Writing A Compelling Summary: How To Grab A Funder’s Attention

The summary section of a grant proposal can feel incredibly overwhelming because many grant writers think they have to summarize every part of their entire proposal in 250 words or less. It doesn’t have to be that difficult! With an easy-to-implement outline and a handful of helpful ideas, your next summary section can be the most compelling you’ve ever written.

What Is The Purpose Of A Summary?

Before we get too far into how to write a summary for your grant proposal, it’s first important to understand why we write it in the first place. The summary is often the first impression a grant writer gets to make on a funder. The job of the summary then, is to sell. Your summary should be persuasive, should sell your solution, should “knock their socks off” and should help the funder decide quickly they want to partner and invest in your organization.

The summary brings proposal to life and to encourage the funder to read more about your project or program. It’s not about trying to outline your entire grant proposal for them…that’s just too much too soon, but the other parts of your application should begin to fill in any of the blanks.

What Components Make Up An Irresistible Summary?

We’ve put together the five core components we believe you need to consider each time you write your summary.

Component #1 – The Opening

How many times have you started a book or a movie and a few pages or minutes in you have an overwhelming feeling that this is going to be bad…or that it’s not your style? It happens, and it’s amazing how quickly we’re prepared to move on to something we’ll like better. If the opening few words or sentences to your summary is boring, bad, or not helpful, a funder may be inclined to skip past you to the next proposal.

Your opening needs to be strong, it needs to grab their attention, and it needs to be compelling. To accomplish this, we would suggest avoiding anything about your organization, and make your introduction all about the “hero” of the story. The reviewers of grant proposals are humans, with human emotions, so find a way to strike a chord with them and make them take notice. Make them “fall in love” with your hero right from the start.

In an earlier GrantsEdge blog post we wrote about how to most effectively tell a story when writing your grant application. In it we described the “hero”, who represents the clients or community you serve. They represent the main character of your story, and are the ones your funder is most interested in understanding. Write your opening in such a way that funders know the hero needs some kind of support or a solution to a problem. Read more in this blog to find out about the “hero” of your story, how story telling and grant writing connect.

Component #2 – The Issue

The “Issue” is the part of the summary where you clearly demonstrate your understanding of the need that exists with your clients or in your community. In a clear and concise way you should define what problem exists and that it needs an urgent response. In writing the summary you might include some of your most important research and highlight the evidence it uncovers.

Make sure that your focus continues to be centred around the hero of the story and the need that they have, and not on your organization.

Component #3 – The Solution

This is the place where your organization can begin to shine. Once you have highlighted the main issue, it’s time to provide a glimpse into the innovative solution that your organization has developed and why it’s the right fit for this problem at this time. If you are anything like most grant writers, you will be inclined to want to lay out the entire solution at this point, to make sure the funder sees it and understands it all. The summary is not the place for all the details, but the place where you will just pull back the curtain slightly to let them see enough that they are intrigued, but that it also clear what the organization intends to do if awarded funding dollars.

Be sure to write about your solution at a very high level, avoid acronyms so that you don’t alienate your reader, and make sure that anyone, no matter how much they understand your “industry”, can easily recognize how your solution works and how it deals with the issue written about earlier in the summary.

This section of the summary would also be an appropriate place to highlight the cost of the solution and the financial ask that you will be making of the funder. As in other places in the summary, you will not have the opportunity to walk them through the entire budget for your project or program, but will only provide the main parts of what your solution will cost and the role the funder will play in that solution. If you have other funders, partners, or investors involved, this would be an ideal time to make that known.

Component #4 – The Credibility

What authority or credibility does your organization have to effectively deliver the solution? When formulating your summary you will want to demonstrate to the funder that your team is qualified and capable of managing the program or project, while also showing how your experience and leadership sets you apart from other organizations who may serve a similar target group.

This would be the time in your summary to highlight a few very specific reasons why the organization will be successful in delivering this project and ensuring positive impact for the participants.

Component #5 – The Funder

The final component of the summary provides the opportunity for the grant writer to establish the link between the goals of the project with how they align with the purpose or mission of the funder. As with everything else in the summary, be clear and concise in pointing out how the work of your organization fits nicely with what the funder is also looking to accomplish. You will want to be sure to have read through the funder’s guidelines, objectives, and overall purpose for their fund in order to show how working together makes sense. By doing this, your summary can further solidify for a funder that together a real difference can be made.

When Should I Write My Summary?

There is no right or wrong answer to when one should write their summary. There are successful grant writers on both sides of this question. Some find it easier and more effective to write the summary before any other part of the grant proposal, as it then becomes the outline for the rest of the application.

There are others who feel more comfortable waiting to write the summary at the end so they can be sure to clearly articulate the main highlights of the proposal. A proposal can often go through a number of iterations and changes, so for us, waiting until the other sections of the proposal are written is the path that we would most often choose.

As you gain experience in writing grant proposals you will likely find your groove. If you are early in your grant writing career, I would encourage you to try it both ways to see if one fits better with your style.

Make A Great First Impression

Your summary is your first chance to wow your funder and excite them about the opportunity your organization is proposing. By including the components we have described in this blog, you will have the chance to grab their attention quickly, demonstrate to them that you understand the issue, show them that you have a great solution and the capacity to implement that solution, and finally, highlight for them how your program or project aligns with their goals and objectives. Those are the ingredients needed to make a persuasive and lasting impression with your funder, one that will encourage them to dig into your full proposal, and one that will hopefully pave the way to the funding you need to impact your community.

The 4 Fundamental Features Of A Strong Needs Statement

In order to be successful in grant writing, you need the funder to clearly understand the problem you are attempting to solve, and you need to be able to back it up. It’s this fact that makes a needs statement so important to the entire grant writing process. A needs statement drives the entire proposal. It defines the problem, describes the implications of the problem, and identifies the gaps in your community. When you begin the process of writing your next grant, the needs statement should be the place you start, and may be the section you spend the most time digging into.

Of course, all parts of a proposal are integral to telling your story to a funder, but the needs statement is really what makes the rest of the grant application relevant.

A poorly written needs statement puts the entire proposal in jeopardy, as it often leaves reviewers and funders with too many unanswered questions. Not knowing how to write a compelling, concise, and effective needs statement could lead to a lot of unfunded projects, so we want you to have the information you need to confidently and successfully complete a needs statement.

What Is A Needs Statement?

Before we go any further in unpacking some of the essential elements of a needs statement, it will be important to know exactly what is meant by this term, one that might also be referred to as a “problem statement.”

A needs statement establishes the rationale for a project by clearly identifying the gap or problem within a specific community.

A needs statement should determine the focus an organization will take by addressing the particular needs of a specific target audience through a very distinct project. The needs statement should also explain to a funder what the community requires or what it is lacking, and defines the underlying issues the applicant is addressing. Ultimately, the needs statement should answer the questions, “What is the problem or need?” and “How do you know it’s a problem?”

Why Is A Needs Statement Important?

A needs statement answers the “So what?” question. It should provide the funder with a reason to care and lets them know the issue being highlighted is significant and requires a solution.

While the needs statement identifies the problem in a community, it should also provide the funder with an understanding of the surrounding conditions in that community that are aggravating and heightening the problem.

4 Fundamental Features Of A Strong Needs Statement

Crafting a strong needs statement can bring increased levels of success for grant writers. Here are four key components to writing a needs statement that will make your reviewers take notice.

1. Focus On One Main Issue

It almost goes without saying that your community likely has a variety of concerns and issues it needs to confront. It may also be a fact that your program is tied to more than one specific problem. However, it is important that your needs statement focuses on a central concern, and not the issues on the periphery.

For example, if  you are seeking funds to provide hands-on construction skills training for unemployed youth, your focus of your needs statement should be on the unemployment rate for youth in your community, the lack of local jobs for youth, and the link between skills training and later employment. Don’t spend too much time writing about the issues that are not the main concern. The fact that unemployed youth don’t have effective resumes and may lack quality interview skills, although important and may be dealt with inside the program, are not the core concerns.

Also Consider: As you write your needs statement, avoid the circular arguments that too many grant writers are guilty of in their proposal writing. The need for a skills training program for unemployed youth does not exist because there are currently no skills training programs for unemployed youth. That argument is not compelling for a funder. Also, link your program to the funder’s objectives. If your needs statement does not align with the goals of the funder, you may need to consider pursuing a different funding opportunity.

2. Use Data And Comparative Statistics

An effective and strong needs statement must resonate logically in a funder’s mind. The use of quantitative information, made up of the most recent, relevant, and local data you can find, provides an overview and snapshot of your community. Numbers, data, and statistics can paint a picture and tell an important part of the story in underlying the need for your specific solution. For example, it is very different to say that “many youth in Middlesex County find themselves unemployed,” than it is to write that “based on December 2016 stats, 12.5% of youth in Middlesex County aged 16 to 29 find themselves unemployed or underemployed compared to 9.5% in the surrounding counties.” The use of recent and relevant data reveals a much clearer picture of the problem.

By using comparative statistics, a grant writer could show the growing unemployment trend in the area by highlighting the increase in youth unemployment over the past 12 months, or could compare the unemployment rate in other counties in proximity. Use the data to demonstrate the need and the urgency of the problem.

Also Consider: As mentioned earlier, it is important for the data to be recent, relevant, and local. Using municipal data compared to national data will provide a clearer idea of the real problem in your specific community. Incorporating data from 2015 will hold more weight than sourcing statistics from 1999. The more focused the research is on the specific problem in your community, the more a funder will understand the true impact their investment can make.

3. Connect With The Heart

As much as funders will want reliable data and concrete logic in a needs statement, they are also human beings with authentic emotions. Make sure a funder understands the reality of the situation and how the problem in the community is impacting real people. Make it legitimate by telling a story or two. Use qualitative information from surveys, interviews, and ongoing interaction with clients and community members to share testimonials that relate to the heart and soul of the people you wish to serve and the problem that needs to be overcome.

Also Consider: Your needs statement needs a balance of qualitative and quantitative data. Don’t think that by simply pulling at a funder’s heartstrings your proposal will move to the top of the list. Be honest about the challenges your target audience is facing, but not at the expense of their dignity and value. Be prepared to show a funder a glimpse of the community you serve and the impact that will be made.

4. Highlight The Hurdles

One of the final pieces to include in a needs statement is a clear identification of the hurdles or challenges to addressing the problem. In your writing, leave some room in the overall statement to describe the gap that exists between the current state of the community and what the community would be in the future if solutions were implemented. You might also take the opportunity to feature some of the barriers that have prevented resolution of the problem in the past.

Also Consider: It is important for the funder to understand there is a sense of urgency related to the identified gap in your community. As you write, be sure to answer the question, “What happens if we don’t run this program now?” If the funder feels like your solution can wait, or that the need does not demand an immediate response, they will often seek other investments that do require funding immediately.

A Few Final Thoughts

If your grant proposal does not have a compelling need, it is likely that you don’t have a compelling project… or at least that’s what a funder might believe. Take the time to conduct strong research in order to present unmistakable data and profound stories of real people to establish the focus and rationale for your proposal.

Make sure your needs statement sets the tone for the rest of your proposal and provides the opportunity to demonstrate that a critical need exists in your community and that your organization’s solution will make a difference.

How To Ensure Your Grant Budget Tells The Right Story

Whether you are a “numbers person” or not, the prospect of sitting down to complete the budget for your latest grant proposal isn’t a task that most get too excited to begin. It can be difficult to forecast the actual cost of a program you have never run. It can be frustrating to know what expense lines to include in your budget until the program is well under way. Somewhat sarcastically, we may wonder how much money we can include in the miscellaneous category… you know, just to cover all our bases. Others may just wish that funders would make the entire budgeting process an easier one, as each new application can bring with it different templates and requirements. Whatever your budgeting pain, we know it’s real, and you’re not alone.

The Budget Is A Vital Part Of Every Grant Proposal

No matter how you might feel about the budgeting process, one idea is certain: the budget section of a grant application is just as important as every other part of the proposal. Don’t think for a minute that the budget is just an extra, less vital piece that funders include in each application. The budget is crucial. The budget reflects what you truly value about your project or program. It tells a story and, for funders, your budget narrative must be consistent with the other parts of your proposal or there is a very good chance you will not receive funding. Inconsistencies between the budget and your project description will raise red flags for funders that may be too difficult to overcome.

Download Additional Resource: 11 Categories You Must Include In Every Budget.

Gaining The Funder’s Perspective

Some may be wondering why it is so important for the grant budget to so closely reflect the other elements of the proposal, and may not see how the numbers in an Excel spreadsheet can even tell a story. One of the best ways to understand an idea or concept is to put it into a context that is more personal and relatable.

Imagine you have an adult child or friend who comes to you looking for money to support a new venture. They want to make short film documentaries they hope will impact the world, but need some financial backing to get things started and moving in the right direction. As part of your agreement to provide financial support, you ask this person to show you how they plan on spending the money to move their film career forward. As you look over their plan (their budget), you begin to notice some parts of it that cause you some concern. It seems they want to spend what you think is a significant part of the money on going to the movies. They explain that watching other documentaries will help them with their research and give them stronger ideas for what gaps might exist in the sector. You feel a bit frustrated and wonder if they will be buying popcorn and candy as well.

You also notice, as you go over their budget, that they need to buy equipment, including a new camera, new computer, a tri-pod, and editing programs. You understand the need for these items, but it seems they are only content with the very best and most expensive equipment. This part of the budget will eat up much of what you have to offer.

As you complete your review, you realize their budget leaves very little room to actually produce a documentary. The documentary, and the impact it would have, was the entire reason you thought you might want to invest. Now, you’re not so sure.

Funders Feel Exactly Like You When It Comes To Money

The goal of each funder is to use their money to make a difference and have an impact in the communities where they invest. Just like you might have some questions about your friend and their documentary making budget, funders also look closely at your grant proposal spending plan to make sure it aligns with what they value and what you suggest you will accomplish through your program.

5 Tips For Ensuring Your Budget Tells The Right Story

GrantsEdge always wants to provide tangible information and resources that can support you in the grant writing process. Here are five tips you can implement into your budgeting process to ensure you are sending the right message and clearly telling your funder the right story.

1. Check your budget against the funder’s priorities.

As you work through the budgeting process, be sure to keep at the forefront of your mind the values or objectives of each of your respective funders. If your budget is highly weighted on capital expenses or staffing, and yet the funder has been very clear that their priority is to support innovative programming, you may have missed the mark and will likely have difficulty being successful with your proposal.

2. Align your budget with other sections of your proposal.

As mentioned earlier, it is crucial that the budget align with all the elements of your proposal. Having consistency throughout your application is so important in clearly telling the funder your story. As you prepare to complete your budget, it will be important to remember what you have already told your reader. If the grant proposal goes into great detail about the value of evaluation and the methods with which you intend to evaluate the impact of the program, your budget needs to also reflect the significance of the evaluation. The difference between $2,000 for evaluation and $25,000 for evaluation will tell an important story to the funder. Be sure to understand what your words say and how the numbers will (or will not) provide support to that narrative.

3. Be clear about how you arrived at your numbers.

It can be very difficult for one not intimately associated with your project to truly understand why you have asked for the dollars that are outlined in your budget. If your “travel” line in the budget asks for $10,000, make sure the reviewer understands why that is important and how you arrived at that figure. A short explanation or note on that line can help answer any questions or clear up any misconceptions the funder may have about that expense. Make sure they are able to grasp the importance of the travel line in terms of how it relates to the overall impact of the project.

4. Include in-kind contributions.

Your organization may not have significant financial resources to invest in the project, but that doesn’t mean it is not supplying and contributing meaningful amounts into making sure the project is a success. If a funder understands the value of in-kind contributions, it can add to the story your budget tells them as they review. If an Executive Director is giving 25 hours a week to the project, that is absolutely worth something and should be noted. If the organization has furniture or computers they are donating to ensure the project can run successfully, that can be noted within the budget as well. If an outside organization is partnering in some way, their time or resources can be accounted for through an in-kind contribution that is also highlighted in the budget.

5. Make sure the numbers actually add up.

One of the most frustrating things to have happen for a funder during their review is to be looking over the budget and noticing that the numbers don’t actually add up properly. Just like editing the rest of your grant proposal is vital, don’t forget to check your numbers more than once. Incorrect numbers can cause a funder to think you lack the ability to actually manage the money they might give you. It demonstrates a lack of professionalism and an inability to stay organized. One simple mistake can make a very strong negative impression.

Read about some of the other mistakes grant writers make that can negatively impact overall success: “The 5 Grant Writing Indiscretions That Drive Funders Crazy.”

A GrantsEdge Coach Can Help You With Your Budget

If you are unsure about how to approach the budget in your next grant proposal, take advantage of the GrantsEdge Coach service to provide you with feedback and support. We will review your budget (and the rest of your proposal) before you submit the application and provide you with insight and an assessment you can use to make changes before you formally apply. GrantsEdge Coach brings you the experience of a funder and will provide you with the confidence you need to complete the budgeting process with future applications.

Go to our Grant Coaching section to read more about what we can offer and to book your appointment.

Additional Resource: 11 Categories You Must Include In Every Budget

For grant writers looking for some additional information about how to complete a budget, we have included a list of the categories you should include with every budget you prepare.

Download the document here by providing your name and email address and get “11 Categories Every Budget Should Have.” It’s FREE and your email address is safe with us (we won’t put it in the hands of anyone else).

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5 Ideas About Report Writing That Funders Really Want Grant Writers To Know About

In my previous work as a funder, I always looked forward to seeing progress reports and final reports. Report time provided an exciting opportunity to celebrate the success of the projects that organizations had worked so hard to implement. It also proved to be a time that strengthened our relationships with agencies, as we took time to speak with them and understand their work more intimately.

The process of reporting is important, as it not only brings a level of accountability for grant writers and their organizations, but it provides an effective way for organizations to tell their stories of impact. There are very few things more exciting for a funder than gaining a clear perspective of the difference their dollars have been able to make.

Based on my experience though, grant writers don’t always hold that same positive perspective of the reporting process. I’ve had numerous questions asked of me over the years about funding reports. I’ve had grant writers ask, “Why don’t they just give us the money and trust us?” or “Why do I have to do all of this paperwork?” or “Why do all funders have different requirements?” I understand the frustration and challenges of completing funding reports. They can be time consuming and they never seem to be due at a time that is convenient. But your reports are important and they are an important part of the entire process, not an annoying add-on at the end.

With that in mind, here are five key ideas to consider the next time you sit down to write your report.

1. Know When Your Reports Are Due

As a grantee, it is your responsibility to know when you are required to report – it is not the responsibility of the funder to notify you about upcoming report due dates. The reporting dates are normally included in your contract or letter of agreement. Some funders do have an alert system, but that is rare and a real bonus. Your organization needs to have a system of keeping track of reporting requirements, whether it is on a shared calendar or assigned to one person. Find a system that works for your organization and build it in a way that considers the fact that changes in staff and dates may occur along the way.

2. Report On Time

It can be quite damaging to your credibility when a funder is forced to chase you for your required reports. There is a reason the reports were scheduled for a specific time. Perhaps the dates were set to correspond with the scheduled release of your next cheque or because the funder needs to collate findings to report internally. In that context, completing the final report is just as important as progress reports. Many organizations are vigilant when submitting progress reports as they know that future cheques depend on it, but too often grant writers become less attentive when they have a final report due.

Remember, as a grant writer, you are in the business of relationship building and everything you do during the course of any grant will impact the possibilities for the future. If a funder needs to send frequent reminders of overdue reports or make several phone calls, you will be considered a higher maintenance organization and that will be in their mind when they review your next application.

3. Use The Reporting Forms Provided

You may think you can design a much better form than the one provided by the funder but don’t be tempted to alter the format. There is a reason the funder has asked for information in this specific order. The report questions are also developed with intentionality, so although they may seem redundant or you may consider providing different information than what is asked for, know that the funder has likely spent considerable time designing their reporting forms to allow them to more easily review and potentially to collate information from various grantees to give them a better sense of their impact. If you are unclear as to what is expected as an answer to any one question, give the funder a call – most of the time, they will be happy to provide clarification. Remember, you really are on the same team, and they want nothing more than for you to be successful in your grant.

4. Consider Reporting Even When You Don’t Have A Report Due (I.e. Keep The Funder In The Loop Of What Is Going On With Your Project)

One strategy that can be effective, especially with a longer term, more complex grant, is scheduling check-ins with your funder. Ideally, these would be in person, but the reality is, that often will not be possible. Phone or Skype check-ins can be just as effective. Not every funder will be open to this idea either because of workload or ideology, but it doesn’t hurt to inquire. If they accept your invitation, make sure you are prepared for your conversation. Prepare an agenda and think through what the most important thing is that you want them to hear. Include that statement on the agenda so the funder can take it away after the meeting – that way, they will have that one key statement or fact reinforced and you improve your chances that they will remember it. Some of my most accountable and successful grantees I worked with over the years used this approach and it made the entire process feel so much more like an equal partnership.

5. Respond Promptly To Requests For Additional Information

Just because you have submitted your final report doesn’t mean you are completely finished. You may experience situations where your report raises a question for the funder and they contact you for additional information. Don’t be alarmed, but be pleased that they have thoroughly read what you have submitted and are interested in your work. Carefully read their questions and consider how to answer them.

Do You Have Any Reports To Write Right Now?

Take some time in the next few weeks to identify any reporting due dates, whether progress reports or final reports, and schedule them into your calendar so you can be sure to have them completed on time.

Reporting can be hard work and takes time, but it is also an incredible opportunity to share important stories with your funder. Take the reporting part of the granting process as seriously as your original application and be sure funders get your very best, all the way to the final report.

5 Questions You Need To Ask Before Writing Your Story For A Funder

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved to tell stories. As a kid, I told stories mostly in an effort to make people laugh. Any story where an armpit could make funny noises or a kid falls in the mud was a good story (don’t judge me).

But I had no idea, all those years ago, how important storytelling would become in the many different parts of my life. I’ve told stories for years now as a way to engage people, paint a picture for them, and attempt to move them to action. I certainly didn’t know back then that storytelling and the grant writing world would intersect, and yet, the more I’m involved with writing grants, and the more I speak to funders, the more I understand that being able to tell your story well within your grant application, the better.

In our blog post, “The Top 3 Tips For Telling Your Story So Funders Listen,” we outlined some foundational elements of effective storytelling that you should implement as you compose your grant proposals. But, before you begin to write your story, there are some important questions you should be asking. The last thing you want to do is tell the wrong story, stare at a blank page, or not tell a story at all.

Consider these five important questions the next time you think about crafting your story to ask a funder to invest in your organization.

1. Do I Already Know What Story I Want To Tell?

Author Thomas Steinbeck said, “My secret to writing is to never create at a keyboard.” If your organization does not already have the elements of a compelling story in place, nothing you can do at the keyboard will make much of a difference.

If your program is already in place, or even if it is brand new, most of the story should already be written. Why did you create the program in the first place? What struggles does the hero of your story face? How did you come to be an effective guide? How did you arrive at your specific plan? What evaluation have you done to understand the impact and transformation? Why am I asking so many questions (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)?

If you don’t have a story already brewing based on the work you have done, you may not be ready to submit a grant proposal.

2. Who Am I Writing This Story For?

We can’t stress enough the power of understanding the audience for whom you will be writing. Take some time to do some research to make sure you have a full and deep sense for the funder and their overall mission.

Take some time to read about past programs and projects that have been funded by this particular grantee, if they are available. You can learn a lot about what the funder is passionate about if you know what they have already supported. Contact organizations that have received funding and pick their brains about what resonates most with the funder and how you might be able to write your story so they take notice.

As part of the work to get to know the funder, reach out to them specifically and look for opportunities to speak with them, meet them face-to-face, and find out what is important to them. Most funders are open to meeting with organizations and providing input into their funding process. Take advantage of every opportunity to get to know them and build strong relationships.

3. What Would An Early Headline Be For My Story?

Headlines can be interesting:

  • “Camouflaged Army Vehicle Disappears”
  • “Most Earthquake Damage Caused By Shaking”
  • “Statistics Show Teen Pregnancy Drops Off After Age 25.”

Ok, the good news is you don’t need to have an actual headline for your story, because obviously it is more difficult than it seems. The people who wrote those headlines actually get paid to write headlines for a living.

The power of writing an early headline for a story is that it forces the writer to boil down their premise into one sentence or a few words. By working through that exercise, writers gain focus quickly, and truly understand what their story is really about before they even begin writing. That kind of clarity will make the writing process easier, more efficient, and more effective.

4. Will Anybody Care About My Story?

Imagine that you have to tell your story to a friend. Would they be bored? Would they understand it? Would they care? Would it be the kind of story they’d like to hear more than once?

Your story, to be effective, needs to be compelling. It needs an interesting hero with a difficult problem. For funders to care, your story should demonstrate, through research and the reality of your community, that there are significant concerns and issues for your “main character.” Take the time to develop the need and be sure to concisely express that through your story.

As the sidekick, or guide, do you have a solution that really works? Where did you get your credibility to provide solutions? What capacity do you have to provide a plan for your hero?

Once you can answer these questions, you should be able to spend some time telling the story through this lens, and funders will be intrigued.

5. Is Your Story Different From Others?

Have you ever watched a movie and felt like you’ve seen it already? It happens all the time when films come out within months of each other and seem remarkably similar.

  • In May 1995, the movie “Gordy” came out. In August 1995, “Babe.” Both movies are about talking pigs.
  • In July 1998 the movie “Saving Private Ryan” came out – December 1998, “The Thin Red Line” – both movies are about events surrounding WWII.
  • In January 2011, the movie “No Strings Attached” came out. In July of the same year, “Friends with Benefits.” I’ll let you look up what those are about, but believe me… same movie.

The point of the question is to force you to think about what makes your program different. What sets you apart from the other organizations that will be telling their stories? What can you do to surprise your reader (the funder)? What can you offer that is unexpected?

If a funder understands that your organization can offer something different from so many other great organizations, there is a greater likelihood that funding is something they would consider.

Bonus Question!

Have You Saved Your Work Recently?

You can thank me later. Writing is such hard work, it is important to not lose the work you have already done. Be sure to save it in a few places where you can access your writing when you need it.

You’re welcome.

Become really good storytellers so you increase your chances of having your grants funded. Engage your funders, be compelling, and work hard to write stories in ways that move them to say “yes” to your proposals. Save the stories about armpits and muddy kids for your spare time.

Now it’s your turn. Answer these five questions and start crafting your story!

The Definitive Road Map To Evaluation

Have you ever been on an epic road trip? I have, and I’ve loved every one of them. The planning, the adventure, the learning – it’s exciting, scary, and humbling all at the same time.

Evaluation is no different. Just like a road trip, evaluation gives you new stories to tell, new memories to share, and a new perspective on what’s important.

Life is never the same after a road trip… or an evaluation.

Which Camp Are You In?

Evaluation is one of those things you either absolutely love or hate. Please don’t hate me, but I’m definitely in the “love evaluation” camp. I know that most of you probably aren’t in that camp with me, in fact, you probably wish that my camp didn’t exist at all.

But, what if I could make evaluation easier for you? What if I could tell you the exact steps you needed to take to evaluate any program? I bet you’d like me then! Well, stay tuned because that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

More and more funders are incorporating evaluation into their grant applications. They not only want to hear about what your program or initiative is doing well, but why it’s important and what it means for your participants, your organization, and your community. They want evidence that your program is doing what it was meant to do and that it’s having an impact. That’s what evaluation is all about.

What Is Evaluation?

Evaluation is a broad term that refers to the collection and analysis of activities, characteristics, and outcomes to make decisions about a program, improve program effectiveness, and inform future programming.

Why Is Evaluation Important?

You do awesome work for the community. I know that, your mom knows that, but isn’t it time that everyone else knows that too? Evaluation can help you to:

  • Explain the value of a program;
  • Share the story of the program’s impact;
  • Assess and ensure the quality of programs;
  • Assist with decision-making about programs; and
  • Cultivate transparency and accountability with funders and clients.

Ultimately, evaluation can demonstrate your awesomeness to the entire world. Don’t worry though, your mom and I will always be in your corner.

When Should You Start An Evaluation?

If you shouted, “I know this one! At the beginning of the program!” you would be right. Evaluation works best if you start the process right at the beginning of your new program or initiative. This is why evaluation is increasingly becoming part of grant applications, because it’s also part of program planning.

Evaluation Is Like A Road Trip

At GrantsEdge, we like to think of evaluation as a road trip. It takes a lot of planning to get there, you’re constantly stopping, asking for directions, and wondering, “are we there yet?” But, in the end, the destination is always worth the journey.

We’ve heard over and over again that evaluation feels overwhelming, so we want to provide some specific direction for you as you begin to think about how to evaluate your programs and incorporate evaluation into future grant applications.

Buckle up! Here are the six stages of The Definitive Road Map To Evaluation.

Stage 1: Plan It

I’m not one of those people who like to travel to a new city or new country and just “wing it.” I want to plan out where I’m going to stay, what I’m going to see, and what I’m going to do. Evaluation is the same.

Stage 1 is all about planning your evaluation. What do you want to evaluate? What is the purpose of the evaluation? How will you gather your information? What do you want to know? What will you do with the results once you get them? It’s important to sit down and ask yourself and your team members these questions to really understand what you want to get out of the evaluation process.

Need ideas for other questions you should be asking? Check out our Getting Started With Evaluation Guide here.

Stage 2: Map It

Once I’ve selected all the “must-sees” and “must-dos” on my trip, I map out the best route to make sure I can fit them all into my schedule.

In Stage 2, just like when you are travelling, you need to map out your evaluation. You want to create an evaluation plan to clearly identify the goals of the evaluation and the ways in which you will collect and analyze data. The evaluation plan will include:

  • Objectives – What the program seeks to achieve or accomplish.
  • Outcomes – The difference the program will make in the lives of individuals, families, organization, or the community.
  • Inputs – The materials and resources the program uses in its activities or processes to serve clients.
  • Outputs – The units of service regarding your program, for example, the number of clients trained, counselled, housed, etc.
  • Success Indicators – The observed and measurable milestones toward an outcome.

Stage 3: Implement It

Here we go! Finally, it’s time to get in the car or board the plane and begin our travels! In evaluation, it means it’s time to start the data collection process.

Let’s go back to the good ol’ 5Ws + H for this part. It’s time to decide:

  • Who do you want to collect data from? Program participants, partner organizations, volunteers, etc.
  • What information do you want to collect? Design those questions!
  • Where will you collect data? Leave a survey at the front desk, interview participants during the program, etc.
  • When will you collect data? Outline the time frame for data collection.
  • Why are you collecting this information? Don’t remember? Go back to your evaluation plan!
  • How will you collect data? You can use surveys, phone interviews, focus groups… whatever makes the most sense for your program and the type of information you want to collect.

Once you have that all figured out, go out and collect that data!

Stage 4: Make Sense Of It

This is my favourite part. I’m exploring the new city I’m in and learning new things. I don’t understand the language, I’m getting lost, and it’s confusing. But then something magical happens, I recognize the route back to the hotel, I understand some new words, and I really settle in and enjoy this new place.

In evaluation, Stage 4 is the data analysis process. If you’ve collected quantitative data, analyze it using descriptive statistics like frequencies, total numbers, percentages, averages, ratios, etc. Put these numbers into tables, charts, and graphs to make them really clear. If you’ve collected qualitative data, provide direct quotes and/or a summary of the common themes that came out in each question.

Stage 4 is also about linking the data back to the outcomes and indicators in your evaluation plan. Don’t just present your findings, try to make sense of the data and really understand what your respondents are telling you. You need to understand the story your data is telling you. This is where you’ll see the impact of your results.

Stage 5: Communicate It

Am I the only one that still sends postcards when I’m on vacation? I just can’t wait to tell my family and friends about my trip!

You’ve put all this work into designing and conducting an evaluation. The next step is to share the results. With whom do you want to share your results? Just staff members and volunteers? The whole community? Don’t forget your funder! They’ll definitely want to know how the program they’ve contributed to is doing. Also think about how you will present the results. On social media? In a presentation at the next staff meeting? In a fully designed report? Remember, the format should match the audience.

Stage 6: Use It

So, the journey is coming to an end. I like to reflect and ask myself, what was the best part? The most amazing thing I saw? The best food I ate? What didn’t go so well? What would I do differently if I went there again?

Once the evaluation is complete, take some time to reflect on how the process went. What went well? What could be enhanced or improved for future evaluations? Think about how you will use this new information. Don’t be the organization that spends all that time doing an evaluation and then never uses the results. Remember why you set out to do the evaluation in the first place.

The Road Trip Isn’t Over… It’s Just Beginning!

Evaluation is critical to be able to demonstrate impact. Since funders are increasingly requiring their applicants to provide evidence of impact, consider building evaluation into your next new program so you can easily measure your impact and share the significance of your program for your participants, your organization, and your community.

Evaluation is a big part of what we do at Kovacs Group. We’ll be sharing much more about evaluation in the upcoming weeks and months on the GrantsEdge Blog!

But wait, the journey isn’t over yet! Download our Getting Started With Evaluation Guide that outlines all of the questions you need to ask and answer to get started in evaluation. You can download your copy by filling out the information below.

  • To download your file, you must agree to the GrantsEdge Terms of Service.
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The Ultimate Guide To Answering The “Sustainability Question” In Grant Applications

When I was growing up my mother always told me not to use the word “hate”. I remember the passion with which she would scold us when she heard it slip from our lips. Over time, and as I grew older, the word “hate” just wasn’t part of my vernacular.

It wasn’t until about 10 years ago, as I regularly connected with grant writers in the community, that the word “hate” came back into my consciousness with full force. Maybe they were just being extreme, trying to make a point, but grant writer after grant writer began to tell me in casual and not so casual conversation about how much they “hated” the sustainability question. I found it odd, because as a funder it was an extremely important part of the application process. But the more I listened to the ones preparing the proposals, the more I understood.

Are you part of that group of “haters”? Is the sustainability question one that pushes you over the edge every time you look to complete your proposal? There are some grant writers that might want to argue that it’s not a fair question, that the question sets grant writers up to sound silly or to make it seem like they don’t know how to properly plan or think through their program with a long-term perspective.

At GrantsEdge, we know this is a difficult and even painful question, and the purpose of this blog is not to defend the merits of the question one way or another. Your reality, as a grant writer, is that you need to be able to reasonably demonstrate that your organization has a plan and an ability to sustain the financial, programmatic, and leadership aspects of the program beyond the scope of the grant funding for which you are applying.

As a former funder with more than 17 years experience reviewing grant proposals, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to answers to this infamous question.

What follows is a glimpse into some of the ugliness as well as an ultimate guide for effectively conquering the hated sustainability question.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s not just about having convincing words on a page, YOU ACTUALLY NEED A PLAN.

Ugly Answer #1: We have no idea

Believe it or not, some applicants ignore the sustainability question and the intent behind it by simply confessing that they simply have no clue what they will do when the grant runs out. This “beautiful” (see the dripping sarcasm) answer can quickly cause a funder to place the proposal on the “NO” pile. A project with no sustainability plan is not a good investment. Not many would invest in a business venture that had no specific plans for longer-term sustainability. Funders want to invest in projects that have the capacity to impact communities for the long-term. Don’t ignore the question, unless you don’t mind being declined.

Ugly Answer #2: We are hoping the government will pick up the funding

This approach is not much different than the “we have no idea” answer from earlier. Many organizations think that it is relatively easy to obtain government funding and that they will provide base or annualized funding. While the government does have some ongoing funding programs, there aren’t a lot of new ones and when there are, they have very specific outcomes that they are looking to fund. The chance that your particular approach is a strong fit with their priority areas and outcomes is remote.

Ugly Answer #3: We believe our numbers will quadruple

This is the dreaded “unrealistic” answer to the sustainability question, and an answer funders see far too often. While it is entirely possible to quadruple outcomes, outputs, and overall numbers over the course of one year, it is highly unlikely. Funders have seen many grant applications and are fairly astute at assessing whether the grant proposal’s projections and numbers are reasonable or not. In answering this way, grant writers are suggesting that the sustainability of the program will come through based on new revenue streams created by the exponential growth of the program.

Remember though, when you are setting projections you need to consider that your proposal might actually be successful. If you are awarded the money, the funder will be measuring your success against those projections. Setting unrealistic expectations may be setting the organization up for difficult and ugly conversations with your funder later.

Not Quite as Ugly Answer #1: We will introduce a new fundraising event

Fundraising events can be a great addition to any organization’s revenue stream and long-term sustainability plan, but event planners and organizations with significant experience in fundraising will tell you that it often takes a couple of years before a gala event or golf tournament makes enough money to begin to break even. These are huge events to organize and “pull off”, and when one considers the full cost of hosting the event, including all staff time involved, it is a significant investment of time and resources. It can also be difficult to estimate accurately what the revenue may be in the first year of an event. Organizations need to recognize that if a significant portion of your program is dependent on a successful fundraising event, you will have to implement that event every single year.

The fundraising event is not a bad strategy (or no one would be doing it), and not necessarily a bad answer to the sustainability question, but funders may not see this approach as the best or only way to sustain a program.

How SHOULD We Answer The Sustainability Question?

Too many organizations go the ugly route when answering the sustainability question. It’s time for a different approach. Here are some of the answers that your organization may want to consider as you begin to formulate your proposal.

Good Answer #1: We have a plan in place for diversifying our revenue streams

The diversification of revenue streams is music to a funder’s ear. But, don’t just say you are going to diversify, your proposal needs to have a carefully thought through plan that can be outlined in your proposal. It is also important and incredibly helpful to include some clear and realistic targets outlined as part of this plan. Be realistic in setting your goals and provide the funder with a timeline for when you believe you will begin to reach the various parts of your plan. Diversification of funding streams may include introducing user fees, selling products or services, and incorporating fundraising activities.

Formalizing plans to diversify your revenue streams, while demonstrating specific goals and timelines will signify to the funder that you plan on being around for the long haul – which feels like a much wiser investment and is a much more attractive option for them to fund.

Good Answer #2: We know the program costs will decrease

Another important element of a good answer to the sustainability question in a grant proposal is to let a funder know if the costs related to running the program will decrease once the initial set-up is complete. With some projects/programs the start up phase is the most expensive, as marketing costs or initial staff investments can be significant. If the budget needed to operate your project/program is going to decrease in the future, be sure to include that in your answer, as that will provide funders with important context about what it will take to sustain your work.

Good Answer #3: We will know more after the evaluation

Many funders are particularly interested in the evaluation component of a program or project. Funders are hesitant to jump in with a large cheque if the evaluation process has not yet been completed. If there is an evaluation component to your program/project, it may become more enticing to new funders because the research and learning has already taken place. A robust evaluation answer in your grant proposal can then impact a funders understanding and perspective on your program’s/project’s sustainability.

Good Answer #4: We have a strong plan for collaboration

The long-term sustainability of a project can be significantly aided by the participation and involvement of other organizations. Before writing your grant, do the hard work to determine whether or not you have some collaborative partners who are excited to continue working with you once the grant expires. What will these groups invest? What physical or financial resources might they bring to impact the sustainability? Describe your partnerships clearly in the grant proposal and leverage this as part of your sustainability plan.

Good Answer #5: We will focus on sustaining outcomes not programs

Often, when grant writers interpret the sustainability question, they assume that funders expect the program to remain fully intact and unchanged. That is not necessarily the case. Funders are often most interested in long-term community impact, not the longevity of a program. As you begin to build your program/project you will need to identify whether your situation is one where the outcomes can be sustained while the program investment is severely decreased.

An example of this might include a situation where a grant is provided to help an organization build new curriculum to address high participant drop out rates from a specific program. Once the curriculum has been built, the outcome of increased retention rates can be solidified without the need for ongoing funding support.

Don’t Hate The Sustainability Question

We know the sustainability question isn’t an easy one, but it’s here to stay. Talk to your funder, if you can, to try and get a sense for what they might be seeking in the answer to this question, and look to these five ‘Good Answer” strategies to see how they might fit with your specific situation.

The Top 3 Tips For Telling Your Story So Funders Listen

I’m that guy you don’t want to watch movies with very often (or at all). Especially the typical Hollywood productions that make their way to local theatres. Why? I always know the ending. I try not to say anything out loud, or ruin the experience for others (except for maybe my wife… I do find that funny). Even though I love being surprised, which is why I’m pretty enthralled with a show like Game of Thrones (“I never saw that coming”), it just doesn’t happen often enough.

So What Do Stories Have To Do With Grant Writing?

How do stories and grants connect? At GrantsEdge, we believe that stories are a vital part of every grant application. Tell your story well, and a funder is more likely to connect with your idea, and more likely to say “yes” to your application. Bore them with a proposal that reads like all the others and you may end up back at the drawing board looking for money from a different funder.

If you can begin to include great storytelling in your grant proposals, funders will take notice, and your success rate will begin to increase.

Stories Have A Typical Formula

Before you go thinking I have some kind of special gift to be able to guess the outcome of a story, I don’t. I’m not alone in my ability to understand the classic rhythm of storytelling. You’re probably thinking of someone in your life right now who has been known to ruin the ending of a movie from time to time. It’s because most great stories follow a formula.

Even with all the predictability that most stories (books, movies, T.V. shows, etc.) bring, I still love them, and would never want to live a life void of story. As humans, we are wired in such a way that story captures us and moves us more than any other medium of communication.

The 3 Things You Need To Know To Write A Good Story

The 3 principles to writing a good story are:

  1. Know Your Audience
  2. Make Yourself The Sidekick, Not The Hero
  3. Articulate The Transformation

These are foundational principles for storytelling within a grant writing context. If understood and implemented, they can begin to take your stories from common to compelling, and your grant proposals from a “no” to a “yes.”

1. Know Your Audience

Know Your Audience

Knowing or anticipating who will be reading what you have written is key to effective writing in general, and storytelling specifically. Not knowing your audience is just asking for trouble.

I was reminded of this idea recently when attending a program in my community. The facilitator of the group had invited a guest speaker to lead a conversation around financial literacy.

The guest speaker had prepared a ton of great information. You could tell he was passionate about the topic and really wanted to be helpful. There was one big problem though, he didn’t know his audience.  As he described some of the finer points of saving money and planning for a strong financial future, participants became frustrated. Some were even angry. What he didn’t realize was the main source of income, for the vast majority of the group, came through government assistance. Being told they needed to “save money” was offensive to them. It’s wasn’t that they didn’t want to save money, but once they covered their basic needs, there wasn’t much, if anything, left at the end of the month. Even if there was, saving money was not even a possibility within the rules and regulations of the system.

I sat uncomfortably in the corner (as a guest) and watched, as most participants felt frustrated and angry. It was obvious that no one left the session feeling like they had gained anything valuable from the experience. One of the most unfortunate aspects, was the guest speaker actually had valuable information about how to manage money… it just never got heard. He didn’t know his audience. Had he known his audience, he could have shared his story and information in a way that would’ve resonated, rather than isolated.

Could you imagine alienating a funder that way by submitting a grant proposal that is so far off the mark they get angry? Maybe the example is extreme, but grant writers make this common mistake far too often.

One of the most critical components of telling a good story and writing a good grant is to write it with your funder in mind. Don’t write the proposal for you, write it for them. Tell your story in such a way that funders know you’ve tailored it for them. Do the work to understand their purpose for providing funding. Recognize the results they hope to foster through their fund.

The story you tell in your grant proposal must connect your mission with the priorities of the granting agency.

2. Make Yourself The Sidekick, Not The Hero

Let’s get right to the point. The hero of your story, every time, should be the clients or community you serve. They represent the main character, the protagonist of your story. In most storytelling frameworks, the hero is usually taken on a journey, or looking to accomplish a task that seems to be beyond what they think they are capable of doing. Without taking action, the hero, whose flaws and weaknesses are visible, will find themselves (and others around them) in danger or dealing with significant struggle. The hero needs to do something different. They need to take action for their survival. For the audience, this character is compelling.

At this point in the story, a sidekick or guide usually appears. In most stories, they come alongside the hero to help them solve their problem. Their job is to listen, understand, and empathize with the hero’s problem. The hero also needs a plan or a solution. It’s the guide who shows the way.

  • Frodo must save Middle Earth, but he’s not sure he is courageous, or brave, or good enough to accomplish the task. Gandalf is the guide.
  • Luke Skywalker isn’t sure if he has what it takes to be a Jedi. Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi play the role of guide.
  • Bridget Jones doesn’t feel worthy of love, and it takes her mother and friends to guide her through this journey of self-discovery.

For every Shrek, there must be a Donkey. 

You, or your organization, are the sidekick. You’re the one who has a plan for the hero to follow. It’s that plan that results in successful outcomes.

In too many of our stories, we want to write ourselves in as the hero. As you begin to craft your grant proposals and write your program descriptions and organizational overviews, become the sidekick. Help funders understand the hero of the story and their challenges, and then go on to explain how you will serve as the guide. Tell your story in such a way the funder understands the plan and how it will have an impact.

3. Articulate The Transformation

The transformation is the most exciting and interesting part of the story. This is the part of the story where I get that lump in my throat because, in the end, the hero is different, they’re in a better place, and their challenge has been met with a solution.

I want to suggest a formula that effectively articulates the transformation of the hero.

Problem + Solution = Transformation

We’ve already referred to the problem and solution parts of the story. As the guide, you enter the story with an understanding of the problem and you provide a plan and a solution. The last part of the equation is to write about the transformation. What has taken place in the life of the hero because they implemented the plan? What positive changes have occurred as a result of the guide’s solution(s)? What success have they experienced?

The description of the transformation is key in your grant proposal. By clearly outlining how your solution will change the circumstances for your clients, the funder will gain a deeper understanding of the benefit of your project and be able to make a decision about whether they wish to invest their funds into such a venture.

If you don’t include the transformation in your story, a funder is left wondering if your plan really works or makes a difference. Paint a clear picture for them. Evoke in the funder, the type of emotion that causes them to get a lump in their throat, as they recognize the transformation of the hero in the story.

Be A Great Storyteller

We all love a great story. Utilize one of the oldest forms of communication as a way to demonstrate to funders that your program is worthy of their support. Take grant proposals from good, to even better, by implementing the elements of storytelling outlined in this blog post. Here’s a quick recap. Be sure to know your audience before you write. Make sure you understand that you are not the hero of the story, but that you are the sidekick with a plan. And as you conclude your story, write about the amazing transformation the hero has experienced.

GrantsEdge is all about action, and we want to do everything we can to help you become a great storyteller as you write your grants. Use the GrantsEdge Problem + Solution = Transformation Worksheet to implement storytelling into your grant writing.

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