Category Archives: Grant Writing

Giving It Away for Free

womand with giftIt’s really hard for those who earn a living at it that there are so many others who are giving it away for free. I’m speaking of grant writing, of course.

It happened to me again a few weeks ago.  A client was choosing between me and another writer.  I quoted my fee, and the other writer said she would write the grant for free, as long as she got the contract for the evaluation. It’s hard to compete against that, in spite of the fact that what she proposed is an unethical practice.

It’s easy to understand why grant writers/evaluators would want that deal.  The evaluation contract is much more lucrative that the grant writing piece, and it usually continues for several years. However, grant writing and program evaluation are separate skills sets.  In many cases, qualified program evaluators also write grants, but there are many grant writers who try to fit into the evaluation world because of the money.

The problem is that it’s almost always not allowed by a funding source to make an agreement for a service provider to be funded through the grant before the grant has even been funded and without going through a funder-approved selection process.  For government grants, that means following your organizations established procurement process. For private funding sources, it could mean including the funder in the selection process or giving them a chance to review the process and approve the selection.

The ethical issue is that a grant writer proposing such an arrangement is a) giving the client the idea that such a thing is acceptable to the funding source when it almost always is not, and b) taking advantage of an organization’s desire to save money, even if it pushes them to do something that is illegal, at worst, or unallowable, at best – all so the writer can get his hands on a bigger pot of cash.

I am asked by potential clients to step into agreements like that more and more often these days because it is being offered to them by other grant writers.  I always say no.

Unless it’s someone I really love (an organization I personally support and have decided to make a personal donation to), I never give it away for free.

Have We Met?

woman modelYou spot her across the room and slowly swagger over to say hello. You’ve got your intro line all prepared and you’re ready to make your pitch.

You smile.  She smiles. Then you take a deep breath and say, “After a year of therapy, I am so ready for a new relationship.  How about you?” She stares at you in disbelief for a second or two and then walks away.

In retrospect you realize that, since you had never met before, you probably would have been better off starting off with some basic facts like your name.

It’s the same with grant writing.  When you’re writing a proposal for a potential funder, you need to remember that the funder has never met you before. They don’t know who you are, your hopes and dreams, who you serve, or how long you’ve been serving the community. They don’t know anything about you. So start off with the basics.

Tell them who you are and what you do and what you propose to do. Build your case strongly, making no assumptions. Make sure that your proposal really gives them a good understanding of who you are.

Then you might have a chance of getting a date to the dance – a funder who wants to support your cause.

Charge an Ethical Fee

Grant writing fees can be contentious. Some people think all consultants are overpaid, others think we’re sexy and worth our weight in gold. But being paid well is not the same as charging unethical fees.girl with boat on head

Here are some points to consider in setting fees:

  • Does it make you feel good?
  • Do you communicate what you will do for your fee?
  • Do you deliver a satisfying experience?
  • Is there a happy ending for your client?
  • Are your talents on display throughout performance of the service?
  • Are you ashamed to talk about how much you make?
  • Will there be bad publicity if your fees are talked about?
  • Did you do anything the client did not expect?
  • Does your contract protect both of you?
  • Is your client using someone else’s money to pay you?
  • Does your client leave your office out the side door?

Some grant writers charge a percentage of the grant and others write the grant in exchange for the evaluation: neither practice is considered ethical

Ethical grant writers are sexy.

7 Beats of a Sexy Grant Narrative

  1. The Hook

The establishment of the needs which creates conflict, empathy, and a deep desire to help in the reader.

A woman parks her car, gets out, and walks down the worn wooden steps to the beach where removes her shoes and ambles to the water line where waves are crashing onto the rocky shore.

2. Inciting Incident

This is the part of the needs where the writer shows how the need is unmet by using numbers to define the extent of the needs.

The lonely lover wanders the beach throwing stones into the surf and wondering what went wrong in her life. Suddenly, she is swept off the beach and away from shore by a rogue wave. She’s sucked under in the foamy surf and comes back up choking and calling for help.

3. The Turning Point

Fortunately for the reader, you are providing the answer to the needs. You offer a goal and objectives to resolve it.

The woman founders in the water while a tanned and shirtless grant writer drives a speed boat, flying over the waves, locks of auburn hair flying in the wind. He spies her arm desperately waving for help and he steers the boat towards her.

4. The Midpoint

There are more needs to be met than the grant budget can provide for, but fortunately, the writer has partnerships to talk about that bring additional resources to the rescue effort.

Suddenly, a shark fin appears near the woman, the man sees it but the woman doesn’t, he speeds up but he knows won’t get there before the shark does.

5. Second Turning Point

Now the writer has to pull out the secret weapon, current and valid research that supports the solution and assures the resolution of the needs.

The hero now stops the boat and pulls out a high powered rifle to shoot the shark. He’s a former Navy Seal and expert marksman; the woman sees the gun and thinks he is aiming for her and ducks under the water out of sight, down where danger is waiting.

6. The Dark Moment

The grant narrative reaches the point at which the intervention is tested, the results are measured, evaluation is implemented.

Our hero knows he has time for one shot to save the woman, the shark fin is slicing ever lower into the water as the predator takes aim on the woman below the surface. The man’s taut forearms are steady as he stands on the bow cooly timing his shot with the rising of the hull, he squeezes the trigger as the fin disappears below the water, there’s a small splash behind the fin and a loud pop, then silence.

7. Joyful Resolution

The grant writer is confident about the plan in the narrative and it will certainly resolve the needs and require dissemination so that similar needs in similar places can be resolved.  The plans for expansion of the project can be described as funders flock to the effort.

Our hero restarts the speed boat and races toward the spot where the woman went under the waves. The water is red with blood. He dives over the side into the water and strokes strongly downward where he sees the woman struggling to reach the surface, the shark is far below her is spiraling into the deep marked by a crimson trail. They break the surface and they ride the wells to shore where they embrace like lovers and kiss deeply on the sand.

Romantic structure in a grant narrative can be sexy!

Structure is adapted from, “Writing the Romance Novel: The Seven Beats” by Kay Dacus.

Photo Credits – RACHEL GILMORE (Woman Watching)

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The Grant Writing Equivalent of the Push-Up Bra

 A good push-up bra has a specific purpose – to provide support and make the wearer look her best (o.k., better than her natural best). If it didn’t accomplish that purpose, no one would wear them.

And the quickest and easiest way to get that “lifted up and looking good” effect is to wear a good push-up bra. Sure, you could get breast augmentation surgery, but that’s a long term solution, plus it’s very expensive and somewhat dangerous.  You could try special exercises, but that, too, is a long term solution and the result you’ll get is not as good as you’ll get with a push-up bra.

What does this have to do with grant writing?

There has to be a quick and easy way to improve your grant writing without taking the long road through course work, years of trial and error, and rejection without really knowing what you are doing wrong.

There is.

If you review some grant samples you’ll see examples of successful proposals and you’ll recognize the patterns and the application of the basics of effective grant writing.  Think of it as a self-study course.  And I’m not talking about a few grant samples.  In order to see those patterns of effective writing and how many different writers approach different grant challenges, you’ll need to read lots of grant samples.

That’s where comes in.  You can get unlimited access to hundreds of sample grants. You’ll see hundreds of examples of successful grant narratives for federal, state, and private grants. There are also budgets and budget narratives there for you to review. It’s the largest collection of grant samples available on the web.

So get busy strapping on that push-up bra of successful grant writing and lifting your writing out of the crowded mosh pit of mediocrity.  Then you can start getting the attention that the beautiful people (successful grant writers) get.

Wouldn’t that be nice?



Nine Ways for Sexy Grant Writers to Cool It

I have a theory, it’s Sexy grant Writers who are responsible for global warming. I can’t scientifically prove it, but when it’s hot, a sexy grant writer is bound to be right in the middle of things. Planning ahead can help a sexy grant writer and their partner stay cool when it’s sultry.

Here are nine tips for staying cool when the sun of grant writing sexiness is just too bright.

  • Conference call with your client behind slices of cucumber on your eyes.
  • Buy the bendy straws and sip lemonade in your hammock.
  • Edit under your mister.
  • Get your honey to rub an ice cube on the back of your neck.
  • Lick your favorite popsicle.
  • Dictate from the pool, to the pool boy.
  • Slurp up a cold double scoop.
  • Build your budget au natural.
  • Slip and slide between drafts.

There are lots of ways to cool off when you’re a smokin’ hot sexy grant writer, but it’s an ongoing challenge. Keep a list of suggestions for cooling off handy and never run out of ice because let’s face it, you sexy grant writers are going to melt a lot of hearts (and glaciers).

Photo Credit: Belovodchenko Anto

Even Grant Writers can’t Tame the Tyrant of Time

Inner workings of a watch.It’s funny you know, the way we structure our lives by clocks. As a teacher long ago, I used to detest the bells. Well, except for the ones that sent all the kids home to their parents where they belonged. I disliked the opening bell and the recess bell and the lunch bell. My life was ruled by bells, it was annoying.

So I moved into administration and then a different kind of tyranny dominated my work life. It was the tyranny of ambition, the early arrivers and the late leavers. Ambitious and upwardly mobile as I wanted to be, I was in both groups. It was the tyranny of the outworking your co-workers by simply being there longer. Didn’t make you any better, didn’t make you more efficient or smarter. No, I was just there more.

On the other side of the coin were those who arrived on time and left on time every day, like clockwork, ahem. Now those folks weren’t better or worse than the early/laters but they did work less, just exactly what they were supposed to mind you, but less than those who desired to move up the ladder more fiercely.

Eventually I left the bureaucratic administration rat race – I thought – to run my own show as a freelance grant writer. I left employment proper and entered employment as a contractor. Now I was free – I thought. But then reality set in and there were times when the work was not exactly pouring in so I worked longer hours and all days to try to ensure that checks would continue to come in. There were other times when the work was pouring in and I was afraid it would stop so I took all contracts coming at me and spread myself too thin just in case I had nothing to do in the 4th quarter of the year.

Time became my tyrant again. I never had enough of it because there was money to be made and deadlines to meet. I became a sort of hunter-gatherer, collected all the nuts and berries in season. The trouble became that there was never a down season where you could just sit around and eat what you had gathered for a while.

I suppose that as long as man has been walking the earth, time has been an issue. Accepting this doesn’t really help anything does it? Oh well, I better set the alarm and get to sleep, the little red glowing tyrant beside my bed will screech at me before I even feel like I’ve closed my eyes.

Grant writers are slaves to the clock, now that’s sexy.

Grant Writing Fitness

Legs of a man walking.Grant writing is a mentally strenuous activity. The problem is that it’s also a physically sedentary activity. Except for the typing involved, trips to the coffee pot, trips to the pot, and feeding the animals (2 and 4-legged), there’s just not a lot of movement involved.

Here are some suggestions for staying healthier as a grant writer:

1) Schedule an hour a day to get out and exercise. It can be walking (my preference) or whatever you want. I heard a doctor on TV (may have been Dr. Oz, but not sure) one time tell a patient, “You have a choice. You can exercise for an hour a day, or you can be dead for 24 hours a day.” That seemed like an easy choice to me and I’ve been doing an hour almost every day ever since.
2) Don’t buy junk food for your grant writing snacks. Instead of cookies and junk food, buy nuts, healthy crackers, fruit. When I wanted to lose weight, I began to count calories and the amount of calories in small and savory snacks scared me! I was amazed and appalled at how many calories I had been consuming!
3) Buy a calorie book and a little notepad and count your calories for a month. Don’t alter your eating habits unless you want to but keep careful count to see how much you’re eating. You’ll probably be astounded at how many calories you’re eating.
4) Talk on the phone standing up. With cordless phones today you can get up, move around, or walk outside. You’re probably not working on the computer when you’re on the phone so get up and move.  You’re on the phone anyway, so why not multi-task and burn off a few calories at the same time?
5) Move to a new location when you’re reading drafts and revising by hand. It’s good to change position and location. I find I am less tired when I get up and change locations now and then.

Those are a few of the ways that I stay trimmer, healthier, and less fatigued when I am grant writing. Of course I still get the forearm cramps from typing for eight hours but that’s just part of the gig.
A healthy grant writer is sexy!

Color Me Giants Orange!

A guy painting himself orange.Watching the last out of the World Series just never gets old for me.  I love watching a bunch of grown men going wild like a bunch of little league-ers who were told they’re getting pizza and ice cream after the game.  The old Wide World of Sports saying, “…the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat” is why I watch, it’s what I love about sports the most.  It is borrowed exhilaration, but it’s real none-the-less.  I feel like jumping around with them even though I did nothing but sit on the couch.  Most of the year, I am not a baseball fan, but just as each March I become a college basketball fan, each October I become a baseball fan.

I can still have some of that exhilaration by getting a grant funded.  I get to do a victory lap around the office, I get to call a client and give them the good news unless they hear it first.  I get to high five people and ask them “who’s your daddy?”  (not out loud)

Grant writing is competition.  It’s a thrill to win and it’s agony to lose.  But it still gives you a spark of excitement like those pre-game jitters in high school football.  I recall game day Friday was a thrill every week.  All the guys had to wear shirts and ties to school and after school we’d go to the burger joint down the street with the big bullfrog out front.  Our cross-county rivals would vandalize the frog by painting it red each fall, then we’d paint it green again and whip them on the field for daring to abuse our frog.  If we didn’t win on the scoreboard we’d whip them in a bench-clearing brawl; one way or the other we’d defend our frog’s honor.

Fortunately our rival grant writers don’t vandalize our frogs or anything so we never have a bench clearing brawl with them.  But we’re in competition, we all work hard to prepare and we give our best effort on the field (desk) and at the end of the game (grant award time) there are winners (the funded) and losers (the un-funded).  The excitement of grant competitions is what makes it interesting to be a grant writer, it is what makes it challenging, and for me, the challenge just never gets old!

Grant competitions are the World Series for grant writers, now that’s sexy!

Postmarked by the Universe

Red eyed and bleary after a late night and early morning before a 5PM deadline, I rushed out the door of my office about 4:53 PM to the post office with both grants completed. I didn’t even stop to put the stack of envelopes down to lock the office door somewhere secretly hoping that I’d be burglarized and have to start a new career outside grant writing – tomorrow – after a good night’s sleep. These grants had to be postmarked by 5PM and the post office was about two blocks from my office but I still jumped in the car tossing the envelopes into the front seat.

Cross traffic at the end of my block was heavy of course, it was rush hour. So I sat there cursing my luck, cursing my greed at taking on two grants instead of one, cursing my copy machine that jammed over and over again as I was printing the final copies, cursing the pagination error in one grant which I found as I did a final perusal that forced me to re-print the entire correct document. There was a lot of cursing going on, I was in a state of panic.

A gap appeared in traffic and I drove my foot to the floor lurching my car into the gap to the bewilderment of the now equally distressed driver; oh well, they couldn’t possibly match my dire straits: it was now 4:56 and the post office is prompt about one thing and that’s locking their doors at 5PM.

Traffic crawled the block to the post office and I scraped my front end zipping into the parking lot through the deep gutter. I parked, I grabbed my envelopes, and I raced to the door where a worker was posted with keys in hand admitting the final patrons of the day before locking us in and the tardy public out.

Standing there in line sweating with my bundles of envelopes I knew I’d made it to the finish line and my clients’ grants would be submitted as contracted for. I’d narrowly escaped the Sword of Damocles and the universe had given me the smallest crack to squeeze through and I’d gotten through!

Post Script – Both grants were successfully funded and all was right with the world, my application to a trade school for window washers was rejected for lack of prerequisites and I was forced to continue my career in grant writing. I did sell that photo copy machine to an attorney who dropped in while loading it into his pickup truck, the universe is so good to me.

Now that’s sexy!

Grant Writers are Sexy Beasts: Why Can’t Everyone See It?

I know you’re finding this a hard title to swallow if you’re a freelance grant writer; but it’s true, not everyone is going to see you for the smokin’, free-wheelin’ pan of hot-rib-lickin’ fun that you are.

Some of your clients are just going to see you as an unnecessary expense; you know, they will put on a par with federal income taxes or Iowa earthquake insurance. Some clients will regard you as a kind of pick-pocket. Some of these clients are actually philanthropists, and others just think they are, even the ones who draw large salaries; because after all, they could be making SO MUCH MORE if they were just CEO of Chase, Disney, MGM or something. Of course they’re not, but they COULD be.

Some clients will hold the opinion that a volunteer should be doing their grant writing because it’s such a simple task.  Shamelessly, some of them will hold the opinon that YOU should be volunteering your services; they do, after all, have such a super-sized, scrumptious, volunteer-worthy cause. Besides, they won’t get a bonus at the end of the year by spending it on you.

So while you may feel all Ralph Lauren sleek, others may not see it. They might even talk behind your back about it, yet they smile when you arrive. They may think you’re hiding your wealth when you drive your up in Honda Civic. They may think you left the Lambo with Jeeves in the Carriage House and you’re putting on airs in your Dockers and Nunn Bushes. You may be cutting your own hair and they’ll think it’s an expensive avant gaarde cut from a salon in Soho that you fly to each weekend in your Leer with Chi-Chi and Bubbles (your French poodles).

It’s a hard thing to be misunderstood but we freelance grant writers need to hold fast to our inner sexiness, to our wah-wah-licious, thigh-burning, hotness. ‘Cause some clients will simply want to throw a bucketful of cold snarkyness on you and you’ll feel less than whistle-worthy; but trust me, you are, you’re all that and a bucket full of “philanthropists”.

Now that’s sexy!

Pulling an All-Nighter

It’s 1 AM and I’m halfway through my second draft. I drank two pots of coffee since 10 PM, scarfed down some junk food, and now I walk out to the porch and cold air just trying to keep my eyes open. My five o’clock shadow is rapidly turning into a 2 AM shadow and it’s so rough that it’s starting to pull out fibers on my collar.A grant writer asleep on a bench.

The neighborhood is peaceful. An owl hoots from a tree and an airplane blinks past overhead with a distant drone but there’s no traffic on the street. The porch light draws some moths the flutter about and my breath is visible in the early morning air.

I have a lot of editing to do on this narrative before I can move on to the budget, budget narrative, forms, and final formatting, all waiting to be finished before the 5 PM deadline I’m facing. I remember a time when I could give some of this work to someone else so I didn’t have to shoulder the whole load myself.  But these days I work alone out of my house.

Once I had a fantasy of the romantic life of a writer. But shivering here in my shorts and T-shirt, flip-flops on my feet, in the wee hours of the night, the reality of working alone for yourself is not nearly as glamorous as I had once imagined.

Fully awake I turn my back on the peaceful neighbors slumbering and head back to my office.  The house is in need of cleaning, it’s cluttered with discarded drafts and post-its lay crumpled around the waste basket.

Now that’s sexy.