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Pithy Pointers for Great Proposals

January 22nd, 2010

Here are a few tips for effective grant writing. These were presented during my grant writing worship for Impact 100 Sonoma earlier this month:

1. Avoid jargon. An average person, not a specialist, is your target audience. Stay away from bureaucratic “industry-speak” and non-concrete words. Have a friend or outsider read your drafts to hold you accountable.

2. Don’t be afraid of emotional goals. For example, Redwood Empire Food Bank says: “Our mission — to end hunger in our community — can only be accomplished with community support. “

3. Invite readers into your world. Point out telling details, ask readers to use their senses to listen, to smell, to hear and to see what you do.

4. Eschew the “could” word. Use the verb tense will to describe potential future accomplishments. The conditional tense, “If we receive the grant, then we could double our floor space, “ is much weaker than a definitive statement: “The Impact 100 Sonoma grant will fund 3,000 square feet of a new vocational training center.”

5. Use active verbs. “Here is a collection of verbs plucked form headlines in The Wall Street Journal: mauled, devour, looms, spark, threaten, embrace, sputters, sowing, surge, reject, retools, blames, loses, clash, expand… Here’s a collection of verbs that I scored from headlines in nonprofit newsletters: establishes, listed, use, unite, reach, give back, plan, unified, build, sets, visits, shares, administer, awards, benefits.”

6. Let a third-party brag about you. Compile positive comments written by donors, clients, or media. If you don’t have testimonials, get them. Survey your program participants or ask them to write you a letter of support. Nominate your Executive Director or a Board member for local awards. Keep a clippings and/or “reviews” file close at hand; send out press updates regularly.

7. Be careful with your grants budget. Try not to wait until the last minute to compile the project budget; the budget should not only add up correctly, it also has to support the logic of the proposal’s narrative.

Ahern, Tom. Seeing through a Donor’s Eyes. Medfield, MA: Emerson & Church Publishers, 2009 p. 81 www.emersonandchurch.com

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Hiring A Grant Writer To Tell Your Story

July 24th, 2009

Benefits of Using A Grant Writing Professional

Fresh Ideas

A grant writer illuminates your group’s good work and gets grant makers to take notice. Although your staff and Board understand your agency well, a good grant writer brings fresh ideas and a keen understanding of what funders are looking for.
A good grant writer, especially one with a wide variety of fund development and non-profit experience, will take a hard look at how you tell your story, tune-up your case for giving, and persuade funders to give to your group now.

Timely and Professional Proposals

Because staff may be consumed with the urgencies of other duties, deadlines and technical funder requirements can get overlooked. Respected grant writers know how to build deadlines in to their schedules and submit timely, accurate and complete proposal packages to make a strong case for your group. A winning grant writer demonstrates:
• Professionalism,
• A solid track record of achievements,
• An ability to meet deadlines,
• A commitment to professional development and education
• Up to date technology and software
• And, an understanding of increasingly complex funder requirements.

Wise Use of Resources

Staff costs may be higher than consulting contracts when the ongoing costs of recruiting, training, salary increases and benefits are included. Unless grants are a large part of your existing funding, your staff may not be able to put grant research, development, writing, editing and submission into their overloaded schedule. For staff, other fund raising activities often have a higher return on investment — for example, major donor cultivation. Contract grant writers can do the job your staff may not be ready or able to do right now. With contracts you have the flexibility of setting a fixed budget and can start and/or end a consulting agreement with relatively short notice.

You want to know that hiring a grant writer is the best use of your organization’s money, so you will want to consider cost as well as overall return on investment. The cost of grant writing, like the overall cost of fundraising, varies between organizations. Generally, the average Cost to Raise a Dollar (CTRD) for foundation and corporate grants is 20 cents . Grant writing costs are much lower than events with a CRTD of 50 cents and direct mail acquisition with a CTRD of $1.00 to $1.25.

A Strategic Approach

A good grant writer will customize a grants program to your budget, timeline and project scope. Whether you choose a short project or long-term arrangement, work with your grant writer to co-create a plan that gives you tangible deliverables and milestones. Some of these include:

• Research, recommendations and planned timeline to submit proposals
• Reviews of existing grants, case statements and mission/vision statement.
• A new case statement of support that includes:
o Problems/causes;
o Strategic solutions;
o Customer markets;
o Program objectives and outcomes;
o Performance measurement/verification;
o Organizational structure/systems;
o Financial/resource needs, and
o Project budget and fundraising plan.

The new case statement of support is generally the foundation document for a template proposal and a template letter of inquiry. These templates can be updated and customized as a basis for future proposals.

Strengthening Your Organization

A grant writer can help your organization submit a winning proposal. At the same time, a good grant writer can help your group recognize and develop fundable programs, those with a high likelihood of success. A few successful proposals can bring an organization much higher visibility within the philanthropic community where, understandably, success breeds success.

“If you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.”
Somerset Maugham

Please call if you have any questions. I’m here to help.
Karen D’Or (707) 548-7959

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The Summer of Youth Jobs

July 6th, 2009
Out of work teens

Out of work teens

The teenage jobless rate in the U.S. stands at 24% according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than twice the national rate of 9.5%. And for black teenagers the rate is over 46%. When this recession started, usually pegged as November 2007, 16% of teens were unemployed.

But this gap does not surprise economists: “So far, the especially high unemployment rates for teens, and the increase in the size of the unemployment rate gap between whites and blacks for both males and females is consistent with previous recessions and periods of high unemployment,” said Ron Laschever, assistant professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Personally, is hard to compare this recession with others, since everyone we know has been hit by this one. And of course it makes sense that the fast food and big box jobs that were ripe for teens just two years ago are now being snapped up buy older, more experienced workers. Workers like my two, adult, college-educated children, who are both spending a good deal of their summer working for just above minimum wage.

But I’m not complaining; in fact, I am delighted they have jobs.

And it has made my recent grant writing for youth employment development programs more personally relevant. I’ve just finished four grants for three local organizations. In their own remarkable ways, each group is finding unique ways to get troubled youth to stay focused on staying in school and getting jobs. This is not an easy task. Dr. Sharon Liddell, Superintendent of Santa Rosa City School District, says: “We can’t teach them if we can’t get them to school.” Studies show that dropping out of high school is not a sudden act, but a gradual process of disengagement; attendance patterns are a clear early sign. Unfortunately, one in four Sonoma County students to not graduate on time ; and the statistics are significantly higher for Latino students, nearly 40% of ninth graders do not graduate four years later.

California statistics show that dropouts are three and one-half times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested, and eight times more likely to go to jail or prison. Dropouts are also much more likely to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving public assistance, unhealthy, divorced, and single parents than their peers who graduate. Our community suffers from the dropout epidemic due to the loss of productive workers and the higher costs associated with increased incarceration, health care and social services.

What can our community do?

As individuals, and as a community, we can consider the research of author Annette Lareau, a sociologist who completed extensive field work studying the daily lives of both African-Americans and European-Americans. She coined the term “concerted cultivation.” This concept refers to middle class child rearing practices: a parent’s attempts to foster their child’s talents through organized leisure activities. Lareau’s work shows that children who are reared using the concerted cultivation method are set apart in academic environments and they also learn to have more confidence when confronted with social interactions.

So perhaps as a community we practice “concerted cultivation.” Those of us who have finished our parenting can get involved and support our local groups that work hard to direct youth towards mentors, or role-models, and engage in positive organized leisure activities. There are many youth development fine organizations in the North Bay that are working with you. Contact me and I can refer you or you can get information from www.volunteernow.org.

Great Opportunities

One local group that acts as a matchmaker for organized leisure opportunities is Community Access Ticket Services (CATS). CATS is a non-profit organization serving as a bridge between the social service community and the hundreds of cultural and sports entities in the San Francisco Bay Area. These experiences in sport, arts & sciences represent positive socialization and shared cultural experiences often not available to at-risk youth. They give youth an expanded repertoire of social, educational and work experience and skills. Check them out:
http://www.communitytickets.org/getinvolved.html

So in retrospect, I wasn’t  the “evil mother” when I forced my children to go to tennis camp that summer. Maybe it is why they are both college-educated and making $8.25 and hour this summer.

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Neighborhoods First!

April 27th, 2009

HUD’s Neighborhood Revitalization grant application due out 5/3/09

Even in a region as picturesque as Sonoma County lenders are taking back about 40 homes per week. In once thriving neighborhoods “For Sale” signs and brown lawns are rampant. And government attempts to prod lenders to modify mortgages are slow and spotty. Foreclosure remains the most likely outcome, for most homeowners who cannot make payments.

Foreclosures Hurt Neighborhoods

Foreclosure

Last year HUD’s first round of Neighborhood Revitalization funding allocated $384.5 million to 46 cities and counties in California and $145 million to the State of California so municipalities could make a dent in neighborhood blight and help prevent foreclosures. Through a complex system, the State chose where to make these funds available, so that our most distressed cities and counties:

  • Purchase and rehabilitate homes to sell, rent or redevelop
  • Create land banks for homes that have been foreclosed upon
  • Demolish blighted structures
  • Redevelop demolished or vacant properties
  • Establish financing mechanisms for purchase and redevelopment of foreclosed upon homes and residential properties.

Non-profits eligible for round 2

In addition to these municipal recipients, HUD’s round 2 “makes available another $2 billion of NSP funding to State, local governments, non-profit entities, or consortia of non-profit entities for similar anti-blight and stabilization efforts.” Up to $50 million of this funding is for capacity building for qualified organizations, money to help improve the organization or city. The remaining funds will go “programmatic funding” requiring “complete citizen participation before submitting to HUD.”  This sounds like the additional funding will go to purchase properties for eligible homeowners. HUD’s site says the NOFA (Notice of Funding Application) will be out by May 3 and the deadline is September 1, 2009.

More information on grants.gov or at HUD’s website http://www.hud.gov/recovery/nspg.cfm. For more information on all Recovery Act Funding go to www.grants.org click on grants Browse Grants By Category and then click on Recovery Act.

This will likely be a very competitive process, and the dollars may still be awarded to cities with the highest foreclosures, but for successful public-private housing partnerships, this might be one of the best ways to access ARRA funds quickly.

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