Posts Tagged ‘grants’

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

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Doom and gloomers need not apply

On our CausePlanet Facebook page last week, I couldn’t help but ask if you could guess author Martin Teitel’s pithy one-word answer to my interview question, “What is the most common mistake grant seekers make when hosting a site visit?” I left you hanging over the weekend to think about it before I answered on Monday. Read carefully for his answer below—otherwise you might miss it. I’ve also included Martin’s response to his favorite interview question about compelling grant proposals.

CausePlanet: In your experience, what consistent ingredient contributes to the most compelling grant proposals?

Martin Teitel: I love this question. Great proposals say, “We’re doing this wonderful work; here’s an opportunity for you to join us in making it even better.” These sparkling proposals are invitations to share success, not threats or forecasts of doom. The reader of one of these compelling proposals becomes infected with optimism and hope. This is not Pollyannaism: thorny issues aren’t avoided, but neither are they used as a club to smash the possibility of things getting better. In the end, the funder puts the proposal down on her desk and thinks, “I want to be part of this.”

CausePlanet: What is the most common mistake grant seekers make when hosting a site visit?

Martin Teitel: Groveling.

Read the full interview and highlighted passages in our Page to Practice™ book summary of  Teitel’s new book “The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants.”

See also:

The Foundation: A Great American Secret; How Private Wealth is Changing the World

Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity

Level Best: How Small and Grassroots Nonprofits Can Tackle Evaluation and Talk Results


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