Elevates Back-to-School Reading List: Our top picks for books to build your grant writing toolbox!

September 21, 2022

Elevate’s staff is a “bookish” bunch! From the latest novels to nonfiction audiobooks, many conversations among Elevate staff revolve around books. (We even have a few published authors on staff!)

Here, we share our team’s top picks for books that have contributed to their grant writing prowess.

The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need by Ellen Karsh

Elevate Grant Writer Amy O’Barr recommends The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need by Ellen Karsh. Amy describes this book as, “A must for any grant writer’s library!” The guide starts at the ground level with grant writing, covering everything from the basics such as vocabulary,  up to writing about organizational sustainability. Currently in the 5th edition, readers can be assured that the info is timely and relevant. Bonus: tips from grantmakers!

 

Good Writing by Connie Snyder Mick

Grant Writer Sam Murphy suggests Good Writing by Connie Snyder Mick for folks who want “a solid refresher on the basics of persuasive writing and argumentative rhetoric.” Often found on syllabi for writing courses, this textbook is designed to equip writers for social action.

 

 

Grassroots Grants: An Activist’s Guide to Grantseeking by Andy Robinson

Amy describes Grassroots Grants as “A no-frills classic for grantseekers.” With an emphasis on activism, this guide includes actual proposals and budgets with commentary on what works and what doesn’t. The second edition was published back in 2004, so some of the resources included in this book may be a little outdated. Still, the how-to on grant writing and budgets is spot on for grant writers today.

 

Winning Grants Step by Step by Tori O’Neal-McElrath

Another recommendation by Amy, Winning Grants Step by Step is a workbook that guides both novice and experienced grant writers through the grant process from organizational readiness to funder networking. Amy says that the “concise format and many worksheets are ideal for organizations starting a grants

 

 

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grant Writing by Waddy Thompson

Supervising Director Raquel Braemer, suggests that new grant writers check out The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grant Writing. She says, “I found this book incredibly helpful. It walks you through every stage in the grant writing process, providing examples and tips along the way. Everything is divided into very clear sections, so you can find some insight or a template quickly when you need one.”

 

Grant Writing for Dummies by Beverly A. Browning

Another top pick for newbies, Amy also recommends Grant Writing for Dummies. She says, “This comprehensive guide is a perfect primer for those interested in grant writing but unsure where to start.” Written by an industry expert, this book dives into government grants, an area that many grant books do not cover.

 

 

Of course, we don’t only read up on grant writing! Here are a few titles Elevate staff recommend to build a greater understanding of philanthropy and nonprofits:

And finally, because effective grant writing is as much about understanding the social context as it is about great writing, here are a few of our favorite books about social change:

What books have made you a better grant writer, leader, and changemaker? We’d love to hear from you!

August 18, 2020

Winning a grant is a major accomplishment for your organization! But in many cases, the work doesn’t end once you’ve received a check.

Funders often require their grantees to submit reports during the grant period, as a way of checking in on a grantee’s progress and how well they delivered on what they set out to do in their initial grant proposal. But more just just a requirement, grant reports are also an opportunity to build trust and rapport with funders, and begin laying the groundwork for an ongoing relationship and renewal grants down the road.

Whether you have a grant report to write in the near future, or you’re just looking for tips and advice to help you brush up on those skills for next time, keep reading for an overview of how to write a solid grant report that gives funders what they’re looking for.

The Basics: What is a grant report?

While it’s important to be updating your funders informally throughout the grant period as part of your overall stewardship efforts, a grant report is a formal means of updating a funder on what you have accomplished with their grant funding. 

There are several different types of reports you’re likely to come across in your grant writing career, and different funders may ask for different combinations of these:

  • A final report typically comes about 30 days after the end of the grant period 
  • An interim report or progress report typically comes about half-way through the grant period. (For multi-year grants, you may need to submit multiple progress reports, typically on an annual basis).
  • Sometimes more frequent financial reports are also required. For example, public funders often require monthly financial reports


What are funders looking for in a grant report?

The Center for Effective Philanthropy frames a grant report as a key opportunity for funders to explore the space between what they hoped for from a grantee, and what actually happened. And through that lens, a grant report can serve many possible purposes, including:

  • Accountability: to confirm grant money has been used for its intended purposes
  • Documentationa record of a grantee’s activities and history with the funder
  • Grantee support and relationship building: part of an ongoing conversation with grantees about what they are learning and what they need
  • Grantee assessment: to understand if a grantee is a priority for future funding or could benefit from capacity support and connections 
  • Grantmaker learning to inform decision-making: to determine if a funding strategy is effective and worthwhile
  • Engage Others: sharing grantees’ data, stories and lessons with community stakeholders to encourage other investment 
  • Building a field: to contribute knowledge to a field of work, especially a newer one


Of course, different funders will have different purposes and expectations for your report depending on their priorities, staffing, and sophistication of their own strategies. To glean some insight into what a particular funder is looking for, one option would be to ask them directly how they use your reports — whether during your site visit, after the award is granted, or through the grant period. Once you have a better sense of how heavily this funder will be engaging with your report and what they’re specifically looking for, you can invest the appropriate amount of time and effort putting it together.

What goes in a grant report?

Many funders will provide specifications for what to include in your grant report, and in what format. However, if your funder hasn’t given you a set of specific guidelines to use, our recommended list of components to include is below!

First, every grant should start with a thank you. You’ll never see this show up in the funder’s template or guidelines for what to include, but make sure to include one anyway! You may have to be creative for how to fit this in, especially if you’re using an online portal. Sometimes you can include a cover letter as part of a pdf that gets uploaded, if that makes sense for your situation.

Additional components of a standard grant report can include:

  • Grant Activities & Changes to Project Plan
  • Results & Impact of the Project
  • Challenges & Lessons Learned
  • Financial Statement
  • Sustainability & Future Plans
  • Attachments

The secret ingredient for a memorable grant report: Storytelling

It’s a good idea to think about grant reports in terms of telling a powerful story. Compared to a grant proposal, a grant report is a great forum for leveraging the power of emotional appeal to sell a funder on your impact, and leave a strong impression. We often refer to the three-part storytelling framework below as a starting point, which dates back to ancient Greece:

Ethos — an appeal to ethics 

For our purposes, this is about establishing credibility, This is where you’ll take the opportunity to remind your funder that you’re a credible organization and that you share their priorities and values; to demonstrate that you spent their funds responsibly; and to reassure them that they’ve invested in a feasible and important project that’s making a meaningful impact.

Logos — an appeal to logic

This is where your data and outcomes come into play! Using quantitative data in your reports helps create a clear structure, and paints an easy-to-digest picture of your program’s impact and success. It’s critical that you use facts to support your claims here.

Pathos — an appeal to emotion

Don’t go overboard with this part, but do keep in mind that this is your opportunity to really showcase how your programs are making a difference in your community. To do this well, use stories and quotes from your stakeholders, and highlight ‘real’ voices to show the more human side of your work and increase the persuasiveness of your report. This is especially relevant for direct service and more “charity”-based organizations.

You’ll need to find a balance between all three of these pieces, and that balance will vary based on each particular funder’s nature and priorities — but all three pieces of the framework are important.

How to collect stories for your grant reports

If you don’t already have systems in place for collecting stories from the people you service, below are a few tips to help you get started in this area:

  • Work with your marketing team: find out what they’re already doing, to keep you from having to reinvent the wheel. For example, are they producing a newsletter (print or email) that includes client stories? These can be repurposed for grants! You may have to adjust the language slightly, but it gives you a place to start. Other questions to ask yourself might be: do you have an existing organizational video (including unused footage) that includes quotes? Do you ever ask participants to speak at fundraising events or participate in advocacy? These can also be great sources for powerful stories to include.
  • Begin to build a repository of quotes and stories. The word “repository” might sound intimidating, but this can be as simple as a Word document that gets added to over time. You might also consider creating a system of ‘tags’ in your repository, to make it easier to find what you need later by topic and/or source.
  • Talk to program staff about what types of stories you are seeking. It might be helpful to create a list of the specific types of stores you need based on your programs and typical reporting requirements, and ask your program staff to help you collect these specific types of stories as they’re working on the frontlines. Depending on how your team works best, you could also systematize this process a bit by asking them to send you stories on a quarterly (or otherwise regular) basis so that they remember to be on the lookout for them. 

February 14, 2020

If you’re new to grant writing, figuring out how to write a grant proposal for the first time can seem convoluted, overwhelming, and stressful.

You might feel overwhelmed with questions: What information goes in which section? Am I providing enough data? How much money should we ask for? Does this funder accept unsolicited applications?

As a team of professional grant writers and institutional fundraisers, we’re no strangers to the sometimes-puzzling language of grant writing. After working with hundreds of nonprofit clients over our lifespan as a company, and securing millions of dollars for their programs from public and private funders alike, we’ve learned a thing or two about what constitutes a winning grant (and the mistakes to avoid).

Below are five crucial pieces of advice we’ve gleaned over the years in our work as grant writing professionals. These tips will help you avoid common grant writing mistakes, create a plan for writing and submitting your first grant, and make the strongest possible case for funding.

1. Grant writing is (often) a team effort

Even when you’re the only person at your organization writing grants or doing fundraising, you’ll still likely need to collaborate and work with other people at your organization at various stages along the way – including deciding on strategy, gathering information about your programs, editing, compiling the necessary attachments, and gaining final approval before submission. To that end, it’s important to establish a clear process internally, so everyone involved is clear on who’s doing what.

What your exact process looks like will depend on your organization’s specific setup and circumstances, though we do walk through some examples of what a common division of labor might look like in our free webinar on How to Write Your First Grant.

2. Build in enough time to get the job done

Will you be requesting funding for a new program, or an existing program? Especially if the request is for a new program, make sure to build in extra time to develop any new language and get it approved by the right people. Similarly, it also doesn’t hurt to budget extra time to consult with your program team before you start writing. Talking through the specifics of the work that’s going to be done with this new program is a great way to make sure you’re all on the same page before you’re too far down the road of writing the proposal.

3. Read the RFP closely before you start writing

Specifically, look for the list of funder requirements up front. Do you meet ALL of them? Grant requirements are exactly that – If you meet all but one, you’re ineligible. It’s important that you check off all the requirements, and similarly, keep an eye out for any specific submission instructions. This could include things like mailing printed copies, any character limits or length requirements, or whether the deadline is a postmark deadline or a receipt deadline. One careless mistake here could disqualify you.

4. Plan ahead for any necessary attachments

The biggest thing to remember here is to only include the attachments that are required! As tempted as you or your Executive Director may be to throw in an extra brochure or a great video that really shows off the impact of your programs – unless the funder has given you the explicit option to attach program support materials, they do not want you to include them.

Follow the guidelines, and start your attachment planning early to build in as much time as possible. (At Elevate, we often recommend our Grant Writers start attachment planning before  they even start drafting – especially if you need to coordinate with others to gather all the pieces.)

5. Highlight your credibility

Every piece of your proposal should bolster your credibility as an organization, and create the impression that would be a reliable grantee. You have a number of opportunities to make the right impression – including submitting a nicely presented and well-developed proposal, painting a clear picture of exactly how you’ll use their funding, pointing to any external signs of legitimacy that indicate you can deliver on your commitments (i.e., awards, news articles, publications, strong outcomes, etc.), and demonstrating a good reputation in your community. The more you can showcase these qualities and make the case for your credibility, the better.


Still have questions?

If you’re looking for more detailed guidance about the anatomy of a grant, what to include in each section, and what funders are looking for – join us for our free monthly webinar on How to Write Your First Grant!

In this FREE one-hour training, we’ll walk you through basic do’s and don’ts to help you write your first grant with confidence. By the end of this webinar, you’ll understand:

  • The different types of grants you can apply for, and the pros and cons of each;
  • The anatomy of a grant proposal, and what information to include in each section; and
  • How to tell a compelling story in your proposal that gets funders’ attention.

This webinar is ideal for anyone who’s new to fundraising and grant writing for nonprofits. It’s also helpful for grant writing professionals looking for a refresher, volunteer grant reviewers, anyone interested in exploring a career in grant writing, and those interested in learning a marketable fundraising skill.

Save Your Free Spot


October 28, 2019

As fundraisers who craft customized language each and every day, we are deeply aware of how words can be used to inspire, persuade, and inform others. However, we may not always be aware of the impact our language can have.

Research shows us that linguistic patterns can perpetuate real-life power disparities. Even small differences in language can reveal personal bias, beliefs, and perception of a situation or group of people.

While it may seem counterintuitive to mainly focus on the power of people when discussing their needs, here are a few key reasons to adopt empowering, strengths-based language in your fundraising strategy:

Empowering language reflects the full reality of those you serve.

Because language shapes perception, we have a responsibility to represent our constituent’s and their experiences wholly and truthfully – the way anyone would like to be represented when being introduced to a new party. The communities your organization serves are resilient, fully capable, and will persist with or without philanthropy. Every individual has their own agency, goals, and desires, and communities will always have existing networks in place to support their needs, therefore the stories we share should reflect that reality.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need facing the community, but instead emphasizes that the need is not insurmountable. The need is not only multifaceted, but contextual. Reflecting on the real power of people through your choice of language is an essential part of building an empowering and authentic relationship between your community and your supporters.

Empowering language aligns with shifts in foundation priorities in the nonprofit sector.

With the understanding that language matters, many funders are choosing to lead the charge in adopting and modeling empowering language. Top institutional givers, such as Ford and the California Endowment, as well as young foundations like Echoing Green are shifting their priorities to focus on addressing issues of power and equity.

As fundraisers, using empowering language positions us to cultivate relationships with funders that positions us as advocates and educators for our communities, while also giving us the opportunity to respond to the shifting funding landscape. Choosing to use empowering language is one step towards building power and equity for your community – and can be a key method for demonstrating your alignment with funders’ interests.

Empowering language amplifies your mission.

Whatever your specific mission, your vision is built around serving a need in your community. Empowering language is a way of representing your organization and community. It is a method that can be applied across issue areas, interventions, and program structures.

Empowering language can amplify your mission because it serves to change the understanding of your work at a fundamental level – motivating others to see solutions rather than barriers. By focusing on the power, strength, and resources in your community, you are demonstrating how you are part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

Want to continue the conversation about developing and using empowering language to advance equity?

Join Alison, LaTissia, and Sierra at the GPA National Conference on November 7th for a panel discussion for nonprofit professionals on how to use language strategically to build power for your constituents at every level of the fundraising process! To learn more about the topics that other Elevate staff will be presenting at the conference this year, stay tuned for upcoming blog posts.

Additional resources:

Written by Sierra Francis Perez and Alison Hight

This article was developed in conjunction with a presentation at the 2019 Grant Professionals Association Annual Conference created and led by Elevate staff.


October 28, 2019

Elevate is proud to share that several of our team members were selected to present three different breakout sessions at the upcoming Grant Professionals Association Annual Conference, which will be held November 6-9 in Washington, DC!

Leading up to the conference, we’re sharing previews of these sessions, and some of what our presenters will be teaching. In this post, we’re looking at some of the complexities of fundraising for advocacy activities, particularly as they complement direct services, and how to craft compelling grant proposals that win funding for this type of work.


Many nonprofit organizations that aim to achieve social change by providing services to their communities have begun incorporating advocacy activities alongside their direct services.

But because the results of advocacy work are often long-term, and the context can get complicated very quickly, it can be difficult to write a compelling request for funding.

In this post, we’ll be taking a closer look at what advocacy work is and how it can complement direct service work, some of the challenges involved in fundraising for advocacy, and best practices for preparing compelling requests – all of which will help you find, pursue, and win more grants for your advocacy activities. 

What is Advocacy? And how is it different from direct services?

The Alliance for Justice defines advocacy as any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others. Advocacy is a powerful catalyst for change that can improve the laws, policies, and systems that impact entire communities. For the purpose of this article, we think of advocacy as systems change – in particular, policy change.

On the other hand, we define direct service as the provision of resources, programs, and benefits that work to address the symptoms of social problems and meet the immediate needs of your target population. Some common examples of direct services organizations include health clinics, food pantries, soup kitchens, and organizations that provide services like individual skills training or education, mentoring, or case management.

For direct services agencies, the most common types of advocacy are:

  • Organizing – for example, building power at the base;
  • Research – for example, gathering and presenting on-the-ground data;
  • Educating decision makers – for example, meeting with policymakers to educate them about the issues affecting their communities;
  • Educating the public about the legislative process – for example, amplifying the voices of people who benefit directly from an organization’s programs; and
  • Lobbying.

 

Understanding the Funding Landscape, and the Challenges

There are many funders who recognize the synergies between direct service and advocacy, but there are many more (particularly at the local level) who are not well versed in the relationship between advocacy, direct service, and their own philanthropic goals. For this reason, fundraising for advocacy has several built-in challenges that are helpful to be aware of from the start.

For instance, local funders and foundations that are used to funding direct services may not always have the staff or the bandwidth to discuss specific proposals and advocacy strategies, to learn more about how an organization’s advocacy work aligns with their impact goals. Relatedly, these funders often shy away from funding advocacy because they conflate advocacy work with lobbying.

On the other hand, while there may be fewer funders willing to fund advocacy activities compared to direct services, the good news is that the funders who do fund advocacy often offer larger and/or multi-year grant awards, more general operating support, and a different (and often less-intense) focus on outcomes during the grant period – because they understand the nature of this type of work.

Of course, to win grant awards to support your organization’s advocacy work, you’ll have to prepare a persuasive proposal that makes a strong case for funding.

Best Practices for Crafting a Compelling Request for advocacy

When it comes to drafting a strong proposal, knowing how to frame your outcomes, goals, and objectives in the context of advocacy is often a major stumbling block. It may help to think of them as follows:

  • Outcomes are the overarching changes you are hoping to bring about;
  • Goals are the tangible steps that occur to make this change possible; and
  • Objectives are the measurable activities you will implement to achieve the goal.

 

If we zoom out one step further, here is an example of how to approach some other key sections of your grant proposal when you’re requesting support for advocacy activities:

  • Needs Statement – Demonstrate the need for advocacy
  • Organizational Summary – Build your organization’s advocacy credibility
  • Program Description – Spell out your key advocacy activities; do they tie in with your direct service?
  • Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes – illustrate the systems change that will occur because of your work

 

In short, your objective in your grant application should be to clearly illustrate the change you’re hoping to achieve, how you expect that change will play out over time, and the role your organization will play in producing that change.

Want to continue the conversation about developing and using empowering language to advance equity?

Join Eric and Noura at the GPA National Conference in November, for a panel discussion for nonprofit professionals on how to make the case for advocacy funding! To learn more about the topics that other Elevate staff will be presenting at the conference this year, stay tuned for upcoming blog posts.


Written by Noura Hemady and Eric Spioch 

January 10, 2019

Translating your organization’s work into a comprehensive yet concise proposal is no easy task.

To make things easier, we have compiled a list of recommendations based on our staff’s interactions and surveys conducted with Foundation staff.  In this post, we share an insider’s scoop on tips and tricks to follow at every stage of the writing process from planning to proofreading.

Here are five strategies—straight from the nation’s leading funders—on how to write a grant proposal that stands out from the rest.

MAP IT OUT
  • Outline your responses. Preparation is the most important stage in grant writing. It puts you on the right track for a strong draft—and saves a LOT of time in the long-run. Before drafting, use a few bullet points to identify the topics you want to cover in each section.
  • Answer the question they’re asking—not the one you want them to ask. It’s simple enough, but funders frequently come across applications that do not answer the stipulated question, or attempt to use an answer that was tailored for a slightly different question. For example, a response to, “Describe the community need addressed by your program.” should only include the rationale behind your program—not the activities that are part of your program.
  • Answer ALL parts of a question. It’s not uncommon to find multiple questions nested within a single section. For example, “Describe the outcomes that will be measured for each of the goals outlined above and whether evaluations will be internal or external.” is posed as a single question—but really requires you to discuss both outcomes and evaluation methodology. Pay close attention to these sections in your outline to avoid overlooking nested questions in your draft.
DON’T TAKE SHORTCUTS
  • Write a unique answer for each section. Take advantage of the space you’re given to include as many details about your organization or project as possible. Using the same content to answer multiple questions signals to funders that you either didn’t understand the questions, or that your programs are not well-developed.   
  • Never use an old application. Write a fresh proposal when applying for renewed funding or when applying for a grant that you were previously denied. Funders want to see the growth and evolution of your organization. 
…BUT DON’T TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE EITHER
  • Organize your thoughts: Each section of a response should serve a clear purpose. For example, if the first half of a paragraph is dedicated to describing the national scope of an issue, all information related to this topic should be included in that section—not scattered throughout the proposal.
  • Condense your language: Funders don’t like reading unnecessarily long proposals. Keep your writing concise by replacing long phrases with one or two powerful words. For example:
    • To measure the effectiveness of our program… à To evaluate our program…
    • Students who are considering enrollment can… à Prospective students can…
KEEP IT SIMPLE
  • Don’t overuse jargon. If you’re a nonprofit in the health sector and you’re writing to a small family foundation, phrases like “social determinants of health,” and “patient-centered outcomes” will likely fly over the funder’s head. Opt for simpler language. Or, simply limit your use of jargon and be sure to clearly define each term before introducing another.
  • Don’t overuse abbreviations/acronyms. Let’s say you are writing a grant for the hypothetical nonprofit Future Markets for Tomorrow (FMFT). The sentence “Partnering with the ACLU advances FMFT’s BAA program.” can be confusing—especially if the full-form of each acronym was introduced several pages earlier. The sentence is more reader-friendly when re-written as, “Partnering with the ACLU advances our budget analysis and advocacy initiatives.”
  • Never use the word funder. Grantmakers prefer to be referred to as partners, collaborators, allies, supporters, or investors. Referring to grantmakers as “funders” creates the impression that you see them as a piggy bank rather than a thought partner. 
REMEMBER THE LITTLE THINGS
  • Remember to delete all copy placeholders (i. “XXX”). Limit your use of copy placeholders to one or two types. (I generally use either square brackets or XXX in all my placeholders.) This allows me to easily use the Ctrl+F search feature when I’m reviewing the final draft to find any stray placeholders.
  • Never submit a proposal with another funder’s name in the copy. If you’re adapting language from one proposal to use in other funding applications, carefully proofread each application to ensure that you’re writing to the right organization. Using the same search tool can be helpful here to confirm that the old funder’s name is no longer in the application.
  • Never write to the wrong person. Check the funder’s website or IRS Form 990 to verify that you have the correct name and title of the person you’re writing to.
  • Clearly label your attachments. Funders prefer attachments to be labeled with both your organization’s name and the file type. (Example: United Way 2018 Audit).

February 8, 2018

The sustainability section of a grant proposal is always somewhat tricky, if not slightly ironic. You must make the case that your organization or program will be fine if you do not win the grant, but that you do still need the funding.

In general, this section should be an explanation of where other funding will come from to support your work as an organization. Foundations will rarely be your sole funding source; you will need to demonstrate money is coming from other sources and that your program can sustain itself over the long term.

To paint a full and accurate picture of your organization or program’s sustainability, you should provide details about your strategic plan, fundraising plan, fundraising streams, and program expansion and changes. And because it can be difficult to know exactly where to start or what to include, we’ve listed some key phrases and concepts below that can help you tackle this tricky section of your proposal with confidence.

Diversified Funding

Your organization supports its work through some combination of earned income, individual contributions, government contracts, and philanthropic support. In some cases, this is even a consistent ratio. The strongest case for diversified funding provides some specific percentages and comments on the stability of each funding stream.

Multi-Year Funding

Multi-year funding is a nonprofit holy grail. If you have it, be sure to tell your funders that at least a portion of your revenue is committed for multiple years!

Renewed Funding

Does your organization renew a significant proportion of its funding every year? If so, you will want to provide those stats.

For example:

“The organization has received renewed funding from 15 long-time organizational supporters for each of the last three years.”

Annual/Strategic Planning

If you’ve already established that your organization has strong planning processes in the Leadership section of the grant, then mentioning that a particular program or initiative is included in the annual or strategic plan is an indicator of sustainability.

For example:

“Doubling the number of children served through our program is a key goal in our 2012-2016 strategic plan and therefore a focus of our fundraising.”

Development Capacity

For those organizations who rely heavily on institutional fundraising or individual giving (i.e. they do not have government contracts or earned income streams), it is important to emphasize their capacity for fundraising. This is particularly important for organizations proposing a programmatic expansion or another change that will increase the fundraising burden.

With organizations who are working with Elevate, we emphasize that they have dedicated development staff that research and apply to new funding sources. If your organization has had a lot of success identifying new funding, provide that information; for example, development staff have successfully applied to 10 new funders in the last year.

OCTOBER 06, 2017

In the social justice lexicon, inclusion is defined as “authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policy making in a way that shares power” (H. Thomas and A. Hirsch, The Progressive’s Style Guide).

As grant writers and nonprofit professionals, we understand that language is a powerful tool when advocating for positive social change. In pursuit of this goal, it is critical that we understand the role of word choice in conveying a broad range of identities and perspectives. Various terminologies can be packed with assumptions— economic, social, cultural, and educational. It is essential when writing for social justice causes to be aware of these assumptions, which in turn helps us to embrace writing that combats discriminatory language and conveys an authentic sense of inclusivity.

Writing in a style that is inclusive and ethical is a skill. Like any skill, gaining facility and comfort with using inclusive terminology requires thoughtful, consistent practice. Though there are many approaches and schools of thought when it comes to inclusive writing, two core principles include:

1. People-First language

People- first language aims to make personhood the essential characteristic of every person. People- first language views other descriptive social identities that people may hold as secondary and non-essential. Though adhering to people-first language can lead to awkward sentence constructions, it is critical to center people rather than their circumstances as the heart of your storytelling.

Examples:

  • “Children from low-income backgrounds” vs. “low-income children”
  • “Formerly incarcerated person” vs. “ex-offender”
2, Self-Identification

Inclusive writing, as much as possible, should strive to include language that respects peoples’ choice and style in how they talk about themselves. By using language that reflects how people self-identify, you respect aspects of their culture, agency, and spirit and lend power to their voices. If you are unsure of preferred terminology, research the most current discourse on the topic using such resources as the Disability Style Guide and An Ally’s Guide to Terminology.

Examples:

  • “Individual with a physical disability” vs. “handicapped”
  • “People of color” vs. “minorities”
  • “Transgender person” vs. “transgendered”

Understanding and committing to these principles is the first step in working towards writing in a style that consistently incorporates inclusive language. Of course, language evolves and appropriate terminology is shaped by the continued larger conversation around social justice, intersectionality, and what authentic inclusivity entails in practice. As much as using the “right” terms or words is something we all work towards, it is equally important to foster a climate of open communication and demonstrate a willingness to learn.

As you work towards developing a writing style that features inclusivity, remember to keep an open mind, keep resources close at hand, and – most of all – keep learning!

Suggested Resources

The Progressive’s Style Guide

Racial Equity Resource Guide Glossary

An Ally’s Guide to Terminology

The Disability Style Guide

The Social Justice Phrase Guide


AUGUST 10, 2017

Whether it is called governance, leadership, organizational structure, or qualifications and experience, as a grant writer you are going to be asked to explain who leads your organization and why they are qualified to do so. Your response should describe the role of the board of directors in advancing the mission of the organization.

The argument in any leadership section is that your organization has the right people and processes in place to achieve its mission. As you draft this section, think about ways to differentiate your organization from others:

  • Do your board members bring unique benefits, like connections to professional development opportunities for nonprofit staff or to potential organizational partners?

  • Is your board giving rate particularly impressive?

  • Is your organization particularly thoughtful about who it nominates as new board members? 

Information you’LL need to know
Board Committees

How is the board structured? Foundations are looking for information that indicates a well-organized board. Best-practices for nonprofits indicate that all organizations should have some kind of committee structure, but that the number of committees should be limited.

Common committees include:

Finance – This committee supports the development of the annual expense budget, tracks the actual spending vs. budget, watches monthly cash flow, and interprets the overall financial health of the organization on behalf of the board. This committee supports the development of the longer-term strategic plan as well as next year’s annual plan. All of the financial policies of your organization should be reviewed by the finance committee prior to board approval. Some organizations establish a separate Audit Committee.

Governanceensure that policies are created and periodically reviewed which define: the roles and responsibilities of the board. duties and responsibilities of directors and officers; conflict of interest procedures; procedures for nomination, selection, and removal of directors.

FundraisingWhile the Executive Director is responsible for the organization’s fundraising, well-run organizations engage the support of the board in various part of their fundraising plan. This committee oversees the development of the Annual Fundraising Plan – and tracks the planned vs. actual results during the year. They encourage, train, and thank other board members for their involvement in the fundraising activities. They explore potential new fundraising activities as part of the strategic planning process.

Executive Committee – includes the chairs of the other board committees and the board chair. This committee is often empowered to make decisions between board meetings and works closely with the Executive Director.

 

Alternatively, Blue Avocado recommends that organizations limit themselves to the following three committees:

Internal Affairs Committee – All internal and operational issues-including those related to finance, human resources, and facilities-are handled by this committee which is staffed by the CFO and the Director of HR (or the ED where these positions do not exist).

External Affairs Committee – All external issues-including fundraising, public relations, and marketing — are the responsibility of this committee, which is staffed by the Development Director (or by the ED).

Governance Committee – This committee is responsible for the health and functioning of the board. It recruits new members, conducts orientation, produces board materials, and evaluates the performance of the board itself. This committee, staffed by the ED, is arguably the most important of the three. It is responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of the current board and for recruiting tomorrow’s leaders.

Board Expertise

Who serves on your board and why? Funders are looking for evidence that your board has expertise in nonprofit governance, finance, and fundraising. They will also want to see that you have members with expertise in your sector. Common board officers include:

President – Heads up the board and supervises all of the business and affairs of the board. While the President can also serve as the CEO of the organization, keep in mind that these two roles are separate; an individual cannot be compensated to hold an officer position.

Secretary – Keeps the minutes of the board of directors. Additionally, the Secretary is responsible for keeping track of the organization’s activities to make sure the actions of the organization are in accordance to the organization’s Bylaws. The Secretary usually keeps track of the board members’ contact information in order to inform the board about meetings and updates on the organization.

Treasurer – Keeps account of the receipts and disbursements in the organization’s books. Additionally, the Treasurer is responsible for keeping track of the organization’s financial condition. This is an important role because it keeps the other officers and board members informed about the financials. This person should have a financial background!

Best-practices suggest that there is no right size for a nonprofit board. The average board size is 16 members. Funders may start to question your organization’s governance if it has a large, multi-million dollar budget and a board with less than 5-10 members.

Frequency of Board Meetings

Funders will want to know how often the entire board meets as well as how often individual board committees meet. According to the IRS, boards must meet at least once a year. Beyond that, there is a lot of debate about the best-practices around frequency of board meetings.

Typically, organizations will have monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly board meetings. The longer the time between full board meetings, the more likely that the organization relies on an executive committee to make decisions between meetings.

TIP: If your organization’s board meets infrequently, be sure to note if board members are attending committee meetings between full board meetings.

Board Term Limits and Contributions

Small, emerging organizations tend not to have board term limits because they lack capacity to continually add new members. However, it is a best-practice to establish term limits for all members, so be sure to mention them if your organization has them.

It is also a best-practice to have a “give or get” policy for board members that requires all members to directly contribute or solicit a minimum donation to the organization. Always include your organization’s give or get policy in the leadership section, but use your best judgement about including the actual minimum donation. A $500 give or get is fine because it ensures 100% board giving, but it’s not nearly as impressive as a $2,500 minimum.

Even if your organization doesn’t have a formal “give or get” policy, you can communicate how committed your board members are by including what percentage contributed to the organization in the previous year. Most funders are looking for 100% board giving. Include the total amount contributed by the board if it is an impressive number!

 

In short, your objective for the leadership section of a grant application should be to clearly illustrate that your organization’s board of directors is thoughtfully-structured, and comprised of qualified leaders committed to advancing the mission of your organization.


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The content in this blog post is a great introduction to what we cover in our workshops, all of which are designed specifically for nonprofit professionals. We design our trainings to be hands-on, interactive, and efficient — all to make sure you get the most out of your time and walk away with practical skills you can put into use immediately.

See the full schedule of our upcoming trainings to learn more and register today. We hope to see you  at a workshop soon!

 

JULY 7, 2017

What is the difference between the world as it is today and the world as your organization works for it to be? The gap between the two is the problem you’re solving, or the underlying issue your organization seeks to address – and clearly articulating this problem is the best way to garner support for your cause.

As we mentioned in this post, your job as a fundraiser is to become a translator. Your supporters – whether they are individual donors, volunteers, Board members, mentors, or funders – have to believe your organization is doing something important if they’re going to continue supporting with your work. Specifically, according to Community Tool Box, your stakeholders need to understand:

  • Why your project should be done: how it is significant, meaningful, and relevant.

  • The support you have in the community: without having deep buy-in from all your stakeholders, your program will be paternalistic, unwanted, or ineffective.

  • The impact that you can have, and its proportionality to the problem; if your organization’s capacity does not match the problem you’re addressing, you lose credibility and it can be harder to garner support.

  • The context and timeliness of your response; given the many other organizations needing support – why is it the right time to support your organization?

With this in mind, it becomes your job to gather accurate and convincing evidence and make a case for why your project merits funding; a well-written need statement does exactly that, Writing a persuasive need statement involves thoroughly understanding the problem your organization seeks to solve, gathering the right data, and leveraging it to build your argument.  Below, we walk through each of these steps in a bit more detail, as well as how to avoid commonly-made mistakes as you build your case.

1.  start WITH A thorough understanding of the problem

We know, gathering data can be expensive in terms of time and focus, and in all likelihood, you already have too much on your plate.  So why invest in understanding the problem with such rigor?

First: because for your program to be effective, you must base your program design in reality. You cannot assume that you know the community you are serving without compiling real data from credible sources. Making the wrong assumptions can lead you to design an ineffective intervention; you don’t want to end up 2,000 away from your destination because you started down the wrong path.

Second, because being a credible spokesperson is essential to garnering support. A nuanced understanding of the problem gives you credibility when talking to potential funders, partners, and constituents – and that credibility only strengthens your cultivation efforts.

2.  USE the right DATA TO BUILD YOUR CASE

Once you’ve done the research necessary to develop a thorough understanding of the problem you’re working to solve, your next task to is to collect and present the right data to convey the need with urgency and clarity. There are two types of evidence you’ll need to leverage to explain the problem: qualitative and quantitative.

Quantitative information focuses on numerical data and analysis; it helps you define your problem in the language that decision makers typically understand and care about – from demographic statistics to changes in survey data to estimated costs. Qualitative evidence, on the other hand, focuses on the experience of individuals and their stories. They give life to your work.

Some supporters will be particularly moved by stories in a way they are not by numbers, while others assign more value to data and statistics; to cover your bases and present the strongest case possible, use a balance of both to provide the full picture of the importance of your work.

3.  BEWARE CIRCULAR REASONING

As you begin crafting your argument using the data you’ve gathered, be aware that using circular reasoning is an easy trap to fall into and one that will weaken your case substantially. Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy in which the writer or speaker begins their argument with the assumption that what they’re trying to prove is already true. Circular reasoning often takes the form: “A is true because of B; B is true because of A.”  

For example, the argument “You should let me stay out until 10pm because I deserve to have a later curfew” is circular in nature.  

While this type of flawed reasoning can sound convincing and even be difficult to detect, it is unlikely to persuade those who do not already believe in the validity of your argument. For this reason, your need statement cannot be that “the community lacks a park, and therefore it needs a park.” Instead, using a blend of quantitative and qualitative data to illustrate the benefits of community parks, the obstacles in accessing the nearest existing park, and/or the urgency of adding a park in the community you serve would make a much more effective argument,


QuALITY DATA SOURCES

Finally, we know that one of the biggest challenges in gather quality, credible data is knowing where to look. The following are reliable sources for gathering quantitative data to support your case and help you craft your argument:


Also, the Association for Research on Nonprofits and Voluntary Action connects individuals in the sector who are interested in research; and the International Society for Third-Sector Research promotes research and education for the nonprofit sector.


Did you enjoy this post? We have even more to share!

The content in this blog post is a great introduction to what we cover in our workshops, all of which are designed specifically for nonprofit professionals. We design our trainings to be hands-on, interactive, and efficient — all to make sure you get the most out of your time and walk away with practical skills you can put into use immediately.

See the full schedule of our upcoming trainings to learn more and register today. We hope to see you  at a workshop soon!

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