Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How to Get the Most Out of Your Grant Writer Part 1: Initial Valuable Suggestions

I ran across an article by Allison Shirk in PhilanTopic which provides ten ways (and a bonus) to get the most out of your grant writer. I thought I would do my own take on this important theme. Her original article is worth reading too and you can find it here.

House MD - Character study of Gregory House (Re upload)
House MD - Character study of Gregory House (Re upload)

1. Get organized. This is an excellent suggestion. When I teach grant writing classes, I remind the participants that grant writing will always take place in a hectic, last-minute environment. The funders make it that way. One of the best tools for surviving in that sort of emergency room atmosphere is to have all your key materials readily available. At Drew & Associates, for example, we provide our clients with a list of the documents - IRS determination letters, articles of incorporation, videos, photos, resumes, budgets and letterhead - they need to collect ahead of time. We recommend that they keep all of these documents in the same place either as electronic documents or as hard copies. My spin on this recommendation is that this work needs to be done well in advance of the grant due date.

2. Single point of contact. The use of a single point of contact is a classic technique for speeding up the decision-making process. In my case, I try to negotiate for a single-point-of-contact as high up as possible in the client's chain of command. To speed things up on my end, I empower my associate grant writers to use their best judgment and to make important decisions on their own with a bias toward action. In a crisis, I have found there is no time to hunt around and get approval from a committee. My spin on this issue is that the single-point-of-contact also needs to be empowered with decision-making authority.
3. Put it in writing. I have to disagree with this recommendation. In general, I have found that asking the client to write something on paper just causes delays and confusion. I have found that the process moves quicker if I give the client a rough, A-Z first draft. They often find it easier to edit a document than to produce the first draft of a document. In many cases, they end up approving what I or my staff have written with only minimal changes. I will do a first draft of everything the funder needs including budget information and technical specifications.   

4. Back off the deadline. I guess I disagree with this one too. Sadly, I think it is something of a pipe dream for grant writers to request that clients get more pro-active. This is a great and sound idea. I have never seen it work in real life. Instead, I try to use deadlines to motivate and inspire the client to put in a strong extra effort. In general, I do buy them time by doing a quick first draft. In most cases, I can to a quick first draft a lot faster than they expect and this gives them the time they need to perfect the document, add key facts and information, and raise the quality of the document to professional levels. In a sense, the deadline is your friend.

5. Provide the budget first. This is a sound suggestion in my view. I think this is something the client can manage with little fuss. In a pinch, I find it helps to draft the budget for them based on winning sample grants I have already created for them or other clients. In my experience, a lot of projects have highly similar budgets. Once you have a budget that works for you, there is little need to change it. Ideally, the project budget should also reflect your winning theme for that client. You can reflect the winning theme in the budget by adding carefully chosen buzz words, or line items, that reinforce why your charity is the most worthy one for receiving the grant.

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