Looking for a grant? Here are some humane hints

NONPROFITS INC.

January 30, 1995|By LESTER A. PICKER

`TC Every grant writer has his or her own little secrets for getting funded. Here are some of mine.

* People give money to people.

Since it's the people behind the brochures or guidelines that give grants, and not the brochures themselves, it makes sense to meet face-to-face with grantmakers whenever possible. As a poor second choice, arrange a telephone interview, but by all means make some personal contact. If you do get an appointment, arrive on time, dress properly, establish commonalities with the grantmaking representative and, above all, listen. Nine times out of 10, if your interview strategy is on target, they will tell you what you must include in your application to be successful.

* Don't chase money.

This is a tough discipline for struggling nonprofits. Build programs and a reputation for excellence and relationships with funding sources will follow. By not chasing every grant program that comes along, funders will appreciate your selectivity and integrity. When you do focus on a program that seems tailor-made for you, go for it with a pinpoint strategy and no holds barred.

* Strategize.

Carefully research potential funding sources, then research any possible access points you or your organizational friends have to those sources. Plan on who is the best person to make the approach, and rehearse the meeting strategy. What questions do you need answered to develop a successful proposal? What part of your programs does the funder perceive as strong? Which points are weak? What options are open to you?

* KISS your proposals.

Keep It Simple, Stupid, is good advice for anyone, but especially for proposals to grantmakers who have to review 143 proposals every funding cycle. Don't use jargon unless it is absolutely necessary. Don't use abbreviations. Likewise, do not use words like "unique" or phrases like "we are the only ..." unless you can prove those assertions.

* Don't speak with forked tongue.

Always be direct and forthcoming with funders. Admit mistakes and always ask for their advice. This is key to relationship building and invariably will result in long-term support, assuming that you and the funding agency are on the same wavelength otherwise.

* Humor counts.

Keep your sense of humor throughout the grant-seeking process. No one likes an over-serious pedant or zealot who sees their program as the cure to all the world's ills.

* Be enthusiastic.

If you aren't enthusiastic about your programs, who will be? Don't oversell, but don't expect funders to have confidence in your agency's programs if you don't behave like you believe in them.

* Be yourself.

You are the kind of person who keeps your organization humming, helping it to achieve its mission. Be proud of that when meeting with funding sources. You know your organization and its clients best; your potential funding source depends on that knowledge to fulfill its mission. If you are legitimate and have a track record of success with the clients the funder is pledged to serve, you are actually doing the funder a service. Remembering that will give you the confidence you need to succeed in the grants game.

* Be prepared.

Arrive at meetings with funders armed with pertinent facts and figures. Focus on accomplishments and back them up with data. Prioritize your needs, in case there is interest and the discussion broadens.

* Listen.

Be an active listener. Don't be defensive and don't argue, you may actually learn something from the funding source.

* Be persistent.

Most requesters are not funded the first time around. What separates successful grant recipients from novices is persistence. Request reviewers' comments if available. Arrange to debrief with the program officer. Keep up your dialogue with the funder. Resubmit when you mutually agree a new proposal is on target. Keep the funder abreast of accomplishments.

Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at The Brokerage, 34 Market Place, Suite 331, Baltimore, Md. 21202; (410) 783-5100

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