Dos and Don’ts Straight From the Funding Agencies-Part II

“Dos” in Searching for Grants:
 Look for organizations in the area which offer the free use of search resources, including Foundation Center Online. This could include community foundations, colleges and universities.
 Call a potential funding source if there is some doubt as to whether it should be included in your search results. When making these calls, go to the trouble of finding out which staff member can best help.
 Check several grant search resources – try at least 3 or 4.
 When doing a search, do not hesitate to contact peers in other organizations for ideas.
 When writing the results of a grant search, develop a clear strategy for action which is realistic and offers the best chance of receiving funding as soon as possible.
 Follow up on letters of inquiry to foundations if no response is received. Many foundations do not reply.

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.

My Article on Grant Central USA

My article on Grant Central USA discusses grant and low-interest loan opportunities for businesses: .

I have also contributed articles to Grant Central’s blog regarding law enforcement grants and fire protection grants. They can all be found at the link above, as well as an interview with me conducted by Rodney Walker of Grant Central USA.

Being Realistic About Your Capacity to Carry Out a Funding Strategy

Once the strategy has been developed, it is necessary to analyze how your resources match up with the work you will have to do. I advocate doing everything possible to commit resources in order to not miss out on any available funding. In this section, I will be more specific about how you can determine your ability to take on the ambitious project of applying to multiple grant sources. Obviously, if your analysis shows that your organization is unable to carry out the strategy fully, it would be foolhardy to try to do so. You will need to look at the manpower, skills, capabilities, and experience contained within your organization. In addition, your budget needs to be large enough to give you the proper equipment and supplies with which to work. If lack of funds does not allow you to purchase modern technology which will make your job easier, it is more productive to think about how to improve that situation first. Building organizational capacity takes time. Throw away your preconceived ideas and see the big picture.

The advantages of making a structured analysis of capability are as follows:

• Being prudent about committing resources will allow the organization time to develop capacity naturally and without pressure.
• The funding will probably be approved eventually anyway.
• The organization will avoid any missteps which will give funding agencies a poor impression.
• The organization will be able to focus on “first things first” and build its strengths in order to prepare for a productive fund-raising effort/

If an organization tries to take on a major grant seeking effort before it is ready, the following chain of unfortunate circumstances is likely to occur:

• Staff will feel overwhelmed and therefore perform poorly.
• This will lead to a lack of credibility with the funding agencies.
• This will in turn impact your ability to get future grants.
• All of these unfortunate events will cause poor morale among the team.
• None of this has gotten the problem solved.

This can be summed up in one sentence-be ambitious and work hard and do things in logical steps as you are able.

Writing a Compelling 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.

Tips for the Application Process:

 Make letters of inquiry brief (no more than 2 pages) but informative – stress the need for the project, your organization’s ability to carry it out, and the benefits which will accrue from it.
 Respond promptly if a foundation requests a full proposal based on a letter of inquiry.
 Check the web site of a funding agency thoroughly before e-mailing or telephoning so as to avoid asking questions which are clearly answered on the web site.
 Ensure that you have the latest version of the application and regulations.
 Check the math in the budget – although this is obvious, many applicants make mathematical errors.
 Pay attention to those agencies which require that a Letter of Intent be filed prior to a full application. In nearly all cases, there is a specific deadline for submitting this letter.
 Pay careful attention to the rating and ranking criteria when crafting a proposal. Incorporate the application language into the narrative.
 Be concise but thorough in the narrative.
 If there is a specific page maximum, be sure that you come as close to that as possible without exceeding it. You can rest assured that the other applicants will provide as much information as possible.
 Give a descriptive narrative with specific examples.
 Be crystal clear in your writing. Do not “beat around the bush”.
 Be complete and thorough in the narrative – do not leave the reviewer wondering what you mean. Answer the questions completely.
 Use good grammar and correct punctuation and spelling.
 Re-read the application at least twice.
 Give proper attribution for all information derived from others and cite sources for statistical data
 Answer the funding agency’s requests for additional information completely, cheerfully, and on time.
 Send letters of support with the application itself unless the guidelines state otherwise. However, some U.S. Representatives and Senators will only send support letters directly to the funding agency.
 If there is any doubt whatsoever about whether an application will reach the office of the funding agency on time, send it overnight or two-day guaranteed delivery.
 Send the application directly to the person named in the solicitation, with the correct number of copies.
 Check to see that the application arrived on time.
 Start on-line applications early so that you can get your questions answered before the deadline.
 Keep the user name and password for on-line applications in a handy place where they will not be lost.
 Do your best to stave off performance anxiety as the due date for the application arrives – this will impair your ability to do the best job possible.
 Do your best to be available for site visits when the funding agency wants to come. Only change the date if there is an emergency.

The Importance of Looking at the Problem First

Sometimes, believe it or not, it is difficult to actually identify what the real problem is. Grant writers deal with the full range of social, economic, and environmental problems. Governmental entities may deal with a lack of public infrastructure, a high crime rate, poor economic indicators, lack of recreational facilities, public health concerns, weaknesses in the public education system, and the need to preserve cultural and historic resources. Nonprofits typically deal with the need for supplemental educational activities, the need for assistance to destitute individuals, sports and after-school programs, the need for job and life skills training and mentoring, housing problems, the natural environment, and a whole host of other needs which are not met by governmental entities.

In many situations, the problem is clear. A good example would be a city government which might be aware of a street which is in need of sidewalk repair or replacement. Obviously the need exists to either build a new sidewalk or repair the old one. Likewise, the consequences of the problem are also obvious. In this example, the deteriorated condition of the sidewalk leads to unsafe conditions which include the risk that elderly or frail individuals may trip or fall. The unsightly condition of the sidewalks may contribute to neighborhood blight, which in turn lowers property values and causes economic problems for the residents.

An outdated sewage treatment plant will lead to a lack of capacity for new development, which hinders the economic growth of an area. In addition, the poor condition of the plant may result in inefficient service to the residents and cause higher user fees. The repair of the plant or the construction of a new one will solve the problem. In both examples given, the problem is easy to identify. Existing infrastructure is not adequate to serve the needs of the residents. Once this infrastructure is repaired or replaced, the problem is resolved.

Other types of projects require a more thoughtful approach to identifying the problem. Let us take the case of a nonprofit which wishes to find a way to lower the high dropout rate at the high schools in its area. The high dropout rate is what I call “the presenting problem” or the end result of other societal problems. These other problems include what society as a whole assumes to be the cause of the presenting problem-lack of familial encouragement; devaluation at home of the merits of education; lack of economic resources, thus resulting in a need for the student to work in addition to going to school; lack of other wholesome activities for youth in the community; and living in a high crime atmosphere which makes it difficult to study.

These are actually the underlying causes of the high dropout rate according to common wisdom as well as documented studies. The nonprofit which is looking for a way to resolve the problem will need to tailor the program to address the underlying causes. For example, the program may include coursework on the value of getting a good education in order to counteract the opposite attitude being prevalent at home. It is much more difficult to address the crime and economic issues. This is where the nonprofit may wish to cooperate with the local law enforcement agency in order to bring about more police presence in the neighborhood in which the youth live. A well-designed program may also link the parents, job services, and job training in order to eliminate the economic stress being felt by the student and his or her family.

This example was given in order to demonstrate how one specific result-i.e., the dropout rate, cannot be addressed without working specifically on the underlying causes. In some cases, additional tutoring alone can be enough to reduce the number of dropouts. However, the most effective programs offer multiple services to address multiple causes. This is why it is important to dig a little further in order to identify the underlying causes of the problem. Research into the design of similar programs across the country can and must be undertaken. However, it is essential to take into account factors which are unique to your area. This process may sound somewhat complex, but it greatly adds to the chances for success of a project.

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 for State Grants

All of the individual states offer a wide array of grant programs in such areas as water and sewer, transportation, parks and recreation, economic development, historic preservation, law enforcement, and fire fighting. States award grants to municipalities and counties as well as nonprofit organizations. Some states will also offer assistance to for-profit entities in support of economic development. If your organization is a non-profit, get to know your local elected officials. It is quite possible that they will be able to supplement your list of potential funding sources by making suggestions from among the state programs with which they are familiar.

I always search for state sources of funding first. The state programs are easier to access than federal programs due to the fact that the applicant is competing only on the state level and not against other applicants around the entire country. A number of federal programs pass funds through to the individual states for distribution. Other state programs are funded solely by state revenues.

There are several ways to search for state grant funds without expending an inordinate amount of time. The most straightforward is to go to your state’s website, find the state agency whose name implies that it regulates the area in which you seek to find a grant, and follow that link to the information on grants administered by that agency. If you are working for a county and wish to find grant funds for parks and recreation and notice that there is a Department of Natural Resources in your state, it could be assumed that that agency is likely to make grants in your area of interest. In general, grant writers working for local governments soon become familiar with which state agencies are possibilities for funding their projects.

There is a website ( which contains links to all state websites as well as the agencies under that state. In addition, there are also links to certain counties and municipalities. It is possible to click on the state in which you wish to search and then click again on the subject matter you are interested in. This will lead you to the appropriate agency, and it will then be possible to search for grant programs under that agency. There are also links to the executive branch departments and boards and commissions in that state, which is helpful if you already know which agency regulates the subject matter you are interested in. This site is very helpful if you are a consultant working in more than one state.