Is the data supporting my story or is it dehumanizing my clients?
It can be difficult to balance the “head” and the “heart” when so many funders want data. Notjust your data, they want data about your community, city, state, staff, and they want it divided in the ever changing socio-economic categories they have come up with. Oh AND they want all in less than 2,000 characters. If you aren’t careful you can reduce your clients to a forgotten statistic. A number that fills a quota. Not only is this not interesting to read but it takes away from the humanity we are trying to show to our clients.
I want any person who walks into a shelter I am seeking funding for to know they are more than a number. I want every youth of color who is experiencing the outdoors because of my grant writing to know he is more than an “at-risk youth” How can I do that if I write about them like they are numbers or categories?
To avoid this I write a grant without a list of data points, stats, or numbers I need to get in. If in the narrative writing process I naturally feel the need to input a stat or data point (and I will), I write it in with a placeholder for the number. Then I go find that data piece. This ensures that I am writing the story first with statistical evidence merely to support my claim.
Our organization provides X community leaders of color as mentors for young men of color in our community. Through X hours of one on one mentorship these young leaders laugh, learn, and connect with leaders from their own community as one step towards dismantling internal oppression.
Are you comfortable with your clients reading what you write?
This is my constant tight rope to walk. If I am writing about people, I want to make sure that they would be proud and understanding of what I am saying about them. This doesn’t mean I sugar coat things as I don’t want to devalue the struggle, but my words should speak to my clients’ strengths and successes, as well. If a client reads my writing, I want them to feel proud and not stigmatized or shamed. I also want to make sure I am sticking with language that is representative of the people we are serving.
Who are we serving and how do they identify? Should be one of the first questions you ask an organization. In this line of work the majority of Development staff are white, cis females. That carries power and responsibility. Seek out people who don’t look like you to read what you’re writing. Ask program staff to review what you’re writing not for the grammar but to make sure that it has language they would use–offer them chocolate, coffee, or wine as a thank you. If you enter an organization and their language makes you uncomfortable, say something. You have the power to change the way the story is told.
What do these buzz-words even mean?
New buzz-words move in and out of popularity all the time and using them can be the ticket to getting funded, but do your research. Do these words mean what you think they mean? Can you prove it (quantitatively or qualitatively)? Does this new Buzz word fit with your mission and programming?
It can feel like these words all mean the same thing but as grant writers we don’t chase money. If my organization is really understanding of people’s experiences but doesn’t have trauma-informed training, I shouldn’t be using the term trauma-informed. I should be putting a bug in someone’s ear about getting that formal training, though. Then the organization can assess if that training fits their mission and goals.
As a grant writer if you keep these three questions in mind, your story will be more compelling to readers, more representative of the work your organization is doing, and more respectful to the people you are serving.
What would you like me to fund? No not what needs to be funded, but if money wasn’t the concern what program or services would you provide?
Most people who know anything about grants cannot understand how anyone can like this work, let alone love it. The usual response is grant writing takes a special person with a special set of skills. Which is very true but is also a very polite way of saying--Gurl you crazy.
Why would anyone want to sift through thousands of funders seeking the right potential fit? Then put in hours upon hours to craft a persuasive narrative only to send it off and wait months to hear yes or no? That is if you even hear anything back at all. Today I was reminded of why I love this work, because in those hours upon hours of research, writing, and character counting I can change the world, in real tangible ways.
The most coveted grant of all for nonprofits is the General Operating grant, because that means unrestricted money that can be put to the best use. In short this can be directed and managed by the people who are actually doing the work versus the funder who may know little to nothing about what it takes to serve the clients. But for me, for the Grant Writer, I love that grant that makes program staff dance with joy. The type of grant that funds a dream project that can really make a sizable and impactful difference for the clients we serve.
When I take on a long term contract, my number one goal in the first month is to meet with program staff. Sit down face to face with them and ask: What would you like me to fund? No not what needs to be funded, but if money wasn’t the concern what program or services would you provide?
Program staff may be hesitant because in nonprofits we use up all of our energy on our clients hopes and dreams. We shut away our in a perfect world plans in that bottom desk drawer, right under the hodge-podge stash of holiday candy. We usually take them out together, eating chocolate while looking forlornly towards a far off future that is never funded. I ask program staff to dump that drawer out and I make sure to keep that dream list where I can see it.
Every once in a while, I will find that funder who might just want to fund this big, hopeful, world changing project. Even rarer than that, I will find an organization that is in the right place to keep the lights on –dimming during the pre-gala slump month aside—and who is brave enough to go after that funding. Then if I am really lucky, the rarest of things happens; months go by and I hear back. I hear back, Yes. That moment is when we all dance. We get to bring out that hope from the drawer and put in on the shelf as reality.
While I write this, I can hear every grant writer groaning, because we honestly don’t need more new funding as much as we need more general operating funding. I get it. I really do. The exception though is in that rare case where you aren’t creating a project when you are struggling to find existing money, but recognizing a service gap that has existed for years and finally getting to fill it.
So while tomorrow, or maybe the next day, I will go back to groaning about the hours we spend just to find something that will fund existing projects; for now I will dance and celebrate the win.
Lace has 10 years of fundraising experience for large and small organizations. She has a depth of knowledge learned in the fundraising trenches, through good and bad trainings, from numerous mentors, and by creating all the excel sheets!