive field in which the grant writer operates. In the case of most federal and state grant opportunities, all municipalities, counties, or nonprofits applying are in competition with one another. This does nothing to reduce the pressure.
Conversely, when an application is approved, the grant writer becomes a “rainmaker”. As one can imagine, this is a highly respected person who is given a great deal of importance within the organization.
The purpose of saying all of this is to caution the grant writer to not become overly identified with the results of any one particular application or even several applications. In order to preserve one’s sense of balance, it is necessary to not become overly dejected when an application is not funded or to take too much of the credit for successful applications

Working “Smarter”, Not Harder

As grant writers, we work in a field which is inherently full of pressure, due to its very nature. We must prepare and submit grant applications to meet deadlines which are nonnegotiable. The funding agencies will almost never give an individual applicant an extension. If the application is not submitted by the due date, the application has no chance of being considered. Also, grant writers are prone to performance anxiety due to the fact that our success or failure is so visible. We either get the money, get part of what we requested, or get nothing at all. Many grant writers fall into the trap of becoming too personally identified with the results of the applications they write. This makes them feel that a rejection is due solely to their lack of skill in writing the application. This could not be farther from the truth, as there are many other reasons for the rejection of an application, such as other applicants with a greater level of need or having a project which is not really ready to be implemented.

A grant writer’s method of dealing with stress and time management will naturally have to take into account whether they are part-time or full-time and whether they are a grant consultant or an employee of an agency which is seeking grants. In my case, this is how I make my living and support my household. One would think that this would cause a great deal of stress, worry and pressure. I know it sounds simplistic, but my way of dealing with this is that I concentrate on the work to be done and do not let myself get into the stress-oriented frame of mind. I have found, in my 35 years of grant writing, that the best policy is to do the best one can and have confidence that the funds will flow. This is sometimes difficult to do. I recognize that some personalities deal with pressures in different ways. However, if you are an excessive worrier, you probably should not be a grant writer.

Having expressed these generalities, I would like to share with you some of the techniques I use in order to meet my deadlines and work at a comfortable pace. Fortunately, my business is thriving and I therefore must work on multiple projects at the same time. One of the things which really helps me the most has been my use of dictation. For a number of years now, I have used a product called Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which is manufactured by a company called Nuance. This software enables one to speak into a microphone and have the words automatically typed on the computer screen. It is hard to overstate the time savings I have realized as a result of using dictation. However, I think that everyone is initially leery of working in this fashion. Many people feel that they can think better if they type. However, my advice would be to start out dictating very simple letters and memorandums, which is what I did. Once you get comfortable with that, it will be relatively easy to dictate two page documents and work up from there.

Another method I use for avoiding stress is to gather all documents I need from others prior to beginning an application. For example, a funding agency may request copies of audits, articles of incorporation, a list of board members and so forth, which I will have to gather from the client. I have found that it really helps to get these documents together in the very beginning. This will help the grant writer to avoid last-minute pressures.

It is also a good idea to avoid unnecessary meetings. For those meetings which must take place, it is a good idea to encourage brevity by knowing ahead of time what you wish to say and what you hope to get out of the meeting. I have found in most cases that one motivated person can help to keep meetings shorter, provided that the group is not too large. Of course, you will find that some clients (in the case of consultants) or coworkers (in the case of grant writers which work for an organization) will try to increase the number of meetings and interactions above and beyond what is really necessary. In some cases, this is due to the fact that this is what they are used to. In other cases, it may be because these individuals feel that more is better in the case of meetings. I generally have one meeting with a client in the beginning and have the rest of our interactions by telephone and e-mail. This has proved to be sufficient.

Finally, I would encourage all grant writers who are employees to be frank with their supervisors about what they need in order to produce a successful application. This may be a reduction in other duties, allowing work at home, support from other staff, or access to research resources. Employers are generally happy to receive this sort of feedback, as they are as concerned as you are about producing an excellent application. They will not know your needs unless you tell them. Being assertive is a key to success in the grant field.

These are just a few suggestions on how to avoid burnout. Being able to organize your time and to speak up about your needs are key factors. Having a mentor is of immeasurable benefit, as support from others goes a long way towards relieving stress. I wish you success in your grant seeking.

Historic Preservation Grants

The National Trust Preservation Fund provides two types of assistance to nonprofit organizations and governmental entities. Matching grants of from $500-$5,000 are given for preservation planning and education. Funding is also provided for preservation emergencies. Examples of preservation planning activities may include the services of experts in architecture, archaeology, engineering, preservation planning, land use planning, fundraising, and organizational development.

The Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation provides grants for professional advice, conferences, workshops and education programs which contribute “to the preservation or the recapture of an authentic sense of space”, as stated on the website. Prospective grantees must in general apply for at least $2,500 and no more than $10,000. There are some exceptions to this. Nonprofits and governmental entities may apply for funding for any type of project which meets these general guidelines. Individuals and for-profit businesses may apply only if the project for which funding is requested involves a National Historic Landmark.

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors is concerned with preserving the inside of historic buildings. Again, grants range from $2,500 to $10,000. Eligible applicants are the same as those stated for the Johanna Favrot Fund.

Heritage Preservation (http://www.heritagepreservation.org), a national nonprofit whose mission is to assist museums, provides assistance worth $3,000-$6,500 to undertake conservation assessments. This funding is geared toward any non-profit institution which possesses a collection of items which tell a story. This could include museums as well as zoos, botanical gardens, and historical houses. The collection must be small enough to be surveyed within two days. The site also lists other sources for historical conservation.

Going in With a Great Project

This checklist is being provided so that the grant writer may see how the proposed activity meets the characteristics of a well-designed project. Granted, I have seen several cases where an activity which does not meet all the criteria below has gotten funded. The project may be very strong in several key areas but weak in one or two others and still get funded. Many times funders are moved by what seems to them to be the greater good to be served and go on to approve a project which is not “perfect”.

This checklist is as follows:

 The problem will be fully or partially solved.
 The project is ready to proceed.
 The project will be completed in a timely fashion.
 Matching funds have been committed.
 The applicant has a commitment for funding to sustain the project once the grant period is completed or sustainability will occur through project design such as for a new construction project or an equipment purchase.
 The applicant can demonstrate that an exhaustive search of other sources was conducted.
 The proposed activity has worked elsewhere for a similar problem.
 The activity was developed after looking at several alternatives.
 The results of the project are easily measured.
 An evaluation plan is in place and the appropriate resources have been secured.
 The project has support from the general public, the population to be served, professionals who work in the field, and governmental entities in whose jurisdiction it will take place.
 The applicant has a proven track record in administering similar projects and there have been no problems in the administration of previous grants.
 Collaborative agreements have been secured.
 Construction and rehabilitation activities have been at least partially designed.
 Any professional studies specific to this project have been completed.
 Cost estimates have been carefully documented.
 The project is included in the appropriate planning documents.
 Statistical data has been used to document the need and is included with the application.
 A feasible work plan can be developed for inclusion in the application.
 Any procurement activities can be conducted so as to meet the requirements of the granting agency.
 It can be demonstrated that the activity chosen is clearly superior to other alternatives.

Please, readers, feel free to suggest any additional factors.I personally try to assign a rating of from 1 to 5 for each factor and see how each activity stacks up. The one with the highest score would then be the most fundable and should be chosen to be the subject of the grant application(s).

Writing a Compelling Abstract

Abstract
This is a brief summary of the application, generally running no more than two pages in length, although many solicitations limit the abstract to one page. This element of the application is not always required, and should only be prepared when explicitly requested in the grant guidance documents. In some cases, the specific points to be covered in the abstract are delineated by the funding agency.

When specific guidance is not given, the following items of information should be included:

• The heading should clearly state the title of the project, the funding agency to which the application is being submitted, the name of the funding program, and the name of the applicant.
• The first paragraph should be a summary of the activities to be undertaken with the funds as well as the amount applied for-it is helpful to funding agencies to know exactly where their money is going at the very beginning of the application. This provides a clarity which makes a positive impression.
• The second paragraph should briefly describe the need for the project and give statistical information to back this up.
• The third paragraph should delineate specific positive outcomes resulting from the grant.
• The fourth paragraph should briefly describe the capabilities and experience of the applicant organization, as well as the reasons why the applicant cannot afford to undertake this project on its own
• The final paragraph should be a brief “wrap-up” which states how the project will be evaluated and then sustained after the grant period has expired.

After reading this chapter, it will become obvious that the abstract is no more than a very brief summary of each section of the application in turn. This is a very important part of any submission, as it provides a brief, “at a glance” description which should make a very positive impression in the very beginning.

Sometimes A Project Just Won’t Be Approved

Sometimes even the best applications are not successful. One example that illustrates this beautifully is a story I heard about a municipality who was applying to the state government for funds to rehabilitate a street that was in imminent danger of collapse. There was a very real need here and the only solution was a costly (four hundred thousand dollars) complete rehabilitation of the street. This town had a population of only 750 people, and only about 50 residents on the street would benefit most directly. The application was turned down the first year it was submitted. The funding agency was good enough to make a regular practice of letting the applicants who did not get funded know the reason for that decision. In that case, they mentioned a few minor issues with the narrative which were easily corrected. However, their main problem seemed to be centered on the fact that no other funding sources were being sought. It was obvious that they did not feel comfortable making a grant of that size and being the only funding agency involved in the project.

Unfortunately, grant sources for municipal street work are not plentiful in that part of the country. The town reapplied the next year and made the requested narrative changes. An attempt was made to find other sources to leverage, or match, the state monies. The town was able to show that it had at least tried to find other funds. However, the town itself, with its budget of only $375,000 per year, could not afford to put any money into it. The application was turned down for the second time even though the town did everything that the state asked for with the exception of contributing its own money to the project. This was a very unfortunate case as the project really needed to be done and there was no other place to turn. However, this just goes to show that the best written project can be turned down because of situations beyond the grant writer’s control.

Basic Elements of a Proposal

Never underestimate the importance of doing a superlative writing job on the grant application. This is one of the most critical predictors of success. However, many people are under the impression that the grant writer’s skill in writing is the only important thing. In my opinion, the most critical factor is a well-designed project which meets the identified need with the most economical use of resources. The best written proposal cannot disguise the fact that a project is ill-conceived and designed and will not accomplish the desired outcomes.

The following steps should always be followed before beginning to write the proposal:

• Read the entire solicitation at least twice from beginning to end.
• Call or e-mail the contact listed in the solicitation in order to discuss the project and to make certain that it meets threshold requirements.
• Determine whether it is possible to gather the data and write the application by the deadline-the grant writer will need to consider his or her own schedule and pace of working as well as the availability of colleagues who will be involved in preparing the grant application.
• Determine the feasibility of obtaining statistical data to directly support the project.
• Determine the feasibility of obtaining supporting information from others.

It is very important to write in a style which conveys the urgency of the need and the necessity for the project. The application should be written with feeling and give a sense of the serious consequences to the beneficiaries if the project should not be funded. This is the “human side” of the request. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to teach someone to write with feeling. That generally comes about with practice and a passion for one’s work. Some of the individual stories of the potential beneficiaries can be used to show the very serious and personal nature of their distress.

The Golden Rule of grant writing is to be specific. Vague and general statements will not get the grant money. If the grant writer is working to make a specific point, he or she should be very clear, use statistical support and examples, provide a clear picture of the need, the project, and the outcomes.

Searching Service Clubs and Organizations for Grant Funds

Service clubs and organizations are among the most reliable sources of funding for local projects. Many of these organizations are part of a national organization which may fund specific types of activities consistent with their philosophy, orientation, and interests. These clubs may be service-oriented or fraternal organizations or both. The following entities may be able to provide a list of the service clubs in your area:

• local libraries
• chambers of Commerce
• municipal or county government
• news media

Service clubs vary widely in the source of their revenue and the amount that they have available to give. In several counties in my area, fraternal and service organizations are permitted by the state to have slot machines. However, this comes with the caveat that a certain percentage of the revenues realized through the slots will be donated to charity.

Most of these clubs appoint a committee to oversee the grant process and review requests periodically. It would therefore behoove the grant seeker to determine who the chairman of the grant committee is and make their approach to that person. I have seen a number of instances where a letter requesting funds is sent to the organization as a whole but not to the attention of any particular person. These requests generally are either lost or sit on someone’s desk for a long time. It helps a great deal if someone on the grant committee is already familiar with your organization and knows your work. It is rare that a service club will request more than a simple letter. Most groups try to keep the process as uncomplicated as possible.

Once again, I would recommend that the grant seeker contact as many service clubs as possible in order to maximize the chances of receiving funding. The same letter could be sent to all the organizations with only minor modifications.