Posts Tagged ‘Cheryl Clarke’

Overcome your board’s allergic reaction to the financials

“Having clear, readable financial information means that board members, even those who are allergic to budgets and numbers, can assume their rightful responsibilities as trustees,” claim Cash Flow Strategies coauthors Richard and Anna Linzer.

I smiled when I read this quotation in the Linzer’s new book, Cash Flow Strategies. When I was a board chair in my past life and we would review the financials, the reports were always quickly approved no matter how much my executive committee tried to engage the board in the finer details. The Linzers’ depiction of board members’ allergic reaction to financial reports is all too familiar.

We’re currently featuring this essential read at CausePlanet with a Page to Practice™ summary and live interview on June 27. Financial certainty in uncertain times is an ongoing challenge for administrators and board members especially when reporting has lost its utility and readability.

One of the strategies discussed in Cash Flow Strategies focuses on making financial reports more useful for the board and staff through the application of footnotes. “Cash flow budgets that are accompanied by footnotes can make a remarkable difference in the degree to which everyone understands your budget. The cash flow budgets by themselves are a boon to comprehension, but the addition of detailed footnotes can assist even the most fiscally challenged board member,” assert the authors.

In our recently featured book, Storytelling for Grantseekers, author Cheryl Clarke also promotes budget footnotes as an important strategy for helping funders understand your financial reports. “Budget notes can and often should be used, for they help explain and clarity the information contained in the numbers story,” Clarke adds.

Clarke says financial footnotes are especially useful whenever:

a program expense represents five percent or more of the total estimated costs for the program. For example, if the program budget is $100,000 and one line item exceeds $5,000, include a note to explain or justify that expense item.

a particular line item might be unclear to the reader or might require additional narrative detail. For example, “a line item labeled ‘miscellaneous’ practically begs for a note to explain what is included under this category.”

Join us for an author interview with Richard Linzer about cash flow and working capital for nonprofit organizations when we’ll take the discussion far beyond the footnote: Thursday, June 27 at 11 a.m. CST.

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Everyone loves a good story

Why do we continue to write boring fundraising materials and grant proposals that ask for our readers’ stamina rather than their enjoyment? Storytelling isn’t a fad. It’s here to stay and will remain the preferred way we learn information.

Some of the most memorable fundraising materials I worked on in my past life as a development director were the pieces that involved telling a unique story about why a donor supported the university. One campaign in particular, we asked donors to vote for his/her favorite professor with a donation and a story about the instructor. The gifts came pouring in that year because people love to tell a good story as much as they like to hear one.

Captivate your donors

Our latest Page to PracticeTM book feature of Storytelling for Grantseekers by Chery Clarke not only addresses the often daunting task of grantwriting but the numerous ways you can captivate your audience with a good story in your fundraising communications.

Storytelling and development collateral can intersect in the following ways:

  • The elevator speech can use an effective hook. An elevator speech can be translated into a powerful, concise, revised version of your mission statement.
  • A grant proposal for general operating support can serve as an agency’s internal case statement. External case statements must tell compelling, emotional stories.
  • Appeal letters have the most obvious connection to storytelling because they need to be vivid and persuasive for people to donate.
  • In a brochure, the stories can be complemented by visuals.
  • Your web site should tell your organization’s story.
  • Annual reports, in addition to providing evidence for the agency’s financial health, present another opportunity to relate your story.
  • Even though government grant applications are longer and more structured, you can still infuse stories into the need or problem (antagonist) and the objectives sections.

If you keep the storytelling approach in mind, you can use it whenever possible, including in sections about your credibility or the sustainability of your program. However, storytelling is not always appropriate given the space limitations and formal tone of government applications. With more practice, you will know when it is appropriate and when it isn’t. Even though some parts of grant writing are technical, such as the goals and objectives section, persuasive writing can transfer to many careers, including marketing, technical writing, journalism, speechwriting and more.

Join us for our next live author interview in our monthly series at CausePlanet and ask Cheryl Clarke all of your burning questions or simply listen to gather all of her helpful insights. Clarke recently released the second edition of her popular book Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising.

It’s chock full of useful techniques for nonprofit communications of any kind-from newsletters and appeals to annual reports and, of course, grants. Our interview will touch on Clarke’s book and much more through our interview questions.

Where are you using storytelling in your work?

If you found this glimpse into our book feature helpful, consider subscribing to our summary library of recommended nonprofit and corporate titles or visit our summary store for a la carte choices. You can also sample a summary for free.

Visit to purchase her books and learn more about her list of client services.

See also:

Influential Fundraiser: Using the Psychology of Persuasion to Achieve Outstanding Results

Fundraising When Money Is Tight: A Strategic and Practical Guide to Surviving Tough Times and Thriving in the Future

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No snoring allowed: Win grants with surprises and heroes

Did you know that 70 percent of what we learn is conveyed through stories? Why should it be any different when we’re trying to capture the hearts and minds of those who work in foundations?

For some reason, many of us who write grant proposals take on the project as if it promises all the anxiety of a tooth extraction.

Instead, we should be asking ourselves, “How can I build a story around my cause and draw in my reader so s/he feels involved?” If you’ve ever heard the saying, “Garbage in, garbage out,” then you know your approach to writing a grant will have everything to do with how it’s interpreted by a funder.

Storytelling for Grantseekers author, Cheryl Clarke, not only has been writing successful grants for more than 20 years, she relishes the job. We’re featuring her book at CausePlanet and hope you share our enthusiasm for this topic. Join me in learning what her readers are surprised about and the most important piece of the proposal.

CausePlanet: What advice in your book do you suspect your readers will find most surprising?

Clarke: Hmmm…another excellent question. I think many readers are surprised to even think a grant proposal can be thought of and constructed as a story. On a more micro level, I’ve heard from several readers that they are surprised by my use of section heads, which are analogous to chapter titles. I suggest grant writers consider using more descriptive and persuasive language when writing section headings. For example, while “History and Mission of the XZY Symphony” is certainly serviceable, it is much more compelling to say, “20 Years of Musical Excellence: XYZ Symphony’s History and Mission.” With this section heading, the writer is conveying both a key piece of information (the fact that the symphony has been around for 20 years) and also that the symphony delivers musical excellence (which helps establish the symphony’s credibility).

CausePlanet: What is the most important piece of the proposal in a grant and does it involve a story strategy?

Clarke: The most critical component in a proposal is the need or problem statement. A potential funder must understand what the need or problem is in order to entertain funding a nonprofit agency’s response to the need or problem. A grant writer cannot assume the funder knows the need. Therefore, it must be fully explained and documented through the use of data and statistics. The story strategy most certainly applies to this section of a proposal for it is here in the need or problem statement where the grant writer shows conflict and builds tension. Conflict is demonstrated and tension is built when the grant writer portrays how the world, environment or situation looks today with the need unmet and how a defined population is not being served. Hero agencies exist to address unmet needs.

Clarke’s storytelling techniques apply to all sorts of fundraising materials besides grant proposals. Consider Clarke’s first answer–How effective are you with section headers in your copy? Are they snoresville or do they capture the reader? In her second answer, she stresses building tension and conflict so you can demonstrate how your cause resolves it. What are some ways you can build tension and resolve it in your problem statement?

See also:

Storytelling for Grantseekers
Winning Foundation Grants
The Foundation
Mapping the World of American Philanthropy

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Storytellers wanted: Grant writers need not apply

“Nonprofit seeks captivating storyteller…” instead of “Nonprofit seeks grant writer…” is the kind of job posting our latest featured author, Cheryl Clarke, would highly approve of.

Clarke recently released the second edition of her popular book Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising. It’s chock full of useful techniques for nonprofit communications of any kind—from newsletters and appeals to annual reports and, of course, grants.

No one wants to read a horrible grant proposal. Why should anyone have to? More importantly, why would you want someone to? An amazing lack of energy and misdirected effort goes into unfunded grant proposals every year despite how worthy the cause may be. It’s quite simple: If you make the task of reading a grant proposal an enjoyable activity by incorporating storytelling, you’ll secure more grants.

Storytelling isn’t a fad. Storytelling’s been around since the dawn of time and will remain the preferred way we learn information. Why fight it? Instead, you can adopt Clarke’s recommendations and captivate your readers with a story about your cause.

Join me in reading Clarke’s answer to one of my interview questions about what’s missing in effective grant writing literature.

CausePlanet: Thank you for a terrific book, Cheryl. Can you tell us what prompted you to write Storytelling? What, in your view, was missing from the literature about effective grant writing?

Clarke: This is an excellent question. When I entered the fundraising field, which was 20-plus years ago, the area of grant writing seemed very technical to me. The grant-writing classes I took and the how-to books I read reinforced my opinion. In my opinion, grant writing didn’t seem at all creative. At the same time, I was writing short fiction for fun. I realized I was incorporating in my grant proposals several of the techniques I was using in my fiction writing, such as describing a location, introducing strong characters and building dramatic tension. And that realization triggered the idea that proposal writing is really about telling a compelling, persuasive story. It’s what grant funders advise applicants to do yet at the time, grant-writing workshops and books were not doing an effective job of showing how to tell a good story.

Have you successfully used storytelling techniques in any of your communication materials?

See also:

Storytelling for Grantseekers
Winning Foundation Grants
The Foundation
Mapping the World of American Philanthropy

Leave a reply

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