Tips for Effective Grant Writing

Filling Out a FormThe following post is adapted from “Dear, Near, and Clear: How Improving Your Organization’s Donor Relations Can Help You Provide More Resources to More Constituents More Effectively and More Often,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, v17n6, November-December 2010 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Nonprofits should remember to use their relationship savvy to cultivate grant makers as well as individual donors, says Jane C. Geever, founder and chairman of fundraising and management consulting firm J. C. Geever Inc. in New York City ( Geever says that in more than 35 years in the profession she has seen enormous change in grant making — not just in the explosive increase in foundation and corporate giving, but also in the way these programs work with nonprofit applicants. “There’s an openness that didn’t exist years ago, and also a frustration that nonprofits don’t take the time to figure out how to approach them with priority projects,” Geever explains.

In her book The Foundation Center’s Guide To Proposal Writing, 5th Edition (The Foundation Center, 2007), Geever used extensive interviews with grant makers to discover not only what makes a winning proposal, but also how to best reach out to grant makers. She learned that grant makers dislike “fishing expeditions,” preferring instead to hear from grant seekers who have done their homework first. However, on average only about one in three applicants takes the time to ensure a program is a good match with grant makers’ missions before submitting an application. “Grant makers see themselves as investors in people and good ideas,” Geever says. “Why would they bother to respond to people who are just churning out applications? They like educated grant seekers because they want to give them an advantage.

“Grant makers complain that we don’t communicate enough. Every step builds the relationship,” Geever says. Stay in touch through mailings and phone calls — especially after a rejection. Keep them informed about your successes and challenges. Be sure to put them on your mailing list, too. Geever adds that it helps to think of grant makers as individuals, so make your communications to them personal, not institutional. She also recommends these tips for building strong relationships with a grant maker:

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Writing Skills are Essential for Successful Fundraising

The following post is adapted from “All Thumbs?: How Nonverbal and Verbal Skills Can Make All the Difference with Donors — and Why Young Fundraisers Should Care,” by Paul Lagasse and Mary Ellen Collins, Advancing Philanthropy, v17n4, July-August 2010 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Accurate, clear and persuasive written communication is essential for successful fundraising, particularly for grant proposals, says Diane M. Gedeon-Martin, president of The Write Source LLC, a grant-writing consultancy based in Glastonbury, Conn. She believes that proposal writing is becoming a lost art in part because technologies that were developed to help people communicate more quickly have instead made it easier for people to communicate more frequently, with a resulting loss in quality amid the density. “Proposal writing is something we must champion because grant makers often look unfavorably on proposals that are poorly written,” she explains. “Grant makers are very savvy these days, and if there’s a similar proposal that articulates the need and project description well, they may place a higher priority on the one that they can fully grasp the concept of.”

Gedeon-Martin, who is on the faculty of the Fund Raising School at Indiana University, recently completed a two-day basic grant-proposal writing course that exemplifies the dilemma. “Here were 50 people in my session, with one-half of them under the age of 30,” she recalls. “I spent a lot of time educating them on proper grammar, style and voice.”

Those basics can make or break a grant proposal and, by extension, the nonprofit that needs the money. “Poor writing skills suggest an inability of organizations and their personnel to manage funds,” Gedeon-Martin stresses.

Perhaps ironically, the trend toward ever-shorter communications spurred by text messaging and email has affected grant proposals, too, as more corporate and larger foundation grant makers switch to online-only submissions that place a cap on the number of characters allowed and reduce or eliminate altogether opportunities for face-to-face or telephone meetings. This compression has made it harder for grant seekers, as they try to write persuasive case statements in 2,000 characters or less. “The day of 12- or 15-page grant proposals to foundations and corporations are long gone,” Gedeon-Martin explains. “The attention span of reviewers is compromised when they have to read 20 to 30 proposals in a day. How can we keep their attention? We have to write differently by getting to our point quickly. We need to keep them reading.”

At a time when more and more nonprofits are seeking grants just to be able to keep their doors open, the attention-grabbing power of words is that much more important. “You’re not just writing a grant proposal,” Gedeon-Martin emphasizes. “You’re writing an introduction to your whole organization. It might be the only thing they see from you, so it needs to be the best thing you’ve ever written.”

To make sure it is, the writing must do the following:

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Field Test: iPod Touch + Bluetooth Keyboard

With the release of iOS 4, Apple’s iPod touch has at last become a true pocket computer. So much so, that I have taken to calling mine an “iPad nano.” When the iPad came out, I seriously considered getting one but ultimately decided against it for two reasons:

  • I like the iPod touch’s “pocketability;” by slipping it into my pocket, that’s one less piece of gear I have to hold in my hand or sling over my shoulder (I am a fanatic about traveling light).
  • I guessed — correctly, as it turned out — that Apple would quickly begin importing iPad functionality — particularly Bluetooth keyboard support — back to the iPod touch.

Once Bluetooth keyboard support had been officially confirmed for iOS 4, I went out and bought an Apple Wireless Keyboard, the little brother of Apple’s USB-tethered model which I have been using for a couple of years with satisfaction.

I also needed a new iPod touch, because my first-generation device could not be upgraded to iOS 4. Still, the two devices were cheaper than a new laptop.

My goal was to be able to use the combination in the field in place of a laptop, on business trips as well as vacation. After a series of ever more complex tests of the various hard- and software components, last week I took the devices with me to a meeting at which my job was to take detailed notes to prepare a summary.

As a backup, I also recorded the meeting with my trusty Olympus WS-400S pocket digital recorder; in tests I found that using the iPod touch to both record and type drained the battery faster than the anticipated three-hour length of the meeting.

So how did the iPod touch plus Bluetooth keyboard fare?

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A Podcast Tip from Old-Time Radio

I was just listening to a podcast of a professionally-produced program that is broadcast on radio, and I was surprised to hear excessive amounts of sibilance — that annoying whistling “s” that overpowers all the other consonants and vowels and that, for some people, causes the same reaction as fingernails on a blackboard and makes them want to go after the announcer’ front teeth with an emery board.

Not me, of course. *Ahem.*

During my stint in college radio over 20 years ago in Santa Fe, I had the privilege of working under the tutelage of a veteran program manager, Bill Dunning, whose career had started in the days when AM was king. To this day, I’ve never met anyone with better diction, and even when he wasn’t on the air his every word was as clear and resonant as a Tibetan singing bowl.

Bill was adamant about the proper placement of a studio microphone. Never, ever place it in front of your mouth pointing at your face, he would admonish us. Rather, place it in front of your face, between your eyes, facing down toward your mouth. This has two immediately noticeable effects:

  • The microphone picks up the resonance of your voice in your sinuses, which adds depth and texture.
  • Sibilants and plosives will blow harmlessly past the microphone, lessening their disproportionate impact.

If you record podcasts for your own business or for a client, remember the advice of an AM radio veteran and put the can between your eyes.

Got Imagination and Skill?

Potter making a clay pot (iStockPhoto)“Do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsperson?”

Have you ever participated in a creative writing class in which the instructor began with this question? It’s happened to me more than once. The question bugs me, because I believe it assumes a false dichotomy. All writing is a blend of art and craft.

A more useful distinction, I’d argue, is between imagination and skill. British playwright Tom Stoppard had this to say about those two qualities:

“Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.”

Stoppard’s wit is dry, certainly, but his point is well taken. Good writing finds an appropriate balance between both qualities. Whether a piece of writing is also a piece of art is for others to debate; the writer need simply be concerned about whether he or she has demonstrated the requisite skill and imagination for the task at hand. If so, then the writer can be satisfied — and so can the client.


Is Your Headline Sending the Wrong Message?

When your message has to capture and hold your reader’s attention, two of the most important tools at your disposal are the strong lede and the attention-grabbing headline.

But to work, they have to tell the same story.

Consider the following powerful lede in a press release from the Yale School of Medicine:

“Eliminating cancer stem cells (CSCs) within a tumor could hold the key to successful treatments for ovarian cancer, which has been notoriously difficult to detect and treat.”

The headline for this release on the Yale University Office of Public Affairs website reads: “Disarming Specialized Stem Cells Might Combat Deadly Ovarian Cancer.”

But over on Futurity, a science press-release aggregator, the same story leads with this headline: “Stem cells linked to deadly ovarian cancer.”


Futurity editors, you can probably expect to be getting a call from the Yale OPA pretty soon . . .

pitching topics? try news radio

Casting about for topics to pitch an editor? Here’s a source of story ideas you might have overlooked: local news talk radio stations.

News radio stations have to fill airtime 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s a lot of 30- to 45-second stories to tell. In between news headlines on the half hour, traffic and weather “on the eights” (or the fives or the tens), and the commentary, the nooks and crannies are filled with great topics that you can mine for inspiration — seasonal hints, interesting citizens, notable businesses, winning teams, and upcoming events. Just find your own slant, identify some interview prospects, and serve. Just be sure to give credit where it is due, when appropriate; it will show your professionalism and your attention to detail. (“Hey, he really did his research!”)

Pitching to a magazine that serves a regional market that you don’t know much about? Look for nearby news stations that stream their broadcasts live on the web. You can find stream lists in your media player, by visiting stream broadcasters like Live365, or by consulting online station directories such as Streaming Radio Guide. If you want to really fine-tune your search, Radio-Locator lets you search by Zip code, station call letters, and topic.

Like electricity, radio is always there, waiting for you to plug in.


diplomacy 101 for freelance writers

Freelance writers usually spend a lot of time negotiating with clients and subject matter experts. From contract and payment agreements to progress meetings to conference calls to final product reviews, at almost every step of the process the freelancer is called on to answer questions, address concerns, or placate anxieties.

Instead of thinking of these as interruptions, think of them as opportunities. Each interaction with a client is another chance to sell them on you, not just your work.

If you’re used to working alone and yelling at the computer about how boneheaded your client is (hypothetically, of course; none of my clients ever cause me to do that), then you will probably find this short list of handy, bacon-saving diplomacy tips helpful:

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freelancing in tough times

Although the Dow may have peaked 10,000 again, freelancers tend to operate in a “lagging indicator” market — a lot of companies still have yet to really rebound, and once they do they have to develop fresh confidence that their rebound is not about to re-rebound. Then they can build up their work and staff again — and then they’ll be able to think about farming work out to their stable of freelancers again.

One thing that’s been a shock to a lot of writers is the discovery that they can lose even their oldest, most trusted clients just like that — and the hardest part is not taking it personally. Long-term clients become like friends; you know about their kids and their vacations, you send them birthday cards and get invited to their company holiday dinners. But they’re often in the same boat as you. Earlier this year, I wrote an article for one of my oldest clients and the following week I wrote her a letter of recommendation. In the intervening time, she and the rest of her department had been laid off.

It’s been that bad.

But just because things are starting to look up (however sluggishly) it doesn’t mean you can afford to let out a sigh of relief and wait for the phone to start ringing. The beginning of the upswing is a good time to get people thinking about you. Here are some things that might help you generate some much-needed future business.

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A Writer Looks at Copyediting

Katharine O’Moore-Klopf of KOK Edit posted a link to the following article on the EFA discussion list, and I thought it would make a valuable addition to the list of articles on copyediting that I posted recently.

Scott Berkun, “How copyediting looks and feels:”

“Copyeditors have a tough job. They have to sort out what the author was trying to do, and then help them do it. But if a writer botches a sentence or a paragraph (or chapter), it’s hard for copyeditors to figure out the intent. And of course writing is more than grammar and tense, it’s also less tangible factors like honesty, relevance, humor and value, which the copyeditor might sense is lacking but can’t fix on their own.”

(This copyeditor can’t resist pointing out that the last line above should read: “. . . on his or her own.”)

The article is a useful overview of how authors interact with copyeditors for the benefit of the final product. The comments that follow the article are both thoughtful and helpful as well. And I love his definition of copyediting: “where someone gets ‘all up in your sentences.'”

Some more words of wisdom:

“Good copyeditors are underpaid. They have the most intimate involvement in the creative process, even though it’s late in the game. In many cases they make mediocre writers look good. And of course a bad copyeditor can make an interesting or entertaining writer seem boring and dull.”

Writers and managers: do you value your copyeditors?