Wednesday, December 17, 2008

# 68: The match: How should a grant writer value volunteers hours?

Volunteers fit new windows at The Sumac Centre...Image via Wikipedia

When a grant application requires a match, most organizations will find it "in-kind." And, often much of the in-kind comes from volunteer hours. After all, where would non-profits be without volunteer hours? Many programs just couldn't fly.

So, how much are volunteer hours worth?

Independent Sector makes a rate available each year that's accepted by the Feds— currently $19.51/hour. They also list the value of a volunteer hour by state -- in NY state, where I am, the 2006 value was $26.18.

In addition, if a professional volunteers their professional services you can value them at their standard billing rates. Make sure you have documentation from them about their rate.

Points of Light Institute now has a calculator that uses Department of Labor rates to assign acceptable values for different kinds of volunteer labor. Careful, though. The rate is for the work, not the person, so, using the example from the Independent Sector, a doctor volunteering to paint a fence is worth a painters rate, not an MD's.

My clients use these different rates without any problem for both the grant application match and for valuing the documented in-kind hours for reporting purposes.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Will funders take the GEO's advice?

day in the life: lunch moneyImage by emdot via FlickrPhilanthropy Journal reports that Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), a coalition of funders, has sent its membership of 1,700, representing 350 grant-making organizations, an open letter urging five actions that can help nonprofits make it through these tough times.

Those recommendations:
Funders urged to show leadership | Philanthropy Journal:

* Hold 2009 grant budgets steady at 2008 levels, a move that could mean paying out more than 5 percent of assets.

* Look for 'no-cost' ways to boost nonprofits, including releasing restrictions on current grants, and thus allowing nonprofits to react to the changing environment.

* Give grantees more flexibility to update, alter or replace programs by providing operating grants; consider providing cash-flow loans or access to credit.

* Continue making high-dollar, multi-year grants, investing in leadership support, and funding efforts to learn and evaluate.

* Engage with key stakeholders to better understand the challenges they face and how funders can help."

Hat tip to Mike Burns at Nonprofit Board Crisis blog, one of the blogs I keep in my RSS feedreader.
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Sunday, November 30, 2008

What Can Grant Writers Expect from the Obama Administration?

Barack Obama speaking in Houston, Texas on the...Image via WikipediaOne of my clients sent me a link to this article anticipating what the new administration may focus on. I pass it on to you.

eCivis: Improving Grants Performance: "Grants in the Obama Administration

With the election of Barack Obama, many in the grants world have been reviewing campaign materials, speeches, and debates to determine what is likely to happen in terms of grants. In general, funding can be expected to increase dramatically in many areas, including programs for low-income individuals and families, child education, and law enforcement. eCivis has reviewed many of the recent materials, and while there are no guarantees of what will actually happen versus what has been promised, there are some indications of what grant-seeking organizations are likely to see: read more here"

For most of us, the news is good -- more money for after school programs, head start programs, community development.... Of course, to quote an earlier presidential campaign, "It's the economy, stupid." So, we'll see.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

#67: A Checklist for Beginning a Grant Writing Assignment for a New Organization

Tara emailed me asking whether I have a form that I use when I go to see a new client. I don't. But, I jotted down a few things for her and then thought I'd share them with you, too.

When a new (to me) organization engages me to do a piece of work, here's how I get started.

Before my initial interview in person or on the phone:
  • Review the organization's 990 and website
  • Ask them to send me a packet of their PR materials, any boiler plate they have, and perhaps an earlier grant application they've submitted.
  • Do a Google search on them including news and blogs
  • Sometimes I'll review the research and best practices prior to the first meeting, sometimes later
Based on that, I usually go into the interview with a pretty good idea of the public face of the agency. Then, if the interview is for a specific grant, we discuss:
  • Project orientation - how we'll work together, who's on the team, who's the agency's lead, what tools we'll use, time table, etc.
  • What makes them want to apply for this grant? What are they currently doing makes them feel they have a good chance at receiving the funding?
  • Review the grant requirements - assume they haven't read the details
  • Walk through each section of the application and appendices discussing content, identifying what information is outstanding, determining who will get it, by when.
If they are asking for help to identify new funding opportunities we discuss
  • Current operations
  • Strategic direction
  • Previous and current funders
  • Applications submitted but not funded
  • How we'll work together
Does this sound like what you do? Do you have additions?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

#66: More Grants.Gov Resources for Grant Writers

I've had this update in my draft folder for awhile now. Sorry I haven't published it sooner. This technical stuff is pretty boring, but there's nothing worse than trying to find information about in a hurry, so I push myself to read whatever they send.

By the way, if you haven't used the new Adobe system Federal agencies are now using, allow plenty of time ( an extra day or two) for the upload. Everything went fine as I prepared to upload the last Federal grant I did until I clicked on submit. The system went off into La-la land.

The Help Desk had to walk me through some convoluted tricks to get my application loaded. I wouldn't want to 1) try to reach them and 2) follow the directions while the clock was ticking away.

So, here are some new (well, they were new when I put them into my draft folder mid-September) resources.

New Troubleshooting Tips Webpage Added to has added a troubleshooting tips page as an additional resource for applicants. The new resource concentrates on common troubleshooting issues such as verifying your Authorized Organization Representative (AOR) status, login for E-Business Point of Contact (E-Biz POC) and accessing search results. These troubleshooting tips can help you quickly resolve your technical issues. To visit the troubleshooting tips page

Subscribe to the Blog
Check here daily for system status, opportunity updates and new blog Blog.
And there's a newsletter, too
The “Succeed” E-Newsletter is a guide to the latest updates, handy tips and useful articles on how to best use Subscribe to the 'Succeed' E-Newsletter

I like to submit my Federal grants at night when everything is quieter. If you're inclined to do that, too, be aware that the Help Desk closes at 9 pm. When I needed help it was 8:20 pm. The person who helped me was great -- knowledgeable and pleasant. We worked steadily through the secret process (you'll never find it documented anywhere) and finished right at 9 pm.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Give your thanks and a check

Thank you everyone!Image by J.Starr via FlickrThis year Blog Action Day is focused on Poverty (with a capital P). As a grant writer, almost every proposal I write addresses poverty in some way. I hear the stories of poverty from the people on the front lines.

I think Blog Action Day is a fitting time to say thank you for the work my clients, and your clients, do every day to fight poverty. Sometimes it's through job training and work readiness; sometimes through food pantries. Often it's through a combination of community organizing and skill building. Helping people develop a vision for what's possible and find the tools to make it happen.

Often, the people who are fighting poverty -- agency staff -- are on the edge of poverty themselves -- just one or two paychecks away from personal financial disaster. In large part that's because our agencies squeeze so much into the proposals we write. They want to do so much with so little. Unfortunately, it also reflects how we, as a society, value the work that they do.

So, today the blogosphere is focused on poverty. Bloggers are filling the net with ideas about what you can do to fight poverty today. Write a check, feed people, educate yourself -- you can follow what's happening here. But, I'd like you to do something else, as well.

Say thank you to the people you know who do the work of fighting poverty every day. Acknowledge them. Appreciate the personal cost to them for choosing this work over other, more lucrative careers.

Oh yes, write a check for their agency, too.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Unraveling the Mysteries of Grant RFPs

The WriterImage via WikipediaJake Seliger has a guest post on his blog -- really a rant -- about how funders put RFPs together by committee. I thought I'd rant a bit right along side him.

Today I'm finishing up a proposal in response to a government agency-issued RFP and we still don't know whether we should be submitting a one year or two year budget. The Q&A's were posted the Thursday before the Monday-due-date -- 15 days later than their scheduled date for posting answers. They extended the deadline by four days and gave ambiguous answers to the questions.

Two of us combed this RFP to pull out what the agency expects and came up with different lists. The RFP has a section called "Requirements," another called "Expectations," another called"Instructions," and yet another called "How to..." Each adds a bit more or defines things a bit differently.

Jake says, and I couldn't agree more,
This death-by-committee effect isn’t unique to grant writing, but the combination of fear, pompousness, uncertainty, certitude and the like seems to lead to the production of especially unpalatable RFPs, and the nature of bureaucracies make potential reforms difficult to implement. In addition, RFP writers seldom have to respond to the RFPs they produce, or any other RFPs for that matter, and thus don’t understand the kinds of problems we describe.
We do the best we can. When in doubt, I choose what will make my proposal clear and readable. Read Jake's post here.
Inside the Sausage Factory and how the RFP Process leads to Confused Grant Writers: "Inside the Sausage Factory and how the RFP Process leads to Confused Grant Writers"
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Friday, September 19, 2008

Waukee builds a grant writing resource

Iowa state welcome signImage via WikipediaThe most difficult calls I get are from very small community groups -- very dedicated people -- looking for help with great ideas they need grants to implement. I often meet with them, give lots of free advice, and wish them well. Unfortunately, this is how I make my living -- I can't afford to give away my time and they can't afford to pay me.

A community in Iowa has come up with an interesting community service that could help -- a non-profit Grant Writers Group.
The grant-writing project got a jump-start in April when it received a $2,000 grant of its own from Community State Bank. Fourteen Waukee residents will use the money to attend two separate grant-writing classes this fall. After the classes have concluded, the group will meet regularly to create a list of projects that need money. The first grants could be finished by the end of the year. [Story link]

Update: this story has been taken off-line, but the group has a webpage here.
My impression from the brief article is that this is a community-focused group, rather than an organization-focused one. They will find the projects that need help, rather than the organizations. Great approach! (And potential competition.)
Update March 2011: the website is now gone, too. Too bad. It's a good idea. Maybe they got a few projects funded, though.

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#65: Grant Writers Can't Fake Collaboration.

Katie Krueger has a great post about her stint as a grant reviewer at the Wisconsin Department of Instruction. They used an interesting process. She describes reviewing grants as the best professional development a grant writer can undertake. I can believe it!

Katie offers some clear advice about how to make life easier for the reviewer. This one caught my attention. I've not heard a reviewer comment on this before.

Secrets From a Grant Reviewer on How to Win Grants: "Include your partners in the planning of the grant application.This was a surprise to me, but it was very clear whether or not applicants had worked with the partners they listed in designing the program and writing the grant. If not, the descriptions of partners’ roles were vague.If they had included them, their specific role with a list of duties and responsibilities were in the application.This cannot be faked. Planning with partners beforehand will set you apart from other applicants."

Thanks for the insight, Katie.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

#64: Foundation Center - Cooperating Collections

An index card in a card catalogImage via Wikipedia Did you know that any grant writer can have access to many of the Foundation Center's resources through their cooperating collections?
Foundation Center - Cooperating Collections: "Participants in the Foundation Center's Cooperating Collections network are libraries or nonprofit information centers that provide fundraising information and other funding-related technical assistance in their communities. Cooperating Collections agree to provide free public access to a basic collection of Foundation Center publications during a regular schedule of hours, offering free funding research guidance to all visitors. Many also provide a variety of services for local nonprofit organizations, using staff or volunteers to prepare special materials, organize workshops, or conduct orientations."
Check it out. There may be a location near you where you can search the Foundation Center's database for the cost of your free library card. Oh, don't let the image mislead you. The database is electronic.
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Friday, August 29, 2008

#63: Sustainability -- Another Word for Long Term Survival

The Front of the SAMHSA building at 1 Choke Ch...Image via Wikipedia SAMHSA has just published a useful guide for grassroots nonprofits that as grant writers we should add to our resource file. A comprehensive RFP almost always has a question about sustainability and I often find that the team wants to answer "We'll look for another grant." -- Clearly, not what the funder is hoping to hear.

Although as grant writers we seldom carry responsibility for implementation, we should be prompting the team to think long and hard about implementation and sustainability. This toolkit addresses the full range of issues that impact survival including marketing, financial management and fundraising. It contains lots of links to on-line resources. And, of course, you can't beat the price. it's free!

Sustaining Grassroots Community-Based Programs: A Tool Kit for Community-and Faith-Based Service Providers
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Thursday, August 14, 2008


Here's another grant resource from They've collected links to all the grant pages for many of the government agent ...your tax dollars at work! I must say, it's pretty nice to have all these links in one place.

... a listing of the 26 Federal Agencies and their resources.
Simply find the agency you are interested in and click on the link to be directed to their resources."

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#61: Read the 990 before you write your grant

Here's a nifty guide for grant writers to help you understand the 990 form. I usually read the 990 for any potential client or funder. It gives me insight into the client. And, because it lists who a foundation has funded and how much they gave, it will help you choose the right places to apply and reasonable amounts to request.

How to Read the IRS Form 990 & Find Out What it Means: "The Form 990, entitled “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax,” is a report that must be filed each year with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by organizations exempt from Federal income taxes under section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code, and whose annual receipts are 'normally' more than $25,000 a year. It is an information return and not an income tax return since the organizations that file it do not pay income taxes (except, as explained below, in certain cases an organization may have to pay an “unrelated business income tax”)."
The guide is from the NonProfit Coordinating Committee of NYC -- a great resource for non-profits.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

#60: Determining Your Fees for Grant Writing

Because my post yesterday was prompted by a July news article about a grant writer being investigated for fraud. I decided to see whether I could find an update. What I found was quite amazing.

Jean Cross was to collect a fee of $5.175M for writing that grant application!

Now, I like money as much as the next guy, and I certainly believe that my services are worth more than I can charge my non-profit clients. Cross' contract entitled her to 15% of the grant.

But, this is public money, earmarked for after school youth development programs.

Percentage payments from public monies has long been considered unethical. Fifteen percent to the grant writer? Come on!

Lawyer: 'No criminal activity' | | The Desert Sun: "Writer to get 15 percent

According to a Feb. 27, 2007, contract between Cross Resources and the task force, Cross would receive 15 percent of the grant - $5.175 million over five years - in return for her services in preparing the application and implementing the programs.

The driving force behind returning the grant, Reiss said, was concern over Cross' compensation. When Wilson and Davis became aware of Cross' 15 percent fee, the Desert Sands officials 'bullied' the task force into returning the grant with the intention of reapplying to the state without Cross' services, Reiss said."
So, my additional questions are:
  • What public or non-profit official authorized a contract with a grantwriter that included a fee of 15%?
  • What funding agency approved a grant application that included a budget item paying a grant writer 15% for writing the application? Or was that money included in the budget with some other (? fraudulent) description?
Even if she was slated to play a significant role in "implementing the program" Cross would have been wise to separate the fee for writing the grant from the implementation fees.

Whenever I can, I charge my clients a flat fee. When the amount of work is unclear or open-ended, I charge an hourly rate. If you work free-lance, how do you determine your fees?
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

#59: Who and How are Your Grant Applications Authorized?

City of San Luis ObispoSan Luis Obispo image via WikipediaGrant writer Jean Cross is being investigated for fraud. There's not enough information in this article to determine whether this grant writer's procedures were sloppy or actually fraudulent, but it does make one pause. Two questions come to mind. (See below.)

San Luis Obispo County’s website | 07/20/2008 | Local woman target of D. A. inquiry: "The Riverside County group Cross was working for included numerous Riverside County schools as well as the area YMCA. She wrote a federal grant application on their behalf that was for programs for school-age children overseen by the Indio Youth Task Force.

According to a story published July 13 in the Palm Springs Desert Sun, Cross allegedly used 33 forged signatures on the grant application. The Task Force decided to send back the grant money because of concerns about the content of the grant application after it was awarded.

Some Task Force members contend that Cross was not authorized to use their “wet signatures,” transferable signatures sometimes used for official documents, without their knowing the contents of the application. Cross’ attorney rejects that. “Forgery is a crime that involves fraudulent intent to do something,” Reiss said. “She had no fraudulent intent to do something. She had a positive intent to do something for a lot of kids.”

“There’s no criminal activity, and that’s an accurate statement,” Reiss said. “We have been totally transparent with the Riverside District Attorney’s Office and its chief investigating officer.”

My questions:
  • When you write a grant for a coalition, do you see all the signatures on the MOU or do you trust that the lead agency has them on-file?
  • Does the person authorizing submission of your application review it or delegate the review? If they delegate, has it ever backfired on you?
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Monday, August 11, 2008

#58: A Service Learning Resource for Grant Writers

To what extent do participants in joint activi...Image via WikipediaYouth Service America has just published a pdf handbook Effective Practices for Engaging At-risk Youth in Service While it's specifically addresses service-learning, I think the principles are on-target for any youth program. I'll keep them in mind when I write any youth development grant.
  • Principle 1: Design an outreach strategy that includes at-risk youth.
  • Principle 2: Create a “home base” with adults who themselves have once been identified as at-risk. Many of them have “been there and done that.”
  • Principle 3: Convey a philosophy of change and both short- and long-term goals for the youth participants and the community.
  • Principle 4: Identify issues that connect to these youths’ experiences and explore the causes of each of the risk factors
  • Principle 5: Create youth and adult teams since each can learn from and contribute to the growth of others.
  • Principle 6. Build youth and adult capacity since each can serve as leaders.
  • Principle 7: Continue to provide these youth with supports to manage daily life stressors, such as family dynamics, relationships and school.
  • Principle 8: Sustain access and influence by continuing to develop links to other community organizations that can expand opportunities for meaningful participation of all youth.
The handbook is a good compendium of information and a quick read. I recommend it.
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

# 57: Submit an unsolicited grant proposal

Have you ever submitted an unsolicited grant proposal to the feds and had success? It's one of the strategies recommended by Cynthia M. Adams, CEO at GrantStation, in her series Understanding the Philanthropic Landscape. - GrantSeeker's Toolkit: "If you can't find a funder for your project, yet you strongly believe it should be funded, consider submitting it to a federal agency as an unsolicited proposal. This is the most difficult means of obtaining federal funds, but one that should be pursued if you think your project fits the goals and mission of a particular agency."
I haven't tried it, but it seems worthwhile if you can track down the right person to send it to. I think you'd have to balance your investment in preparing an unsolicited package with the odds that the agency will be interested. If you've been in conversation with the agency already, or have received funding from them for a related project, this might well be worthwhile.

So, does it work? Tell us your story. Please!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

#56: Evaluation Tools for Your Grant Application

Clients often have a difficult time determining an easy, low cost, and meaningful way to evaluate the impact of their program. In fact, the evaluation process does, on occasion, devolve into mayhem! Here's a United Way website that youth development programs may find useful.

Toolfind - Youth Outcomes Measurement Tools Directory | United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley: "Toolfind is a free directory designed to help professionals in youth-serving programs find measurement tools for up to 11 youth outcome areas. Your time is valuable, so we have identified 46 tools to help you get started. All tools address one or more of the outcome areas, are tested, low-cost and have few restrictions. Tools included in this database address elementary, middle and/or high school students and youth, parent, staff and teacher respondents."

Photo cropped from a photo by Xiaming

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

# 55: SMART Maps for Grant Writers

OJJDP is the grant writer's new best friend when it comes to finding and mapping data about those socio-economic factors that place kids at-risk. The site builders are gathering information from a variety of sources and making it available down to the census tract level in maps, charts, text.

The Socioeconomic Mapping and Resource Topography (SMART) System

"The SMART System for Kids"
What is it? The SMART System is a Geographic Information System (GIS)-based issues management system, developed to support the early identification of emerging local issues and provide resources to assist decision makers with implementing both rapid response and long-term plans.

The third phase of SMART has been completed. At this time, we have archival data mapped at the national, state, county, and census tract, and place/street levels. This data is coming from multiple sources, including: the United States Census Bureau, OJJDP’s Statistical Briefing Book, the Helping America’s Youth website, and the Office of Justice Programs’ Grants Management System.

This system will allow the users to locate resources and incidents of crime and delinquency and other social indicators, visualize the data, and perform complex location-based analysis that should lead to better decision making.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

#54: How to position your grant proposal financials

Yesterday I had lunch with a fellow free-lance grant writer, Jim Kopp. I don't often have the opportunity to talk face-to-face with other grant writers, so I enjoyed the camaraderie.

At one point in our conversation, Jim commented that he often has to explain to clients the importance of presenting a project proposal within the context of the organization's overall financial picture. Some clients resist sharing their financials with funders. They forget that information is available to the world on the organization's 990 form.

So, here's a tip from Jim. The funder can look at the agency's finances anyway. Your job, as a grant writer, is to make it easy for them to see how this project fits into the big picture.

This is so important. In fact, when the Foundation Center asked the question, "How do you usually read a grant request?" here's what some of the respondents had to say:

"I look at the budget. Over the years I've learned that narrative can be enriching, but the numbers are stark and straightforward. I want to see that the money is doing the job described in the proposal." Joel Orosz W.K. Kellogg Foundation

"I skip around the document in the following way: first the budget, to see if the request is appropriate and to see the agency's financials; then the project section, to see what they want to accomplish; then the board list." Lynn Pattillo The Pittulloch Foundation, Inc.

"I often look at the budget and then read the proposal backwards." Michael Gilligan The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc.

If you're new to preparing grant budgets, the Foundation Center offers this [free] basic tutorial.

Tutorials - Proposal Proposal Budgeting Basics: "This online course is designed to help with the basics of developing a project budget, and it is geared for those who have general knowledge of proposal development.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

#53: Say Thank You for Your Grant

Here's a tip from an excellent article. If you're a grant writer you should read the whole article, The Secret Life of Foundation Officers as told by Lee Draper, but I selected this particular tip to share. Since I'm an independent consultant, I'm not the one who gets the grant and wouldn't be the one to write the thank you. However, I'm embarrassed to say that I never had this on my list of tips to share with clients.

Thanks, Lee, for this and your other tips.

NCFY : : Publications : :The Exchange: "One other thing is, when you’re successful, write a thank-you note within 2 or 3 days. The number of nonprofits that do not thank their funders is very high. And what does that say to the donor? That says you are ungrateful. When you send a thank-you note, it makes the funder feel appreciated. They feel you care. And they will be receptive the next time you come with a new proposal. I cannot tell you how frequently I hear my colleagues who are grant makers say, “A third to half of our grantees never send a thank-you note. And they think that we’re going to fund them next year. Ha, ha, ha.” So that gets back to the fact that those are people behind the desk. And when they have helped you, it’s important to remember to thank them."
And, for my own self-interest, send your grant writer a thank you, too. It's one way of ensuring she knows you received the award. It amazes me how often people forget to let us know. And, of course, we like to be appreciated, too.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

#52: Thirteen Proofreading Tips for Grant Writers

Thanks to Lynn Gaertner-Johnston for these tips published in her March e- newsletter. Visit her site and sign up for her newsletter.

13 Secrets of Professional Proofreaders
Proofreaders would not stay employed if they missed the errors that pass many of us by.

To be sure your message sustains your readers' confidence,
apply these "secrets" of professional proofreaders:

1. Professional proofreaders don't read straight through from beginning to end. They read each element of content separately. For example, they read the headings, check the formatting, review the headers and footers, and read the text all in separate steps.

Proof like a pro: Review each element of content separately. Even in email, review your subject line, check your attachment, test your hyperlinks, and read your message in separate, systematic steps.

2. Proofreaders check every aspect of a document: text, fonts, font sizes, page numbers, lists, titles, footnotes, illustrations, tables of contents, captions, etc. In recurring communications such as newsletters, they check everything that changes: volume numbers, dates, titles, and so on.

Proof like a pro: Remember to check everything--even boilerplate content, which may need to be updated to suit the situation. Read every slide in PowerPoint.

3. Proofreaders double-check the spelling and capitalization of all proper names.

Proof like a pro: Be sure to spell your reader's name and company name correctly. Misspelling names is one of the most common errors in email. (I will attest to that fact, as someone who is frequently called Lyn, Lynne, and Lin and whose surname is often mangled.)

4. Proofreaders confirm specific details such as people's titles, email addresses, phone numbers, and locations.

Proof like a pro: Use the Web to check addresses and titles, and test phone numbers by calling them. For speeches and presentations, do Internet searches to verify quotations and historical references.

5. For online documents, proofreaders test every link to ensure that it is live and named or described accurately.

Proof like a pro: For email, send a test message to yourself to check links and formatting.

6. Proofreaders check numbers in a separate step. They compare final numbers with original source documents such as calendars, purchase orders, price lists, price quotes, and invoices to ensure a match.

Proof like a pro: Don't assume numbers are correct. Confirm them using other sources. Make sure all numbers are current.

7. Proofreaders work in pairs when documents are highly complex or technical. One person reads aloud while the other proofreads silently.

Proof like a pro: Work in pairs when a report or proposal is crucial to your success.

8. Proofreaders read from a printed page rather than a screen. They read line by line, often using a straight edge such as a ruler or an opaque sheet of paper to help them focus on each line.

Proof like a pro: Avoid proofing solely on the screen. Print important documents and read them line by line.

9. Proofreaders read aloud when they are having trouble concentrating.

Proof like a pro: Take the time to read important messages aloud. Run your finger under the words to guard against reading words that aren't there.

10. Professional proofreaders read other people's work, reviewing it with a fresh set of eyes.

Proof like a pro: If you can't swap documents for a fresh look, at least put aside a document for a few hours or overnight. That way, you can give it a fresh reading.

11. In the absence of copyeditors and fact checkers, proofreaders take responsibility for factual accuracy. They either confirm a fact or write "Cannot confirm."

Proof like a pro: Verify dates, places, times, prices, and any other information that is available to you. If you can't verify a fact or figure, find someone who can. In a proposal, a mistyped date or misplaced decimal point can make a million dollar difference.

12. Proofreaders make and follow a list of style choices. For example, if SHUTTLE is rendered in all capital letters on page 1, proofreaders make sure the word is in all caps on pages 12 and 20.

Proof (write) like a pro: Use your software to automatically type, correct, and format words. For example, don't repeatedly type long names such as Weyerhaeuser and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Use AutoCorrect, AutoText, and AutoFormat to render words consistently and easily.

13. Professional proofreaders keep their skills and knowledge fresh. They buy the latest style manuals and keep up with trends in language.

Proof like a pro: Include a new style manual or dictionary in your annual budget. Subscribe to online directories. If you are aware of a skill gap, fill it. If you get stuck on confusing words, get "60 Quick Word Fixes," which explains 60 challenging word pairs and provides easy memory aids.

Apply one or more of these proofreading techniques the next time you proofread an email or other communication. Then enjoy the relief and satisfaction of catching your own errors.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

#51: Use Readability Statistics to Improve Your Grant Application

I find it hard to believe that I've offered fifty grant writing tips and I haven't included readability statistics yet. If you use WORD you'll find this an invaluable feature.

These are the statistics for a draft of a grant I was working on last week. I check on the statistics periodically, and always before I start serious editing.

Here's what these statistics tell me to look for when I'm editing:

Sentences per Paragraph 2.9 -- that's low. Low is good. It means lots of white space; separation of ideas. But, it's probably skewed by my frequent use of bullets.

Words per Sentence 17.6. TOO LONG! Well, now I know that as I edit I should look for sentences that include more than one thought.

Passive Sentences: 6% -- Good girl, Ruth! I've work hard to build the habit of writing in the active tense. I've written about that elsewhere.

Flesch Reading Ease Score: Rates text on a 100-point scale; the higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. For most standard documents, the 'experts' aim for a score of approximately 60 to 70. Hmmm, mines only 36.1.

The formula for the Flesch Reading Ease score evaluates average sentence length (the number of words divided by the number of sentences) and average number of syllables per word (the number of syllables divided by the number of words). So, if I can reduce my sentence length by eliminating unnecessary wordiness and limiting sentences to one thought, I can probably get this score up.

Flesch - Kincaid Grade Level
-- Rates text on a U.S. school grade level. For example, a score of 8.0 means that an eighth grader can understand the document. For most documents, aim for a score of approximately 7.0 to 8.0. 12.6, my score, not good. Eighth grade can be tough a tough target for some grant applications, but I'll do what I can. This grant dealt with the court system and had significant court-related language.

How to Turn Readability Statistics on: Tools>>Options>> Spelling & Grammar>> then check 'Show readability statistics.' Once you've turned this option on, Readability Statistics display every time the spell-checker completes its review of your document.

(Note: In this same screen, you can also click settings to adjust the grammar checker to reflect your preferences regarding style and punctuation issues. OOPS! Does that count as resource #52?)

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Monday, March 17, 2008

# 50: Grant Writer! Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the Negative

You know that old song...
"Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive. E-lim-inate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative.
Don't mess with Mr. In-between!"
(Bing Crosby sang it. That's why his picture is here.)

Well, when we're writing about our organization's need for grant money, it's easy to focus on the negative. 'Kids are killing each other on the streets. The environment is going to hell. And, everyone in the neighborhood needs shoes.'

And, some days, the cup just seems half empty. Everything out of my mouth is negative.

But, as grant writers we know that our choice of language has a psychological impact on the reader. So, consider carefully the impact you want to have.

While a some negative language about the problem may be inevitable, leave the reader with positive feelings. I reread my text to find negative sentences and try to rewrite them as positives.
Without your funding the situation will continue to deteriorate and life will be miserable.
With these additional resources the neighborhood can rise to the challenge and solve some of its problems.
Now, doesn't that feel better? Well, you know what I mean.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

#49: KIDS COUNT-- data for grant writers from the Casey Foundation

As a grant writer you probably already have the Casey Foundation bookmarked. If you don't, do it now! This site is an invaluable resource for anyone who writes about need.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT online database has a whole new look and feel. Now featuring child well-being measures for the 50 largest U.S. cities, this powerful tool contains more than 100 indicators, including the most recent data available on education, employment and income, poverty, health, and youth risk factors for the United States as a whole, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands."

#48: User Testing for Grant Writers

I've talked about these tips before, but it never hurts to remind ourselves that all our writing needs "user testing." The grant writer's work must turn a complex subject into understandable, jargon-free text. It requires testing before submission.

Matthew Stibbe's
advice targeted geeks writing for a general audience, but it applies to grant writers as well. From one of my favorite writers about writing:

Geeks: How to Write for a Non-Technical Audience : "Bad Language" : Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus
User testing. I recommend three kinds of testing: read the article aloud to yourself. Does it sound like you? Is it natural? Does it make sense? Ask a non-technical friend or colleague to read it and check that they picked up on the main points you wanted to convey. Finally, try to find someone who can proofread it properly- it's very hard to proofread your own work.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

#47: The Mossberg Solution - the grant writers guide to school data

A month or so ago, Walter Mossberg, a Wall Street Journal technology columnist, published a column describing three sites where parents can research schools. I use, but you may find one of the others more to your liking. Check them all out.

The Mossberg Solution - ", a service of Standard & Poor's, is more bare-bones, containing quick statistical comparisons of schools. (S&P is a unit of McGraw-Hill Cos.) This site gets its content from various sources, including state departments of education, private research firms, the Census and National Public Education Finance Survey. This is evidenced by lists, charts and pie graphs that would make Ross Perot proud."
I especially like the fact that SchoolMatters can generate one report that pulls together data from several schools. I'm currently writing a grant application for three after school programs -- an elementary school site and two very different high schools. One report gives me the data on all three.

Here are the three sites Mossberg reviews:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

#46: Statistics Help for Grant Writers

Here's a site to help those of us who are statistically challenged.

Statistics Help for Journalists: "Statistics Every Writer Should Know
A simple guide to understanding basic statistics, for journalists and other writers who might not know math."

#45: Can a catchy name help get a grant application funded?

Do you think a catchy name for your program that is also descriptive of the project can make a memorable first impression?

Project names can be challenging. Sometimes we just stick with the title of the RFP -- bureaucratic and boring -- and sometimes we get quite hysterical brainstorming for a name when the application deadline presses.

And, I'm always interested in whether a client sticks with the catchy name we used in the application or ends up changing it during implementation.

Nancy Friedman presented six naming strategies in a two-part article on Visual Thesaurus. A couple of them won't work well for grant applications but most will trigger some ideas.
  1. People's names - who has inspired this program? Who's the founder?
  2. Connecting two words, like CareerWorks, Facebook, Wordpress
  3. Blended, or portmanteau, names like Technorati (a blend of technology and literati) - these are tricky.
  4. Affixed words - using a prefix or suffix with a descriptive word. For example, add Bene-, Bio- or Pre- at the beginning, or -ist, -ish, -cast, -ly, -ite at the end. BeneWorks, maybe, or BeneFunds;
  5. Invented words -- like all those accounting/consulting firms and the pharmeceuticals advertised on TV -- not a good choice for our projects.
  6. Phrases like 'Habitat for Humanity' and 'Teach the People.' One client's after school program is called 'McKee After 3'
Please note, Nancy didn't add acronyms to her list. Let's avoid ACE (Achievement it Career and Education) and ACT (Assisting Children Through Transition).

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Credentials for Grant Writers

Isaac Seliger had a recent post I agree with. What do you think?

Grant Writing Confidential —: "A manager at the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, an agency we sometimes work for, recently sent me a link to the
Grant Professionals Certification Institute (GPCI), an organization that offers “credentials” for would-be grant writers. He wanted my reaction to the idea of grant writing credentials, which I gave him immediately: they’re a waste of time."

Thursday, January 31, 2008

#44: U.S. Census Bureau Tool Kit for Grant Writers

Here's a handy guide to working with census data that you might want to bookmark.

I often forget just how much information is available and in how many different ways. And, strangely enough, it never occurred to me that they would have people available to help me find just the data I need. (Each regional office has Partnership and Data Services staff to answer our questions.) I always thought of them as the big data bank in the sky!

U.S. Census Bureau Faith Based Tool Kit: "Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Tool Kit


The United States Census Bureau is the leading source of quality data about our nation's people and economy. While the Census Bureau is not a funding agency, it does provide information needed for grant proposals and Federal fund distributions. This tool kit is intended to provide a simple, easy approach to obtaining Census information for grant writing and community needs assessment.

Monday, January 28, 2008

#43: Getting to the point with bullets

As a grant writer, you probably break up long pages of text with bullets. I know I do.

Anne Holland from MarketingSherpa offers two tips on writing bullets. Although her suggestions focus on pitching a product to customers, I think her tips are just as relevant to pitching a proposal to a funder.

Her tips:

1) The eye scans the beginning and the end of a list, skipping over the middle. So organize your bullet lists like this:
  • Most important point
  • Second most important point
  • Less important point
  • Less important point
  • Third most important point
2) If you put your most important (key) words in the spots below marked as “Word,” your copy is immediately more powerful.
  • Word word word word blah
  • Word word word blah blah
  • Word blah blah blah blah
  • Blah blah blah blah blah
  • Word word blah blah blah
Make those words physically different from each other. Not just different words -- make sure they begin with different letters, too.

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