Tracks to Success
Evaluation for Nonprofits – It’s No Longer “Optional”
by Judith Margolin
Judith Margolin is also presenting a webinar, Customizing Your Grant Proposal to Meet Funders’ Needs, on July 14, 2011. If you are interested in participating in her webinar, please visit this link.
A Perfect Storm
Evaluation has become a 21st century mandate for today’s nonprofits, and that includes grantmakers, grantseekers, and government oversight agencies. There are many reasons for this — high on the list being recent scrutiny by some in Congress who continue to pay careful attention to nonprofit expenditures, especially by those organizations that pay their trustees, coupled with the fact that it’s always “news” when any nonprofit takes unfair advantage of its tax-exempt status.
In the wake of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, nonprofit board members were made painfully aware of their liability as stewards of the public trust. The fact is that they can be held personally liable if their nonprofit breaks the rules. And in the face of possibly ever more stringent Congressional oversight, foundation trustees have been placing increasing pressure on their own administrative staff to prove the value of their grantmaking strategies. On top of all this, the recession hit, forcing many nonprofits to curtail activities and many foundations to take a careful look at their grantmaking guidelines. This created a perfect storm for dramatically enhanced efforts aimed at evaluation.
What all of this adds up to is growing pressure on those who run the nation’s nonprofits to justify their very existence, and one primary way to do this is by conducting evaluations of their activities to determine if, indeed, they are having the desired impact. The reality is that most foundation grant proposals today, even those ever popular “letters of inquiry,” will have at least one paragraph dedicated to how the prospective grantee intends to determine the success of the project. You simply can’t get around it.
Instituting an Evaluation Program at Your Organization
The objectives of an effective evaluation program should be closely tied to your organization’s mission. On the most basic level you will pose the question: Are we succeeding at what we set out to do?
If you plan to institute self-assessment at your organization, here are the commonly accepted characteristics of a successful evaluation program. Evaluation as conducted by your nonprofit should be systematic. It should be ongoing (e.g. not something you do only once or twice a year), and it should be built into the very fabric of your management and oversight systems. It should focus not just on your outputs (the numbers of people you serve or how many programs you run), but also on outcomes (what has really changed as a result of these activities). And ultimately, it should seek to measure your impact on the community in which you operate. When it comes to foundations, “impact” is really the magic word where grants decision makers are concerned, and this is sometimes difficult to determine, especially for short-term grant projects. A purposeful evaluation program as just described is a tall order for many nonprofits, whereas in the past simply counting heads was the primary means of measuring success.
Part Two of this series will address the following issues: Who Should Conduct Nonprofit Evaluations? Why Evaluate – Why Not? and The Evaluation Component of a Grant Proposal.
Tracks to Success
Evaluation for Nonprofits – It’s No Longer “Optional”
by Judith Margolin
Judith Margolin is also presenting a webinar, Customizing Your Grant Proposal to Meet Funders’ Needs, on July 14, 2011. If you are interested in participating in her webinar, please visit this link.
In today’s competitive grantseeking environment, your nonprofit cannot afford to overlook the critical importance of instituting a program to measure the success of your activities and their impact on your audiences.
Who Should Conduct Nonprofit Evaluations?
Nonprofit evaluation as it is practiced today may be conducted by in-house staff, by outside consultants, or by a combination of the two. It need not be overly complicated. One of the simplest ways to conduct an evaluation is to ask your audience, staff, and volunteers what they think of the service being provided and how it could be modified or improved. Many of us have been doing this all along. But in the current environment we need to make such efforts more formal and more transparent. Evaluation can be expensive, since it might entail any of the following: questionnaires, surveys, data analysis, formal observations, focus groups, pre-tests and post-tests, and so on. Expenses for evaluation, especially when conducted by an outside expert, should be built into your nonprofit organization’s budget or paid for by the funder who requires it.
Why Evaluate? Why Not?
Among the most common reasons to evaluate are the following: Your board, anticipating the specter of increased personal responsibility, wants to do it, and in fact is insisting on it. A donor or prospective funder is asking for concrete evidence of effectiveness. Your leadership is considering a shift in focus and wants to determine where opportunities may lie before proceeding. New leadership may be in place at your organization, either in the form of a new executive director or board chair. And put quite simply, here is by far the most compelling reason to engage in evaluation — you may want to learn how to do a better job of delivering the services you’re already providing to your client base.
Now there may be equally compelling reasons why you might not want to evaluate. It’s usually not cost free, and the increased costs may be in staff time, not just dollars. You may not have the staff expertise to engage in formal evaluation. Or you may be fearful of what you are going to find out once you begin the process. On the other hand, as already noted, there really is no choice. In today’s competitive funding climate, your nonprofit will need to be creative in finding a way to fit evaluation into your budget, to get these important services donated, or to find a funder who will pay for them, if you are to become a true “learning organization.”
The Evaluation Component of a Grant Proposal
The evaluation component of your grant proposal to a foundation should include evidence of a solid evaluation plan, comprising both objective and subjective data. Indeed it is best if evaluation is built into the initial conceptualization of the grant project, not something you tag on at the end. Most foundation executives say that they expect to see at least one or two paragraphs as part of the project description section of your grant proposal portraying a well thought-out plan to evaluate and some projected “metrics” or indicators of success, either qualitative, quantitative, or ideally both.
Today’s grants decision makers at foundations view a healthy evaluation plan as evidence of a well-run organization, one they can have confidence in and one whose leadership is not afraid to ask hard questions. Still not convinced? An additional reason to focus on the evaluation section of your grant proposal is that it may well pave the way for future funding. To quote one foundation executive I spoke with recently: “Having a good evaluation component in place helps position the grantseeker for the next grant.”
Judith Margolin is an independent consultant and workshop leader on foundations and grants. She served as vice president for planning and evaluation at the Foundation Center for a number of years and was editor of the Center’s how-to books on proposal writing, winning grant proposals, and stewardship of foundation funds.
by Cynthia M. Adams
This 13-part series will provide a step-by-step guide for developing a successful grant proposal. The series will introduce the novice grant writer to the necessary components involved in crafting a winning proposal, and will also offer the experienced grant writer some new ideas for approaching this task. This series will also include a variety of sample proposals provided by IdeaEncore. Written by GrantStation’s CEO, Cynthia M. Adams, these articles will take you from A to Z in the grant writing process.
Writing a Powerful Grant Proposal – Part 1
Preparing to Write
by Cynthia M. Adams
Whether you are going to write a grant proposal for a government agency or a private funder, such as a foundation or corporation, the components of the proposal are quite similar. The amount of detail required may be considerably different, but the basic elements are generally the same.
Most grant makers have instructions on how you should develop your application for funding. You will want to follow these application guidelines very carefully, as they will tell you what elements to include, in what order, and what length each section should be. If you do not have guidelines, use the elements that seem most relevant to your project.
The assigned grant writer should work closely with others to gather the information needed to develop a grant proposal. If the person who conceived the project isn’t the grant writer, he or she should be involved in developing the grant proposal, especially the objectives, plan of action, and budget. However, you want the grant request to be stylistically consistent, so limit the number of people involved in the actual writing. A basic grant writing rule of thumb is: do not write by committee.
Grant reviewers appreciate brevity and clarity. To achieve this, include section headings and sub-headings, leave space between sections, choose a readable typeface and font size, and use standard margins. Always use page numbers and identifying page headers or footers. Don’t use your letterhead anywhere in the request except for the cover letter.
Here is a list of the grant proposal elements that we will be covering in this series:
- Executive Summary (Project Abstract)
- Organization History and Purpose (Capability)
- Statement of Need (Problem)
- Project or Program Narrative
- Goals and Objectives
- Plan of Action or Work Plan
- Evaluation and Measurable Outcomes
- Budget and Budget Narrative (Justification)
- Attachments and Supplemental Materials
The application process for government funding is more complicated then submitting an application to a private grantmaker. Government grant applications always require completing numerous forms and can take several months to write, whereas, an application for private funding may take a week or two to write, with no forms and few other attachments necessary.
In the next article we’ll talk about how to get started writing a grant proposal, including creating an application outline, as well as establishing a work timeline for developing the full grant request.
Writing a Powerful Grant Proposal – Part 2
by Cynthia M. Adams
Let’s say that you have identified a potential grantmaker and are ready to begin writing your grant proposal. Where do you start?
I once heard a speaker refer to a grant proposal as a “series of building blocks of information.” The speaker went on to say that each part supports and leads to the following part. You are simply developing layer after layer of information that eventually all fits together and convincingly presents your request.
Obviously, you want to have a fairly good grasp of what sort of information you will need to draw on in order to build a compelling grant proposal before you start writing. So, the very first step in developing a grant proposal is to organize your approach and create an outline of what the reviewer needs to know.
Sometimes the approach will be straightforward and fairly simple. For example, a private foundation may require that you submit a grant proposal incorporating these components:
Narrative (maximum five pages)
Introduction and background of organization
Statement of need
Goals and objectives
Plan of action
Financial statement (audited)
Current operating budget
Fundraising plan (to sustain the project)
IRS tax designation letter
Letters of support/or commitment
Latest annual report
Board of directors
Once you have the grantmaker’s application guidelines, you can build a work outline to keep you on track as you write the grant proposal.
Building the Work Outline
The work outline should be detailed. Paying attention to what needs to be accomplished in order to submit a compelling grant request is an important first step.
As an example, let’s dissect the first few components in the application guidelines described above, developing a work outline as we go.
In this case, the cover sheet is actually a form that needs to be completed. Quickly review the form and make notes about any information required that may be out of the norm. For the sake of this example, let’s assume the requested information includes: name of organization, contact person, address, and email, as well as a few check boxes to fill out. On the work outline your notation about the form might look like this:
|Cover Sheet (Form)||10/30/10||Fill out and have Board President sign|
The next item in the application guidelines is the Project Narrative. For this section, you’ll be doing a fair amount of writing so your notations will be more detailed:
|Narrative (5 pages max)||10/30/10||Introduction = ½ page|
|Background = ½ page|
|Project Narrative = 3 pages|
Let’s say that in the project narrative you will be talking about a collaborative effort between your organization and one or two other organizations. However, you haven’t obtained a written commitment from these organizations, so in this section you will make the following note:
|Obtain org profiles||9/14/10||Call and ask for 500-word profiles|
|Review and edit profiles||9/22/10||Draft short description of the collaboration w/ profiles|
|Draft Agreement||9/22/10||Send to partners for their review|
|Re-write Agreement||9/27/10||Send to partners for final review|
|Sign Agreement||10/04/10||Prepare Collaborative Agreement document; host signing at our offices|
To review a federal grant request work outline (PDF), take a look at this work outline provided to us by The Funding Exchange.
Next week we’ll begin writing the grant proposal, starting with the Introduction, a section of the grant proposal that is often overlooked by the writer, but certainly not by the reviewer.
Writing a Powerful Grant Proposal – Part 3
by Cynthia M. Adams
The introduction to a proposal serves as a way of communicating to the potential grantmaker the social, economic, and environmental context of your organization. It provides the reader with a brief description of your geographic and social situation, which your reader may be unfamiliar with (especially when the grantmaker is from a different region of the country or world).
The introduction is concise and contains information that captures your reader’s attention and interest. It introduces the subject matter, setting, and principal players, and provides some background to the issue you will present in your proposal’s project narrative and need descriptions. Sometimes the introduction and the organizational description/history are combined.
It’s often beneficial to write the introduction after drafting the need statement and the goals and objectives. Once those sections are written, you’ll know exactly what general information will most effectively introduce the reader to your request.
Be aware that the introduction you write for a private foundation can be significantly different from the one you write for a corporate donor or develop for a government request. Why?
A foundation’s interests are going to center on your clientele and the community you serve, as well as on the problem or need you face. While these issues are important to corporate donors, they will also want to know how their company brand can reach a lot of people. So they will also be interested in the demographics of the region and the visibility of their name and logo. Basically, they want to understand the market you may help them reach.
Introductions for government grant proposals are almost always about the demographics or geography of the region you intend to serve. This description can be very straight forward and often can be developed from a community profile provided by a local or state agency.
Keep in mind that an introduction written for an in-state grantmaker is much different than one written for an out-of-state grantmaker. Grantmakers located in other regions often need to understand the geography of a place (such as a wilderness area, rural farming community, or inner-city neighborhood) and the demographic and economic profile (such as ethnicity, high unemployment rate, or lower-income population) if they are to make an informed decision.
Let’s say you live in the small community of Maple Lake, MN, and you are writing a grant proposal to launch a local museum that is to be housed in the old railroad station.
You can gather information for writing your description of the area by pulling this text right off the State of Minnesota website:
Maple Lake is a growing community nestled among the lakes in central Minnesota. The location provides easy access to the Twin Cities and St. Cloud. The community has developed new residential areas, a new water storage facility, an updated sewage treatment facility, as well as new school facilities. The population of Maple Lake is just over 2,000.
This page is linked to the Maple Lake township website. Reviewing this website you find a description of Maple Lake in the History section:
Maple Lake is situated in a part of central Minnesota once inhabited by the Chippewa Indians. In 1855 the Government revoked the treaty with the Winnebago and opened up Wright County for non-Indian settlers. The history of the city of Maple Lake begins in the mid 1850’s. Early maps of Wright County illustrate a number of villages which included a city labeled “Geneva” located on the northwest shore on Maple Lake. Early pioneers came to Maple Lake to farm but, in 1857, C. H. Hackett surveyed a 200 plat and named it “Geneva”. The 1857 severe depression caused a financial panic which resulted in failure of the development of the city of “Geneva”. The city of “Geneva” never materialized but the town site of Maple Lake was established in 1858 with the establishment of a mail site.
The Irish migrating from Clare County Ireland began to influx into Maple Lake in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s. With this early group of Irish immigrants came Patrick O’Loughlin Sr., who would become the pioneer founder of the present day village of Maple Lake. O’Loughlin saw the establishment of the village but his son-in-law, James Madigan, platted the village of Maple Lake in 1886 and began to sell lots in 1887. The first lots were sold to John Roehrenbach who opened a dry goods and groceries store on a street known as “Easy Street”. Today this site is the location of the Maple Lake City Hall. The development of the city spurred the development of farming, the expansion of the “Soo Line” railroad through the city as well as the opening of an elevator in 1889.
With these few paragraphs you have uncovered great fodder for the introduction to a grant proposal that will be requesting seed money to develop a small, local museum. You can quote from this description, lending credibility to your request.
Nestled among the lakes in central Minnesota, Maple Lake is a small, rural community with a population of approximately 2,000. Before 1855, the region around Maple Lake was inhabited by the Chippewa Indians, whose tribes were scattered over an area extending 1,000 miles from north to west. Their exact history in this region of Minnesota is somewhat unknown and lightly documented.
In 1855 the Government revoked the regional treaty and opened up the area for non-Indian settlers. Early pioneers came to Maple Lake to farm and in 1857 C. H. Hackett surveyed a plat and named it “Geneva”. The severe depression in 1857 caused a financial panic. Thus the city of “Geneva” never materialized but the town site of Maple Lake was established in 1858.
The Irish migrating from Clare County Ireland began to influx into Maple Lake in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s. With this early group of Irish immigrants came Patrick O’Loughlin Sr., who would become the pioneer founder of the present day village of Maple Lake. The development of the town spurred the development of farming, the expansion of the “Soo Line” railroad through the community, as well as the opening of a grain elevator in 1889.
Keep in mind that the introduction can be short (perhaps a few paragraphs).
Here is a short checklist to guide the development of the introduction:
The introduction should
__ Communicate the context of your project or program.
__ Give a brief description of your geographic and social situation.
__ Be concise.
__ Capture the reader’s attention and interest.
__ Introduce the subject matter.
__ Introduce the setting and principal players.
__ Provide some background to your issue.
Next week we’ll review the organizational description.
Writing a Powerful Grant Proposal – Part 4
by Cynthia M. Adams
Most grant application guidelines require an organizational description section. This section of the grant proposal provides the grantmaker with the history of the organization applying for funding, as well as its current programs and structure.
The primary objective for including the history of your organization in a grant request is to establish the organization’s credibility and its qualifications for funding. This is also an opportunity to draw the reviewer into the context of your overall grant request, to become familiar with your work. Develop two adaptations of the history. Both adaptations should refer to or quote from your organization’s mission statement.
The first version should be quite short – three or four paragraphs – and the second version should be detailed, up to two pages. You will use the short version when writing letters of inquiry, or grant requests to corporations or small private foundations. You can also use the short version when you submit a request electronically because these submissions are usually limited to a specific number of words.
The long version should be used in full grant proposals, including federal and state requests, or other proposals which require more detailed information.
You should consider beginning with a story about how the organization was founded, and why. Storytelling is a powerful tool which you can use to your advantage. It inherently provides credibility to the organization, and almost always engages the reader. Here’s an example of a short vignette that will give you some ideas about how to write your own opening.
Our Organization: Mothers of Mourning
In the mid-1900s four women who had each recently lost a son in WWII came together to share their grief, to provide support, and to help each other through an emotional crisis. From those first heart-wrenching yet liberating gatherings, these women instinctively knew that sharing grief was an effective way to help bear their new burdens. In 1950, shortly after WWII came to a close, these four women launched a regional program called Mothers of Mourning.
Once you set the stage, immediately move on to a present-day description of the organization and its current programs:
Today, Mothers of Mourning has blossomed into a national program with over 30 staff and at least one chapter in all 50 states. These chapters, which are run by volunteer Boards of Directors, offer a variety of services in their local communities. The operating budget for the national offices for 2010 is $1,235,000, of which 45% goes to support the local chapters. Services at the national level include training in the areas of grief counseling…
Spring 2003: U.S. leads a multi-national invasion into Iraq
The New York Times (March 20, 2003): “Today, at approximately 02:30 UTC, explosions were heard in Baghdad. According to The Pentagon, 36 Tomahawk missiles and two F-117 launched 27 GBU bombs in this assault.”
Since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003, Mothers in Mourning has opened 11 new chapters in the U.S., experiencing a 72% increase in demand for services. We have implemented an interim plan to address this new demand, but the current global situation requires a sustainable approach.
In March 2010, our Board of Directors re-assessed our mission and strategic plan to embrace the increasing need for services. Our new mission statement reads: (quote)…
This present day description should include your organization’s mission, goals, programs, and activities. It might also include a two or three line summary of your current operating budget.
Once you’ve relayed the present circumstances of your organization, you should summarize the most recent set of critical episodes so the grantmaker knows what you are facing today. Critical episodes include organizational changes, new initiatives or innovations, or even a traumatic event such as major budget cuts. You might call this section of the history: Our Challenge.
Ending this section with a quote from your mission statement is an effective transition from the organizational description to the next section, which is usually the problem or need statement.
To compliment the organizational description, you should develop an organizational chart to illustrate how your organization is structured. Include the names of individuals in administrative positions, their titles, and how long each staff person has served in a particular position. This helps to build credibility for your organization. Your objective is to demonstrate, via the organizational chart, that yours is a stable organization, with strong leadership.
At the top of the organizational chart always note the population you serve or quote from your mission statement. Adding this information at the beginning of the chart conveys to the reviewer that you know whom you serve, and are aware that their needs are what drive your organization’s programs.
Keep copies of this chart on your computer in two sizes: one that fits on a full page and can become an attachment to a full proposal and one that fits on half-a-page and can be inserted into the body of a proposal.
Here’s a short summary of what should be covered in the organizational description:
- State the organization’s mission, goals, history, current programs, and activities.
- Define existing clients or constituents.
- Provide evidence of accomplishments, including quotations and endorsements. (This may be referred to in the organizational description but the full document should be an attachment.)
- Support qualifications in the area of activity for which funds are sought (e.g., research, training, service delivery, etc.).
- Include a brief overview of the board of directors and key staff. (For example: “We have 17 board members and three key staff, including the Executive Director, Housing Loan Officer, and the Vice President of Development.”)
Don’t overuse testimonials or endorsements – one embedded in the organizational description usually does the trick. These can be powerful examples of how the community supports your organization, but including too many can diminish their effectiveness.
In summary, presentation of the organizational description may vary in its length and the details you provide for different grant applications. However, one thing is always constant: It is critical to refer to your organization’s mission in this section of the grant request. Whether your organization is just starting out or celebrating its 50th anniversary you have a specific mission, and that mission is the foundation for your entire grant request.
Writing a Powerful Grant Proposal – Part 5
Statement of Problem or Need
by Cynthia M. Adams
Why should grantmakers support your request for funding? Developing a powerful problem or need statement is critical if you want your proposal to remain in the selection process, round after round, as others are eliminated.
The problem or need statement describes specific, often negative conditions of a community or a situation. This statement leads into the project narrative, which tells the potential funder what the organization intends to do to address the identified problem or need.
The problem or need statement should:
- paint a picture of the overall issue, focusing on the global, national, regional, or local scale, as appropriate;
- describe the problem in terms of clients or the community, using statistics or other documentation;
- refer to the organization’s internal needs if the request is for capacity building grants or operating support; and,
- establish a clear link between the problem or need presented and the grant maker’s funding priorities.
Painting the Picture
The problem or need statement should engage the reviewers, capturing their attention so they want to continue to read your proposal. One effective method you can use is to begin with an individual case history or vignette. Often a real-life story helps the reader understand the full impact of a specific problem or need. Opening with a story will demonstrate the motivating, human dimensions of the problem or need and quickly draw the reader into the proposal.
For example, let’s say you are writing a request to secure grant support so your organization can provide hospice care to several remote, rural areas with a strong indigenous culture. You might begin your problem or need statement with something as simple as a list of the elders who have passed:
In Alaska today, Athabascan culture dies one elder at a time.
Jerry Smith 89 yrs 1920 – 2009 Marie Childers 75 yrs 1934 – 2009 Jamie Silver 91 yrs 1919 – 2010 Carl Salmon 77 yrs 1933 – 2010 Jeremiah Sullivan 71 yrs 1939 – 2010 Claudine Sanders 88 yrs 1922 – 2010
Fairbanks Daily News Miner Dec 2009 – June 2010
Each of these elders grew up in rural Alaska, but was forced to move into Fairbanks once their illnesses no longer allowed them to live at home.
Each of these people knew traditional ways to hunt, tell stories, settle disputes, dance, honor leaders, and bear grief.
Each grew old and died without traditional contact with family and friends.
As you can see, this straightforward yet moving opening begins to paint the picture for the reader. These are now real people. This is now a real problem or need that should be addressed.
Once you’ve developed an effective way to begin a problem or need statement, the next step is to support the picture you’ve painted with substantive information.
Using Statistics and Other Documentation
As you move into documenting the problem or need, clearly describe the current situation. At this point it is important to demonstrate that there is an urgent need to close the gap between “what is” and “what should be.”
To establish “what is” you can cite relevant statistics or quote from reports or studies. Keep this section concise and focused. Be selective in your use of data. Use one or two clear facts or statistics, rather than many examples. For example, if you are describing the current state of homelessness in your community, you do not want to cite statistics for the county, state, or nation. Avoid quoting information that is only marginally relevant to your problem or need.
You can establish “what should be” by using experts’ statements or examples of successful projects in other places.
State the facts. Let your readers come to their own conclusions. When your facts are well chosen and your logic is tight, understatement is a powerful tool.
Leave the reader asking the question, “I understand the extent of the problem or need, but what can this organization do to alleviate it?”
At this point, one option is to quote from your mission statement to demonstrate why your organization is tackling this problem. This is a compelling way to close the problem or need statement, creating a smooth transition into the next section, which is usually the project narrative.
Be Specific and Establish a Link to the Funder
Even though you may feel the pressure of space constraints, you do not want to use generalities when specific information is available. Specifics are what help your proposal rise above the competition.
For example, if a request for proposals states that the funder wants to support organizations with expertise in a certain field, you don’t want to simply write, “We have much experience with these types of programs.” Be specific: “We have run five similar programs over the last decade.”
One way to assess if a word or sentence is concrete or specific enough is to decide if you can physically demonstrate the idea. I can’t look around my office and point to “experience,” but I can count to five on my fingers. Similarly, I can’t point to “success,” but if my office were bigger I could add up sixteen children who were placed with mentors or ninety people who shared a holiday meal.
If you feel that your experience lags behind other grantseekers, then focus on the specific success of one of your programs: “Our previous program reached self-sustainability in six months, a full year ahead of projections.”
Even in brief letters of inquiry, specifics are necessary to help your organization stand out in the crowd and move on to the next stage of consideration. For example, rather than claiming that you possess “leadership skills,” provide specific examples of those skills.
By eliminating redundancies, simplifying language choices, and using specific details in your problem or need statement, you can effectively demonstrate to the funder why your program deserves their attention, and how it connects to their own goals and objectives.
Doing Research Online
Yahoo, Google, and other search engines are fine for informal research. They may even provide you with some good leads; however, they can also be misleading. The most efficient way to conduct online research is to use bona fide online research resources.
So, how do you find these resources? Your local library (whether public or university-affiliated) is an excellent place to start your research. Many libraries purchase memberships to specialized online reference databases. Check with the reference librarian to find out if you can access these databases.
INFOMINE is one example of a specialized search engine. Created through the partnership of librarians at several universities, this online resource contains databases, electronic journals, books, and articles, and is organized into several categories, ranging from the hard and soft sciences, to government information and the arts.
Other specialized search engines include:
U.S. Census Bureau, Quick Facts – http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/index.html for demographic information.
Educational World – http://www.education-world.com/standards/national/index.shtml for U.S. educational standards.
Writing a Powerful Grant Proposal – Part 6
Project or Program Narrative
by Cynthia M. Adams
The project or program narrative is a description of the approach you’re taking to address the specific issue articulated in the problem or need statement.
The length and detail of this narrative section depend on the number of pages allowed, the amount of money you are requesting, and the information needed to portray your project or program accurately. A $1,000 request may require only a short description, whereas a $1,000,000 request might call for a much longer narrative. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the project or program narrative should clearly answer the challenge presented in the problem or need statement.
This narrative opens by summarizing what you intend to do, and expanding on it by adding critical details.
Deciding how much information needs to be included should directly reflect who will be considering the request. Having your request reviewed by a panel of peers allows you to add quite a bit of detail and use technical terms known in the business. If your request is being reviewed by a grantmaker’s program officers or board of trustees, consider limiting such technical details to avoid overwhelming them.
The project or program narrative should:
- Describe both the vision and the practical approach of the project or program.
- Clearly connect the project or program to the mission and overall activities of your organization.
- Demonstrate an understanding of the subject matter.
- Summarize how the project or program will be implemented.
- Provide a profile of the clients you will serve (if applicable) and how you intend to connect with them.
- Summarize the plan of action and the timeline for the project or program.
- Articulate how you will staff the project, and who will be involved (including volunteers, consultants, and staff).
When developing a grant proposal, you typically write the project or program narrative after you’ve developed the goals, objectives, action plan, timeline, budget, outcome measurements, and method of evaluation because the narrative is really a summary of these items. The articles in this series will focus on each of these sections, providing worksheets and examples to help guide your work.
Writing a Powerful Grant Proposal – Part 7
Goals and Objectives
by Cynthia M. Adams
Establish Clear Goals and Objectives
Almost all grant application guidelines require that you state the goals and/or objectives of the proposed program or project that needs funding. It usually doesn’t take a lot of time to draft an overall goal and several accompanying objectives. And though you may adjust the goals and objectives as you further develop the grant request, it is helpful to think through what you’re trying to achieve, and how you intend to go about it. A proposal that clearly states a project’s goals and objectives has created the groundwork for a compelling grant request.
The first step is to understand what distinguishes goals from objectives.
Goals are Visionary
Goals are the long-term vision for your project or program. They are your motivation, the part of your world view that applies to the subject area of your grant proposal. Goals define what will occur for the people you serve if the program is successful. You may have one, or several, goals.
Goals often directly reflect the size of the budget. A $10 million request, for example, can afford an ambitious goal, such as:
To affect a dynamic, fundamental reform of mathematics and science education that results in improved achievement for all K-12 students in our state.
In fact, this particular project and the size of the budget are large enough that there may be several goals. However, very few grant requests require more than one goal.
Consider this same basic project, but scaled down to benefit only one school district, and with a more modest budget request of $250,000. This goal might read:
To improve test scores for all students in the areas of mathematics and science education in the North County School District via a fundamental reform in teaching methods and curricula.
As you can see, goals are visionary, but must be potentially achievable within the context of the grant request. Tying the goals to the size of the budget helps to balance the vision with reality.
You can also think of goals as performance targets. Performance targets embrace change and often focus on the people who are being served by the project. If the grant application guidelines don’t mention goals, but rather require that you articulate performance targets, just ask yourself, “How will this project change society?” Your answer should generate a performance target that will provide the grantmaker with the information required.
For example, restating the goal for the statewide K-12 project as a performance target could read:
To prepare K-12 students to excel in the areas of mathematics and science via fundamental reform of both curriculum and teaching method in schools throughout the state.
Notice how the performance target focuses on how the students will be affected, and that this project will fundamentally reform teaching methodology.
Whether the application guidelines require goals or performance targets the next step is to identify specific objectives to accompany each.
Objectives are Measurable
While goals are visionary, objectives are achievable and measurable within the scope of the proposed work.
When you’re writing an objective, start with “To,” followed by a verb and then give a short explanation of what you’re trying to accomplish. If possible, add the time it will take to achieve the objective. Try to be realistic when establishing objectives for the grant request because the success of your project is often judged by referring to the stated objectives.
Objectives tend to get unwieldy. For example this objective is clearly stated and it’s easy to tell what is going to be accomplished and when, but the scope of this objective is too broad:
To create, in cooperation with five local arts organizations, a traveling Inland Sea exhibit with accompanying curriculum for grades K-12 by fall 2012.
I would break it into several smaller objectives, such as:
To establish a coalition of up to five regional arts organizations to collaborate on developing an Inland Sea traveling exhibit by March 2012.
To develop a set of teachers guides (K-12) for the Inland Sea Exhibit by fall 2012.
An easy way to determine if your objective is too broad is to develop a set of tasks to accompany each objective. If this list of tasks goes on and on you need to narrow down your objective.
Here’s a checklist that will help you write clear objectives:
- Always specify a result, not an activity.
- Describe just one result you want to accomplish.
- Tell when the result is to be accomplished.
- Emphasize what will be done and when, but don’t tell why or how it will be done.
- Clearly relate each objective to one or more of the goals.
- Make sure the objectives are specific, measurable, and verifiable.
- Allow for flexibility on the part of those implementing the objective.
Once you’ve developed the goals and objectives, you will find that you refer to them many times as you continue to draft the grant proposal.
Writing a Powerful Grant Proposal – Part 8
The Plan of Action
by Cynthia M. Adams
The plan of action, sometimes referred to as action steps or tasks, is a step-by-step description of what you will do to accomplish each objective you’ve defined in your grant request.
The plan of action can make or break your request. Incorporating details in this section of the grant request is critical. If you cannot demonstrate to the grantmaker that you have a strong, workable plan ready to implement, then it is unlikely you will receive the grant award.
It is important to tie every task to an objective, making sure that you’ve listed all the tasks needed to accomplish each objective. Be specific. Begin each task with a verb. For example:
Hire an architect
Order 20 new computer stations
Establish a policy review committee
Assign a cost, time line, and responsible person for each task. An entry in your plan of action might look like this:
February 2011 Capital Campaign Exec Committee Hire an architect $500.00
The step-by-step plan of action will generate the project timeline and guide budget development so it is important to make it detailed.
In addition, setting forth tasks or activities in this fashion can aid program planning. Without such a plan, certain necessary steps might be overlooked—which ultimately means your budget won’t reflect the full cost of the project.
These action steps and their sequence are also very helpful to the person in charge of managing the award once the request has been funded.
The Plan of Action Worksheet (example in PDF or Word) will help you create an outline of everything that needs to be accomplished under each objective. After listing every task you can think of, pass the worksheet around the office to get additional ideas about what has to happen to accomplish the objective. Getting others to participate in this process also facilitates “buy-in” from staff and volunteers for the overall project.
At this point, your plan of action will probably be too detailed for the grant proposal. You’ll need to go back and summarize some of the tasks. However, you will have developed a specific plan that you can follow when it’s time to implement the award, and that alone is worth the effort.
In addition, if the grant maker has questions about any of the line items in your budget you can quickly refer to this plan to answer them.
Here’s a sample of a plan of action, tied directly to one objective:
Objective #1: To market a comprehensive and contemporary parent education program to 15% of the county population, or approximately 11,000 people, through a two-year outreach effort.
Action steps Who’s Responsible When Design contemporary outreach program Community Educator May-June Expand community collaboration Executive Director March-on Coordinate the new program w/ other agencies Community Educator May-June Write and distribute monthly PSAs, ads and emails Community Educator May-on Develop a monthly calendar of events and post on the website Community Educator May-on
The next step to undertake once you have completed the plan of action is to determine measurable outcomes, which we will cover in the next article.
Writing a Powerful Grant Proposal – Part 9
Evaluation and Measurable Outcomes
Including an evaluation plan in a grant proposal provides the opportunity to discuss what the program should ultimately achieve. The evaluation is essentially a technical document used by staff and board members, as well as grantmakers, to evaluate the success of a program. But evaluations can also serve many other purposes, including garnering some very good press for your program’s successes and serving as the basis for follow-on funding.
The evaluation design depends on what information you need to collect in order to make major decisions as the program matures and to write solid reports for the grantmaker, your board, and others involved in the program. To start writing the evaluation section, I suggest asking a few basic questions:
- The evaluation results will be circulated to whom and for what purpose?
- Does the grantmaker want the information in order to decide if they will provide future funding?
- Will your board of directors refer to the evaluation to make program decisions?
- Will you issue a press release, or post the information on the web?
- What kinds of information are needed to help someone decide how to proceed with this particular program?
- What sources will provide the most credible information?
- What is the best way to collect and document this information?
- When do you need the information collected, and an analysis prepared to distribute?
Once you’ve answered these basic questions, then your next step in developing a strong evaluation plan is to select the people who will design and oversee the evaluation process. There are three possible approaches to consider:
In-house evaluation team – This could include the program director, v staff, a board member, and an on-staff, designated evaluator. This approach is the most cost effective, but it is also least objective.
An outside evaluation team – This could include a board member, a community leader, and someone in your field of work who is not directly linked with the program. Usually these individuals are offered a small honorarium ($100 to $500) for their work. You can incorporate the cost of the honoraria into your program budget. An outside evaluation team is more objective than an in-house team.
Professional evaluator – If the program is complex and the outcome measurements are important to quantify, contracting with a professional evaluator is recommended. Check with your nearest college or university for potential evaluators in your field. There are also freelance consultants in many communities whose skills include program evaluation. A professional evaluator will often prepare an evaluation plan at no cost in exchange for being written into the proposal as the evaluator. Professional evaluators can provide a relatively objective evaluation, along with a professional report.
Designing the Evaluation:
Qualitative vs. Quantitative Measurements
Keep in mind that in designing the evaluation component for the grant proposal there will be trade-offs in the breadth and depth of information you gather. The more breadth you want, usually the less depth you get (unless you have extensive resources to carry out the evaluation). On the other hand, if you want to examine a certain aspect of a program in detail, you will likely not get as much information about other parts of the program.
Qualitative evaluations are somewhat open-ended and examine a small number of cases in detail. This process often involves collecting vignettes, testimonials, and/or comments from program participants in answer to questions such as, “How did the school-to-work program affect your plans after high school?”
Quantitative evaluations are based on statistics and are more scientific in their approach. They are characterized by a large data-collection effort, coding of this data, and a standard analytical approach to conclusions.
Remember, the evaluation section of the grant request should stress that the evaluation method has been carefully planned and demonstrate that the evaluation plan can be implemented.
Here’s a checklist to make sure you’ve covered everything in the evaluation section of your grant proposal. Did you:
__ Describe specific, measurable criteria for success?
__ Describe the process to be used to collect data and monitor progress?
__ Provide detail about how you will keep records?
__ Provide a short bio of each evaluator, including their relationships to the program or your organization?
__ Outline your reporting procedure providing specific due dates, and the format and content of evaluation reports?
__ Include the evaluation timeline in the overall program timeline?
__ Include the costs to evaluate your program in your budget?
A note about outcomes-based evaluations
According to the United Way, outcomes-based evaluation looks at “impacts/benefits/changes to your clients (as a result of your program’s efforts) during and/or after their participation in your programs. Outcomes evaluation can examine these changes in the short-term, intermediate term and long-term.”
There is a great article by Carter McNamara, “Basic Guide to Outcomes-Based Evaluation for Nonprofit Organizations with Very Limited Resources,” with lots of definitions and helpful ideas for developing an outcomes-based evaluation at this website: http://www.managementhelp.org/evaluatn/outcomes.htm.
Program evaluation with an outcomes-based focus has become increasingly important to both grantmakers and grantees. If the grantmaker requires an outcomes-based evaluation, you should definitely read McNamara’s article.
Accuracy, clarity, and tone are all important when writing the final evaluation as it may directly affect the future of your program and will definitely reflect on the professionalism and credibility of your organization. When developing the evaluation section of a grant proposal, you need to focus on what the grantmaker wants to hear. That means you have to understand in depth what the grantmaker is trying to achieve via a particular grantmaking program. A carefully designed evaluation section of a proposal is one of the most effective ways to connect directly with the grantmaker’s goals and objectives.
Writing a Powerful Grant Proposal – Part 10
by Cynthia M. Adams
Preparing a timeline is often misconstrued by the grant writer as a “throw-away” task in the grant proposal development process. In other words, you do it because it has been requested, but you don’t spend time working on it because it seems relatively unimportant. However, for the grantmaker, the timeline is an opportunity to see how you would put their funding to work.
Despite its tedium, the timeline is yet another section of the grant proposal to sell your project to the grantmaker. Laying out the sequence of events in a timeline will provide the reader with a visual cue to better understand the process necessary for your objectives to be met. Once someone thoroughly comprehends this process, you are halfway to getting approval for your request.
The timeline is simply a way for the reader to see the relationship between what needs to happen, when it needs to happen, why it has to happen in a particular sequence, and who needs to make it happen.
If your project is fairly simple, you’ll want to add detail to the timeline to demonstrate that even though it is a small request for a straightforward project, you have considered which elements need to be attended to and in what order.
If the project is complicated, the timeline can communicate benchmarks and reflect the goals and objectives to be achieved.
In addition, the timeline can be used outside of the proposal process to communicate with clients, board members, collaborative partners, and others who need to have a definitive understanding of the project and the complexity of tasks involved.
A visual timeline can be a powerful tool. It can convince someone that what you intend to do can be done. To develop the timeline, refer back to the Plan of Action worksheet (which you developed last week). Summarize the action items and the time dedicated to each one. You are trying to demonstrate to the grantmaker what steps it will take (and when they will be taken) to meet your objectives.
You can develop the timeline in a very straightforward manner by listing deadline dates and tasks. Or, you can be a bit more creative and present this information on a chart. Any sort of visual presentation helps the reader understand how the tasks fit together over time. The critical thing to keep in mind is to design a timeline that is visually appealing and easy to read.
The timeline shouldn’t be too long. In fact, it can be quite brief. That’s why a visual presentation can be very helpful; it will break up the narrative and provide for easy reference.
Here are a few tips for developing an effective timeline:
- Color code your task bars
For example, if you’re an arts organization undertaking an audience development project, you could code all of the outreach tasks yellow and all of the design tasks blue. If you are a large organization, you could color code by department tasks.
- Keep the timeline concise
Exclude any sub-tasks. If you feel any particular task needs more detail, create a second timeline instead of putting everything into your primary timeline.
- Have different people review the timeline
Circulate a copy of the timeline you’ve created to everyone involved in the project. Let them each review their own responsibilities and benchmarks. Collect their feedback and incorporate suggestions.
By developing an informative and eye-catching timeline, you can capitalize on the opportunity to make your objectives resonate with the grantmaker.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 11 IN TWO WEEKS!
Tracks to Success
The Role of the Board of Directors in Grant seeking: A Conversation Between Peers
by Cynthia M. Adams and Alexandra Peters
Because the board of directors is often less engaged in grantseeking than in other fundraising efforts, involving the board in developing a grant strategy can be a challenge for nonprofit organizations. This six-part Tracks to Success series, a free flowing conversation between two experienced board leaders, is intended to shed light on the role of the board of directors in identifying and securing grant funding.
Creating a Funder Profile
The research team at GrantStation is dedicated to delivering the most current, reliable, and pertinent information on funders anywhere. You depend on us for your successful grantseeking, so we want to share with you the process we use to develop a Funder Profile. This page explains how we target funders, research their giving guidelines, and write the profiles that you retrieve when searching GrantStation’s Find-a-Funder.
As you’ll see, this is a time-consuming process, but it’s one we undertake with great pride. We do the work for you, so you can point-and-click your way to reliable funders that match your organization’s funding needs.
This research process was created for fundraisers, by fundraisers, so we have you the grantseeker in mind whenever we add a new Funder Profile. No other grantseeking service or directory offers a more accurate set of Funder Profiles, making GrantStation the only grantseeking tool you need to do your research.
Creating a Funder Profile is a four-step process:
The first step of the process is establishing a list of funders who give nationally, and also separate lists of funders who give only in specific states. We scour both the traditional and online sources for establishing these lists. These sources include: state grantmaker directories, email alerts, philanthropy newsletters, corporate giving guides, and both federal and state websites. We are continually targeting new funders and adding them to our master lists.
Once we establish a list of potential funders, we then determine if they meet our criteria. To ensure the most dynamic and efficient database for our subscribers, we include funders that:
- Accept applications, proposals, or letters of inquiry
- Give grants and awards (not just scholarships)
Note: In this ever-changing world of mergers and acquisitions, funders may dissolve, change their name or contact information, modify their giving guidelines and priorities, or stop accepting applications altogether. Though we update our profiles regularly, it’s possible that you may encounter these changes before we do. Always check with the funder to make sure their guidelines and priorities haven’t been revised.
Once we have narrowed our list down to those funders who meet our criteria, we research their giving guidelines and application procedures. We first determine if the funder has a website; if they do, we then access their giving guidelines online. Otherwise, we email, write, or fax the funder for a copy of their guidelines.
If these methods don’t yield the information we need for a complete profile, we call the funder and interview them in detail over the phone. We take all the necessary steps to produce a Funder Profile that will truly help your grantseeking efforts.
Finally, if the funder is unable to disclose the relevant financial information, we research their IRS Form 990.
- General/Contact Info – Funder address and phone number; email and website addresses, if available; contact name and title.
- Geographic Scope – List of states the funder will accept proposals from, or “National” if the funder accepts proposals from all 50 states.
- Type of Organization – Type of funder, of which there are eight possibilities: Association, Corporate Foundation, Corporate Giving Program, Federal, Foundation, Other Sources, Religious, or State.
- Financial information – Annual giving, grant range, and average grant (all are subject to availability).
- Application Deadlines – Specific grant deadline dates, or indication if there are none.
- Eligibility Requirements – types of organizations eligible to receive grants, includes: nonprofit organizations, schools and educational institutions, individuals, governmental agencies, etc.
- Areas of Interest – A description of the funder’s specific giving guidelines, areas of interest/priorities, and restrictions.
- Application Procedures – Specific procedures (if applicable) for the application or letter of inquiry, or information on how to contact the funder for specific procedures and forms.
- Author’s Notes – Information such as special footnotes to any of the above fields or a direct message from the funder regarding the funder’s guidelines or procedures.
Before you’re able to view Funder Profiles, however, you need to perform a funder search. This is where some behind-the-scenes work needs to be explained. Once the GrantStation researcher has written the Funder Profile, he/she selects the appropriate checkboxes that you see when searching for a funder. Currently, we have 130 Areas of Interest (AOI) and 32 Types of Support you can utilize to find funders that match your funding needs. Here is a quick description of each:
- Areas of Interest – We use the guidelines and/or the funder interview to determine the appropriate AOIs. We are as thorough and precise as possible. We select AOI checkboxes only if the specific area is mentioned in the guidelines and in the Funder Profile.
- Types of Support – We also use the guidelines and/or the funder interview to determine the appropriate Types of Support. If a funder gives for general, charitable purposes, we usually select Project Support, and we encourage you to contact the funder for more specific support information.
We try to help you locate all the appropriate funding sources possible, without directing you to a poor match. We adhere to two principles regarding our selection of AOI and Types of Support categories:
- We are committed to providing our users the most comprehensive and carefully screened listing of prospective funders.
- We are committed to being respectful of the funders by adhering to their guidelines – whether written or obtained verbally. As such, we neither take liberties nor make assumptions about their Areas of Interest, Geographic Focus, and Types of Support. One of our goals is to make every effort possible to avoid inappropriate funding requests or inquiries being sent to the funders in our database.
Once a Researcher has written the profile, our Research Director reviews the profile one more time to proof the copy and double check the accuracy of the data.
Updating Funder Profiles
To ensure that profiles are accurate and current, we update our profiles on a regular basis. This involves revisiting the funder’s website, emailing them for updated guidelines, or calling them for guideline changes, if any. We also check a funder’s most recent financial information to see if any significant changes have been made with regard to their annual giving or grant range. We note in our profiles the “Last Updated” month and year.
We also continually update our database by adding new information (such as a new grant program or an expanded geographic focus) on funders as the material becomes available. Therefore, a funder’s profile could potentially be updated several times every year. This is one more way we’re able to offer you the most current information on funders available.
Tracks to Success
Technology Trends in Grantmaking: A Few Non-Analytical Thoughts
by Cynthia M. Adams, CEO/President, GrantStation.com, Inc.
Before you begin reading this article, let me throw in a disclaimer. Our researchers at GrantStation are incredibly good at their jobs. They all have strong research and writing skills, and a commitment to finding the right information for our Members that is impressive. So everything I have to say about trends in technology grantmaking is based on subjective observations made by those people who are spending their days researching grantmakers.
So, what sorts of changes are we seeing in grantmaking due to the ever changing landscape we call technology? Well, my favorite new procedure is the introduction of the online eligibility quiz to help you determine if your organization has the right profile to apply. As long as the grantmaker keeps these quizzes fairly general, and they don’t get too specific with their questions, I think this is going to be a wonderful new way for grantseekers to pre-screen their own organizations before going through the process of writing a letter of inquiry or a full proposal.
In the area of writing and submitting grant applications you need to get used to submitting online applications – both letters of inquiry (LOI) and full grant requests. As the tech person at your organization, you may want to learn more about the online quiz process and the LOI and full proposal process so you can train those writing grant requests on the best way to approach these tasks.
With the exception of these new online procedures, private foundations have been pretty slow to adopt innovative technologies. Foundation leadership, particularly the board of directors, can be reluctant to change, which of course bleeds over into enhancements in their use of technology. Though some private funders, such as community and family foundations, have embraced a variety of technologies – from social media to online grant applications and grant reporting – there are a fair number who continue to view the role of the IT staff as a consultant or service provider rather than as a strategic partner or a member of the overall grants staff.
That said, IT staff is starting to get a seat at the table when grant requests are being reviewed, so make sure the technology piece of your grant request is solid and well conceived. If the grantmaker (private or government) is encouraging your organization to include technology needs in the grant proposal, then your job is to demonstrate that every bit of software and hardware and every ounce of training has been thoroughly researched and analyzed, and you are presenting them with the best tech option to accomplish the objectives of your project or program.
Another trend I’d like to mention: We are seeing a fair number of private funders starting to use social media (although relatively speaking it is still a low percentage of the overall number of private grantmakers). Possibly because grantmakers find it is a way to put a friendly face on a part of society that has always been some what standoffish? But whatever the reason, I think it is a positive breakthrough, and encourage you to join the social network of those grantmakers who play a regular role in your organization’s financial health.
One final thought, peer to peer fundraising via social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter is growing at a phenomenal pace and may become the most popular fundraising initiative in years to come according to a study recently released by Blackbaud on some of the hottest new ideas in the fundraising world. As far as grantseeking goes, what that says to me is “If I need matching funds for a grant award I’m going to look to my social media network for support.”
Cynthia M. Adams
Cynthia M. Adams has been a fundraiser for over 35 years. Working directly for nonprofits and as a fundraising consultant, Ms. Adams specializes in building bridges between funders and grantseekers. She strongly believes that successful grantseeking requires a thorough understanding of the funders and sound knowledge of the playing field. Her life’s work has been to level that playing field, creating an opportunity for all nonprofit organizations to access the wealth of grant opportunities throughout the world.
Other articles in this series:
Technology Trends in Grantmaking: A Few Non-Analytical Thoughts
This article was edited by Julie Kaufman. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, useful tips, or are interested in writing a series for us, please email our Research team, or call our toll-free number: 877-784-7268.