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.
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!