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Grantland.tim
September 26, 2011 10:19 AM   Subscribe

So, I want to be a grant writer. I'm a published author many times over, and have no problem with the actual writing/convincing stuff, but it seems that is the least important part of the process.

My research says it is more about knowing where the money is to begin with, and managing it properly after the fact. (i.e. the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will give you $10K for whatever, but if you spend a penny on it for donuts at a meeting, you are toast and need to pay it back.)

Seems there are three stages of this, the person who knows where the money is, the person who actually writes the grant, and the person who adminstrates it after the fact. Ideally, the first two people are the same person.

I would be doing this for my kid's school, by way of funding the nerdy club stuff, Gay/Straight Alliance, Star Wars Club, Political Action Committee whatever.

I have googled my butt off, and the examples I have seen of successful, funded grants all seem like bad term papers. I mean, really bad.

So dear hive, riddle me these

- is there any "go to" database of all the places that make grants? I'm pretty sure the local VFW would give my son a $500 scholarship for holding a flag on the 4th of July, but where would I find that out?

-- How political/territorial/adminstrative does this get? If I want $200 to put up a coupla of basketball rims, am I going to be waiting for three years before it ever filters through some foundation's hierarchy?

-- however altruistic I might be, I understand good grant writers are pretty well sought after, and there are two ways people compensate them. Either a straight fee or hourly rate, or as a percentage of the final amount awarded. It seems most places can't afford the former, and agreeing to the latter is not only sketchy, but makes you a whore, possiby a very cheap one.

This is something I could easily do to make someone's life better somewhere. It would be nice to get paid too, but that's not my main motivation.

Whatever youse guys gots, is appreciated.
posted by timsteil to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
You want Foundation Center. You need a subscription to search their database, unless you are near one of their many libraries, listed here. They do exactly what you describe. They also give classes on writing effective grant proposals.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:28 AM on September 26, 2011


There are many go-to databases.

Try the Foundation Directory Online. You'll need an account to access all the good information. There's not a long list of open grants, because any given funder's grant cycle isn't necessarily that well organized - and, in this day and age, many private funders are invite-only. Which means that it's a long, slow process that starts with a letter of inquiry that hopefully turns into a lunch that hopefully turns into a proposal. Rather, there are list of funders - you search them by areas of interest, and you try to find a bunch of funders who are interested in the program you're writing on behalf of.

Start local. A lot of cities have a Community Foundations that has some good, locally-specific resources, or some control over donor-advised funds.

Good grantwriters don't get paid by a percentage of the final award amount, and here's why (hopefully this will be helpful for you, as it seems that there are some parts of what you know about grantwriting that are missing) - a proposal's success can have nothing to do with the ability of the grantwriter, and it also sets up the wrong incentives for grantwriters to chase short-term payouts, whereas the money is in developing long-term, sustainable relationships with funders who are interested in a program, invest in it, and work with the program so that it can achieve meaningful results. Knowing more about program planning and management will make you a better grantwriter.

To that effect, as you're looking for money, you should know the programs you're trying to fund, be able to research them really well. Grant proposals aren't so much about "please give me two hundred bucks for basketball hoops," but rather, often involve some important research and developing a strong argument. (And yes, there are a bunch of bad grantwriters who are terrible writers out there.)
posted by entropone at 10:33 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


In your particular case, it might come down to "presentation".

It is nice to be a writer and published, but your askme reads like a case study of how not to go about finding a grant.

Grant writing is all about interpreting goals and building justification outside the emotional need. That requires research, planning, discussion and fact checking.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 10:40 AM on September 26, 2011


I think you're not having any luck finding answers because you're asking the wrong question. You're not looking to write grants. You're looking to be a fundraiser. $500 here and $200 there are small-potatoes asks. Grant writers who are working for nonprofits and applying for funding from the Gates Foundation are a completely different league.

If you want small money like what you've described above, you'd be wasting your time to access the Foundation Center's vast libraries of foundations. The big ones are looking to invest in things, not throw $500 at your kid's school. Where is that random $200 or $500? It's in your local business community. Pick up your local business directory to start. You can also pick up annual reports from local nonprofits to see who gives in the range you're seeking to raise. (This is called "Prospecting.") Skip the foundation hierarchy and administration. You'd be wasting their time and yours.

As a writer, you're going to need to re-learn how to write a fundraising letter, because you're not going to be writing grants for $500 and you're not going to be using the same skills you bring to the table as an author. I really like Mal Warwick's advice, YMMV.

Good grant writers get paid, yes. Generally salaries. Never, ever a percentage of what they raise, that is unethical and any organization who offers that as compensation is unethical.

Stop thinking in terms of being a grant writer and doors will open for you. Think "fund raiser" and start approaches small and personal. You can bring in small amounts of money for your kid's school most effectively by leveraging community support in small amounts.
posted by juniperesque at 10:41 AM on September 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I agree that what you're talking about seems more like fundraising.

On the flip side, perhaps you could pull together a much bigger project that bundles all of the asks into one place for the entire year. This would equal a much larger award.

I've written grants (ie, funding proposals) for the past decade, from amounts of $5000 to $1 million.

I have found most of my money just by calling people - I do most of my research over the phone. It really helps to determine what the decision process is (who is making the decision? is it a process? is it political and done by community consensus? is it political and done by a key decision maker?).

It's also good to weigh the amount of effort it is going to take versus the actual award. If you can, you need to determine the amount of prep versus the risk of the proposal being rejected.

For what you're talking about (funding for schools), I would assume the risks of rejection are going to be pretty low, but there will be a lot of competition.

To make life easier for yourself and more efficient at the start, I would start looking around locally - hospitals, community foundations, etc.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:52 AM on September 26, 2011


These people - the grassroots Institute for Fundraising have journals with good info on smaller scale fundraising that might be useful.

I agree with what was said above. What you want to be doing is thinking in terms of building good long term relationships with individuals and businesses to support the school - not just - I need a basketball hoop right now. If you do a good job of thanking them and keeping them in the loop what you will develop is a group of regular donors that you can turn to for other needs over time.

As far as individual grants and scholarships - that can be a whole different set of research. Many foundations only give to non-profit organizations and do not award grants to individuals. Again the Foundation Center will have info on this. Is the school a non-profit?
posted by oneear at 10:56 AM on September 26, 2011


Grant writer here.

You're right to say that writing is only a small part of it, but the writing that is involved is different than say fiction or non-fiction. It involves developing convincing statements of need, developing goals with measurable outcomes, creating sustainability, having an evaluation plan in place, etc.

Sometimes - often, in fact - the grant writer is also the prospect researcher and the grant manager. Identifying the program you want to fund is just the start. You will have to seek out possible foundations to ask, construct a case, build a program budget, create a logic model outlining goals, activities and outcomes and then make sure that when you report on the grant you know where all the money went and how it contributed to the success of the program.

Grant writing is only one small part of fundraising, as has been noted. You could absolutely write a grant for $500. Grants come in all shapes and sizes. For small grants for you school, however, you're not going to be looking at things like Gates. You're going to want to look at the small, local, family foundations that operate in your community.

Foundation Center is definitely a great place to start. Your local library may have a subscription, or you can do a free trial (or purchase a subscription). Once you've got a list of potential foundations, start calling them. Really. Don't waste your time sending out tons of cold apps hoping someone will pick you up. Look closely at each foundation's guidelines. Many that turn up as good fits in your database search won't actually work. Most large foundations will not give grants to individual schools, let alone for anything related to something political or social. I use foundation center to get a broad list and then narrow it down by looking at websites, checking out 990's on guidestar, etc.

Check with your school to see if they receive or have received any charitable (i.e. non public) funding in the past. If they have a development database like Raiser's Edge, scour it for potential relationships.

- is there any "go to" database of all the places that make grants? I'm pretty sure the local VFW would give my son a $500 scholarship for holding a flag on the 4th of July, but where would I find that out?

To find that out specifically, you'd call someone at the VFW. Otherwise, start with Foundation Center. If you're state has a Foundation Databook (check the library) use that as well. Other than that, Google is your friend.

-- How political/territorial/adminstrative does this get? If I want $200 to put up a coupla of basketball rims, am I going to be waiting for three years before it ever filters through some foundation's hierarchy?

It entirely depends on the grant and the foundation. The fastest grant turn-around is probably two months or so, the longest (something like Kresge) could take nine months or more. If it's a small grant think small foundation - the process will probably be easier and shorter. But yes, part of being a grant writer is a lot of administration. I have no idea what you mean by political/territorial, exactly, but I will say that successfully winning grants does involve building relationships, especially at the local level.

Also a note: basketball rims would be capital; foundations that fund capital expenses are few.

-- however altruistic I might be, I understand good grant writers are pretty well sought after, and there are two ways people compensate them. Either a straight fee or hourly rate, or as a percentage of the final amount awarded. It seems most places can't afford the former, and agreeing to the latter is not only sketchy, but makes you a whore, possiby a very cheap one.

Never, ever take a percentage of the grant. It doesn't work like that, and if the foundation you're applying to finds out that's how you are being paid (if you didn't include it in the project budget, which would reflect poorly on you), you will be fucked. Most grant writers either earn a salary or are paid hourly. Good grant writers with a history of success are sought after and can earn anywhere between $30 and $150 an hr. If you're just getting started, consider trying it out on a volunteer basis until you have a proven track record, especially if it's for small grants for your child's school.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:02 AM on September 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm a volunteer grantwriter. I don't know how much of my experience translates to school stuff, and I don't have much experience with compensation (though I agree that working for a percentage of a grant is always very sketchy and unethical).

My general intuition is that if you want to help an organization, but they can't afford to hire you (either as a consultant or a very part-time employee), then you either have to volunteer your time or move on. Maybe you start by volunteering and help their budget grow to the point where they can afford to pay you, but that's an iffy and very long-term approach.

For amounts in the $200-$1000 range, try seeking donations from local businesses, or even in-kind gifts (if it's equipment that you need).

Small $500 - $2000 grants might also be available from local foundations and programs, and for that you need to do local research and networking - call up the VFW to ask about their scholarship programs, look at the websites of local nonprofits to see who they list as funders, google around for foundations located in your state/county/city with interests matching your program.

I've only received grants between $1000-$25,000, but I've never seen any extreme bureaucracy in getting the money--we usually receive the entire amount within the month that it's awarded. I'd think you'd be more likely to encounter issues when dealing with the school's rules for clubs and funding.
posted by missix at 11:12 AM on September 26, 2011


If you just want a list of local foundations, you can use the Foundation Center's free Foundation Finder, putting in your city and state. That will give you a list of all of the foundations that are based in your area (link is to Chicago foundations).

As you live in a major city, however, you're probably going to want to narrow it down further, and that's where finding a full subscription (or visiting a cooperating collection with one - it looks like you have few to choose from) like showbiz_liz says, comes into it. Cooperating collections are nice because they've committed to having a certain level of resources and backing that up with staff who have been trained to help you find what you're looking for.
posted by clerestory at 2:15 PM on September 26, 2011


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