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My kingdom for an intern!
June 28, 2014 9:05 PM   Subscribe

I need a grant writing intern for my non-profit. Possibly several. Do you know what universities have good green technology or permaculture degree tracks that would be a good place to start looking? (many snowflakes inside)

My friends and I started a non-profit last year. Things are going well. REALLY well, in some ways. We don't have a lot of money at the moment, but we've funded (through Indiegogo and some very generous individual donations) a 3 month long bus tour of Mexico and Central America to bring permaculture and long-term sustainable technology to indigenous communities, and are launching a social networking website soon through our sister corporation, and have two more tours in the works.

We have recently been donated 7 acres of prime riverfront real estate in central Guatemala (near Semuc Champey, if you want to google it) to build a permaculture and sustainability education center that will engage in outreach to local farmers and provide courses and trainings in our areas of expertise for locals and tourists alike. We have two extremely skilled eco-village and permaculture designers on board, along with my wonderful co-founders who have excellent leadership and PR skills. Awesome, right? Right! Now I just need to get grant money to fund this. I had a few people who offered to help, but they all dropped off the project when they needed to find paying jobs -- which I totally understand. Not everyone has the financial freedom to do that much work as a volunteer. Grant writing is time-consuming, and right now I can't afford to salary anyone (including myself. No one is getting paid yet.)

I have never written grants before. I am not opposed to writing grants myself, but I am SO BUSY with all the different projects my non-profit is involved in, plus taking care of my existing consulting clients, that I don't know if I have enough time to devote to this. Several of my associates have indicated this would be an excellent place to plug in an intern from a university program that focuses on ecological studies.

Can anyone suggest universities with good permaculture and ecological programs or some other degree track that would have students who would jump at the chance to write grants for this project and get flown to Guatemala to see the fruits of their labors? Do you have any suggestions for how to go about this? Have you interned for a non-profit before? Any ideas on good foundations to approach for grant money? I have a huge list, but more is always better. I will be in sole charge of overseeing this process, and I want to do it right. I have had interns before in a previous company, but not for grant writing.

I've applied to the UC Berkeley career center, but haven't heard back. All suggestions welcome! We have to raise at least $50,000 by next May, and we are planning on doing a crowd-funding campaign next year. We are already committed to a crowd funding campaign for our American tour in August, so we can't overload our network with a second ask right away.

Thank you Hive Mind!
posted by ananci to Education (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Grant writing is time-consuming, and right now I can't afford to salary anyone (including myself. No one is getting paid yet.)

Besides "experience", is there something you can provide these students for the time-consuming labor they will be providing?

Because they are taking up this "opportunity" with you, they will be losing other opportunities. You have to give the students an incentive to take this opportunity over what they would be doing. Because you can't pay them, you're kinda outta luck.

Is there anything you can think of (besides a short trip to Guatemala in the future) that would benefit them somehow. Some credit or something from their school. Talk to the departments and see what you would need to do to get students some legit credit that they could gain in order to not take some of the other courses through the degree granting program.

Also, think local schools. Of course Berkeley comes to mind, but local schools would give you more access to everyone involved.

Make this mutually beneficial for everyone involved and you will thrive.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:18 PM on June 28 [7 favorites]

Sonoma State?
UC Davis?
posted by wintersweet at 9:18 PM on June 28

Another option would be to look at colleges that offer programs in fundraising. There are probably students who are looking for grant writing experience.
posted by emeiji at 9:28 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]

Two things:

1. You should be looking for people with strong grant-writing skills, regardless of their area of expertise.

2. If you contact Dave Jacke directly, I am sure he'll know the answer to your question. He is, after all, Mr. Permaculture.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:11 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]

I wrote grants and honestly I'm not sure an undergraduate intern is going to be qualified. Good grant writers need a lot of knowledge of the field, a decent grasp of your financial situation and ideally would already have a relationship with the grantors. This might be something for an Americorps position though, they do have older people and people with graduate degrees.

Also you need to sort out finances now for this: most granting bodies have matching funds requirements, many require specific audits or other financial structures to be in place when you apply. For example, do you have a federally negotiated indirect rate? It would be a very good idea to get someone with experience in the field on as a consultant. One initial meeting and review on applications won't be very costly and will greatly increase your chances of getting funding.
posted by fshgrl at 10:12 PM on June 28 [6 favorites]

It doesn't sound to me like you want an intern. An intern is someone who has no experience but wants to see how things are done, learn the ropes, find a mentor. You are looking for unpaid fundraising labor, which I gotta say I think is kind of uncool.

The thing is, most NPO's just starting out think that grants will be some sort of magical funding source. But truly, they are not. Most NPOs see less than 25% of their funding from grant sources (75% is earned or individual contributions). Furthermore, the average return rate on grants these days is about 10%. That means whoever is doing the grant writing for you, after they first find a grant opportunity that fits and does all the background work, has to write about 10x as many grants as you need in order to reach the fundraising goal. It's a ton of work - a ton of work that needs expertise and experience - and I don't think you're going to get that from a student. There's a reason grant writers make $40-$150 an hour. You have to know about audits and metrics and evaluation and be good with stats and know how to read a 990. It's not a 'let's find a college student and get them to get us $50,000' situation.

I have supervised fundraising and other students learning to write grants. These students are learning. They take a long time to write a grant, need a lot of coaching, and never (or very rarely) get funded. It would be a waste of both your time.

Not to be all tough love, but starting a NPO means that you, the founding team, will do all of the grant writing and fundraising for the first many years, if not forever. Most of running a NPO is fundraising, and if grants are part of your development plan, I think it's honestly something you've got to do yourself unless your development budget gets sufficiently large.

The only alternative solution I can think of is to find a fundraiser who would be interested in serving on your board and making an in-kind donation of grant writing services. Difficult to find, but depending on your organization and connections, it is possible.

And as for this: Any ideas on good foundations to approach for grant money?

A big part of an experienced grant writer's expertise and work is prospect research. It's half the battle of winning a grant. My general advice for folks is to start with Foundation Center and then whittle down a huge list by looking at the tax filings for each foundation.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:43 PM on June 28 [26 favorites]

Have you interned for a non-profit before?

I was a grant writing/development intern and what you're wanting will be completely beyond what an intern will know how to do. Grant writing is ridiculously complicated. The most writing I did was to draft letters of intent near the end of my internship because my boss wanted me to have a better understanding of the different programs of the nonprofit. Most of my time was spent on doing research on possible leads. I was given a massive list of different foundations to see which of their grants (if any) matched the projects that needed funding. I also looked a lot at similar organizations and who they got their money from.

While I learned a lot about grant writing in that internship (my boss spent time with me walking me through past successful grants), I wouldn't say I know enough to put together anything successful.

It'd be easier to answer your question if we know where you are. Unless you're pretty well off, I doubt many people would move to a different city for a bit for an unpaid internship of this scope.
posted by astapasta24 at 12:09 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

You need to hire a professional who gets paid.

As others have said, "intern" is not code for "free labor," and no undergrad is going to have the experience you need. It's a long way from IndieGoGo to actual competitive grant-seeking.

Also, a bit of practical wisdom: the way you pitch the idea here sounds (to my ear) just a little condescending to indigenous people and naive about the politics of development and the NGO space. Your enthusiasm shows, but your experience doesn't. As someone who both writes and *reviews* grant proposals in a related space, let me suggest you watch that tone. Central American indigenous communities have practiced "sustainable permaculture" since white people were learning to use forks. They don't necessarily need crowd funded social networking well meaning American enlightenment, or if they do, they have much to offer in return in terms of expertise.

There is more than a hint of neocolonial condescension in so many initiatives like this (I know lots of similar projects). Anyone on the indigenous rights side of academic ecology and sustainability studies (I know more than a few in this category) is going to be very alert to this issue of tone as a clue to your level of seriousness and sophistication. It's one reason you need professional skills in a grant-writer. Your average undergrad is unlikely to have worked through these issues in dialogue with indigenous colleagues or shed the naïveté of white man's burden thinking entirely. What sells an idea to the kinds of funders you find to cough up $100 for a friend's cool project on indiegogo is not necessarily what sells in the professional non-profit grant-making space with long-standing commitments in the region.

posted by spitbull at 2:42 AM on June 29 [22 favorites]

It is extremely difficult to get grant funding. To have any realistic chance of grant success, you need an experienced senior person to write your grants. Most grant applications require a detailed project plan and budget, a qualified team to lead the project, and demonstration of local partnerships and community interest and approval. Typically the person writing the grant will be someone who will play a large role in the project if it is funded- and therefore they can include some of their own salary in the proposed budget. I'd try to build up networks with established people in the field and see if you could bring one of them aboard your non-profit.

A more appropriate role for an intern would be organizing fundraisers and social media, seeking donations, and researching funding opportunities (types of available grants, requirements and eligibility, due dates, etc)- all very important and useful tasks that are suitable for a student. However, this sounds like a volunteer position rather than a true internship.
posted by emd3737 at 4:03 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

First, most local companiees just grab interns from their own locale. The only way long distance interning works is if you can provcide housing and other costs during a summer semester.

Secondly, interns are not a long term fix for anything. For one, there is oittle loyalty when you pay someone nothing even if it is a great learning experience. After a couple of months they move on, which wouldn't work for your situation at all.

But you seem confused on what an intern actually does. The purpose of an internship is that it's a learning experience for them. They are not supposed to be cheap labor. In fact, they are often more trouble than hiring someone with those skills because they don't stay long, have little to no professional experience, and are rarely working fulltime.

Grantwriting is not a menial task anyone can be taught to do. NPOs are desperate for grantwriters. If you have an intern supporting grantwriting, you should be doing more work to just get organized and find ways they can help the project. The idea of an intern teaching themselves to bring in 50k in funding is so far from the reality it's a little mind boggling to be honest.

Let me repeat again, managing interns is a lot of work. They move on quickly, and need a lot of support.
posted by Aranquis at 4:04 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

I know you are fighting the good fight trying to preserve ecosystems and build a sustainable future but a few things sound really off to me:

1) grant writing is specialized work, hardly any student is qualified
2) it would be not fair to expect an intern to do all the work without any guidance - which you can admittedly not provide
3) internships are supposed to be a learning experience with some knowledge transfer
4) an intern should earn a (small) monthly stipend and get some help with transportation costs (like a monthly pass)
4) flying anyone to Guatemala just to have a look is wasteful (flying roundtrip from the southern US, Austin, TX to Guatemala City, emits about 550 kg of CO2 per passenger. You sure know that this is about half of the needed YEARLY allowance per person to stabilize the CO2 concentration and keep the climate safe. If you don't, check out the IPCC or the Tyndall Centre. Now, if you wish to help interns to expand their horizons, come up with work/a program in Guatemala so the intern can actually do something meaningful on-site. Maybe team up with a local org if you lack the infrastructure yourself.)
5) there is a plethora of sustainable farming projects in Central America - does your project bring added value to the existing efforts and knowledge?

I understand that you need money to get the farm and learning center started. Some help can come from other sources though. For example wwoof and helpx (there might be other work exchange sites that are not geared to the western, English speaking audience).
How work exchange works: As a host, you provide room and board and the volunteers help out a few hours a day with building and farming. I have experience wwoofing on organic farms in the US and had a great time, but I have to say farms that were run casually were the worst. As someone who is willing to do this kind of stuff, you also want to learn. You want the host to be engaged and mentor your work. Some of the volunteers I met had extensive experience with organic gardening and permaculture but it's not the norm. So I'd recommend bringing a few experts on board to lead the project/provide guidance and round out your team with volunteers from wwoof or helpx who ideally already are in Guatemala/Central America - but most volunteers from those sites will be nationals from countries in North America, Europe or form Australia.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:40 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]

Are you all actually in guatemala right now? You might have an easier time finding someone if you billed it as an international volunteer experience and put them up in guatemala for three months or six months or whatever. "Opportunity for experienced grantwriter to have a guatemalan adventure" might be a more successful way to pitch this. Maybe.
posted by geegollygosh at 8:32 AM on June 29

I work in a historically highly intern-dependent field and have hired probably over 20. Here's what I see beyond the above:

1. If the work is mission-critical, which I assume securing funding is, it's not a good intern job. Ever. Interns are generally making the transition from school to workplace, and while many rock at it, a lot happens along the way.

2. If you set up a job that is way over an intern's head, the interns who think they can do it generally can't. That's because a lot of the time when an industry has an internship period it's because there's just a lot of stuff that can't be communicated in a school term, like how hard it is to set up a really good photo shoot. Or, I suspect, a bunch of things about research, stats, tone, etc. in a grant application.

3. If you haven't done a job yourself (or a member of your team hasn't), never hire an intern for it. First, you are not teaching that series of skills then. Second, you don't have a good way of evaluating all the elements of the work, including the quality of the finished product.

Maybe you could do another round of fundraising for funds to hire a grant writer, or look for an expert volunteer.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:36 AM on June 29

If you're the head of the organization, or even among a group of leaders, you should avail yourself of the many opportunities to learn grantsmanship in your space and make this your job. Let an undergrad intern monitor your social media and you move on to mastering mission critical skills and skills. You are in a space that is just exploding with half-assed NGOs and startup nonprofits, most of which will fail wastefully despite good intentions. A donor has entrusted a very valuable asset -- land (hey, are you sure you can own it there?)-- and your responsibility just went up ten notches. Focus.
posted by spitbull at 10:19 AM on June 29

Thanks, everyone. Although I realize now that I didn't state this in my question, I have had some misgivings myself about the idea that interns would be a good fit for this (which is why I haven't been looking before now) but it's been suggested to me so many times that I thought I would investigate the possibility.

To address some of the concerns here: No, I am not just looking for free labor. Any intern would be working with us for course credit, would be able to gain certification in permaculture design and/or eco-village design through our programs, and would be able to live onsite if they wished. I would be working very closely with anyone writing grants -- just because I do not have time to write all of them myself does not mean I do not have time to oversee the process and give guidance, as well as write many myself (I am already doing so now)

Spitbull, I apologize if this came off as condescending - it is not my intent. The people I work with have lived in these areas for years, some of them decades, and some of them are native Guatemalans. They are very aware of the needs and struggles of the local farming communities in this area, and they will be advising me and reviewing the grants. This NPO did not come out of a few short trips to the area, but is the culmination of many years of involvement with these communities. I realize now I may not be the best spokesperson for some of this, and I would appreciate any feedback you have for me on how to properly convey these things in my grant writing.

The farmers in this specific area are not, sadly, still practicing traditional farming methods -- almost all of them are using chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Many of them are no longer happy with this situation, but are unclear how to transition to organic and permaculture methods, and have expressed interest in what we have to offer. Part of our charter is also preserving indigenous wisdom in all areas, and my team has worked very closely over the years with many Mayan elders to establish a relationship of trust and mutual respect.

Our NPO is based in California, and we are in the process of setting up a Guatemalan SA to act as the land-holding entity (we have a lawyer in Guatemala who specializes in international business and NGOs/NPOs). About half our team is there, and the other half is in the US. We will all be in the area in January to facilitate a permaculture certification course on the property.

Travelwithcats, that is an excellent suggestion. I am familiar with the existing work-exchange sites, and we will certainly be incorporating a number of volunteers both from our network and other places to facilitate the construction.

On the balance, it seems it would be a better idea to write the grants myself for now, or find an expert volunteer, and also look into other funding sources for this project.
posted by ananci at 11:44 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

You say that you will just write the grants yourself for now, but you have never written one. You are definitely underestimating the skill required to successfully get grant funding. It's generally not something you can just choose to do yourself like changing oil on a car. People make good livings as grant writers specifically because it is hard and time consuming. Are you prepared to do the legwork necessary to seek out funding opportunities (hint: if you're finding them on guidestar or anywhere publicly available the competition will be too great for a novice to hope for any funding), build the necessary relationships with the funding organizations and with the grant officers/executives, and organize in-kind contributions? Do you have the time to sell your unproven execution ability to several dozen organizations?

I know money is tight but if you are going the grant route (which honestly isn't totally appropriate given your organization's status) you really do need to hire someone. At the very least price out grant consultants.
posted by Willie0248 at 2:04 PM on June 29

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