Each year we have a day of remembrance for the millions of Americans who have died to protect our freedom, safety and sense of security. While some died in the line of duty, others died from the effects of war months or years later. Many of us don’t realize the traumatic effect of combat on a person’s physical, psychological and/or emotional well-being.  They have sacrificed so much so that we can live our lives freely and with (hopefully) joy.

As a grant writer, I often write applications in support of our first responders, law enforcement or national security personnel. It amazes me how professional they are about the work they do on a daily basis. In honor of all of the fallen soldiers, and their families and loved ones, please offer a moment of silence on Memorial Day. I will leave you with this poem.

 

Somewhere in the night a quiet professional is waiting.
He does not care that he is tired.
That his hardened body is sleep deprived.
He is unbroken and vigilant in his task.

Somewhere this warrior is the final tripwire.
He has trained all his life in brutal conditions day and night.
This barren and desolate world is his home.
He lives and survives by an ancient Creed.

Somewhere this weapon of war will not ask nor give quarter.
He thrives on the mission and completing his objective.
That he allows the taste of fear to motivate his actions.
He is…the final option.

~ Mingo Kane ~

Author of “Scars of The Prophet”

At least twice a year I, like billions of other parents, participate in parent-teacher conferences. We always hope to hear good things about our children, but sometimes this is not always the case. What if they are not making progress? What if they are having problems adjusting socially? These and many other questions arise, so I started to think of these conferences as a form of quality control to ensure that we learn from the information obtained.

Conference Issue How does it relate to my work? Mitigation Strategy
Your child is not performing at grade level. Your data indicates that you are not achieving the results you anticipated. Determine causation (to the extent possible and work incrementally to meet the anticipated result.
Your child is displaying some negative behaviors in the classroom. Your actual costs on a project or program exceed the budget. Set boundaries and review previous information to figure out why this is happening. Have there been any changes? Is there appropriate oversight? Continue to monitor and work together towards a solution.
Your child is performing well above grade level on a certain subject(s). The results exceed targets by a large amount. Develop a case study to share this success and use as a model to promote and incentivize staff to continue improving and developing.
Your child lacks focus and does not pay attention during lessons. Your organization is starting to deal with mission-drift and moving away from your fundamental purpose. Refocus energy the work at hand and remove unnecessary distractions that can lead to lack of prioritization of key objectives. A staff retreat may be necessary.
Your child does not complete his/her homework. You are not completing fundamental components of the program, as stated in your grant application. Determine why objectives are not being met and create a plan of action to meet deliverables.

Hopefully, your parent-teacher conferences will go smoothly and that you learn something beneficial to help you in your professional and personal lives.

It’s time for spring – flowers are blooming, baby animals are being born (go April!) and we can start fresh. From a business and organizational perspective, what can that mean for you? Here is a list of the top 10 ways you can tweak how you work:

  1. Create a new policy and/or standard operating procedure to track a new or existing process.
  2. Develop a new logo or update your website/marketing materials.
  3. Purchase or update a data tracking or project management software/system.
  4. Organize your paper and electronic files (A-133 audits require this!).
  5. Hold a retreat to update a strategic or business plan.
  6. Update proposal content to reflect existing programs and activities.
  7. Research statistics to ensure you have the most recent demographic and best practices information.
  8. Attend a professional development training or working group to learn new ideas.
  9. Cleanse your emails to declutter your Inbox.
  10. Prepare a case study of a successful activity or program you have undertaken.

What will you do to start fresh in the spring? I am working on cleaning out my closets and organizing my desk as we speak….

Since I am spending Spring Break in Florida, I can’t help but think about Disney. Maybe this is a bit wistful, but as I work with more clients who receive grant funding, I can’t help but think that sometimes grant seeking is a trap. You receive the money, and then you have to manage the requirements and all the strings attached. What are some of the common pitfalls and how do you avoid them?

Financial Management

You don’t reconcile your funds on an ongoing basis so you don’t actually know how grant funds are spent within your organization. Some staff may even be unaware that they should charge a portion of their salary to a grant.

Solution: Assign a point person responsible for coding your grant in your accounting system, train all applicable staff members on how they should be charged to grant awards, and ensure the assigned Project Director has a copy of the grant budget and application.

 

Reporting

You forget deadlines, provide incomplete information and do not track progress on an ongoing basis.

Solution: Create a system for performance measurement, including an assigned point person. Make sure you complete the reports on time and according to the grantor’s requirements.

 

Stewardship

You only reach out to funders when asking for money, so they have little idea of how their funds are being spent.

Solution: Be a good steward of grant funding by providing updates on how their funds have been spent. Share success stories and connect via social media so others can see how your grantors are helping your organization.

These reflect just a portion of the steps you should complete in order to be successful grant managers. Keep in mind that post-award grants management is complex and requires resources and time, but in the end you will have a greater pool of renewal funders and set up your organization for success.

 Each one of us is born with a certain personality, and our personalities are shaped by other environmental factors. This isn’t news – this is just the nature vs. nurture argument. I think it is important for us to express ourselves to the extent possible, although this will vary depending on the situation. From a professional standpoint, we may not be able to always show our “true colors” since we have to adapt to certain codes of conduct and behaviors. The same is true for our written communications, which serve as a reflection of our personalities (or more specifically, our organization’s personality). I was thinking about this dichotomy and as a grant writer when it’s a good idea to include personal information (stories, persuasive language that conveys emotion) in our writing. How do we break this down?

Letter of Intent or Proposal Narrative: Yes!

A letter of intent or proposal narrative (without strict limitations) is your way to convey as much as possible about your organization. Include a success story, case study, testimonial through an indented paragraph or call out box. This provides the reviewer with additional information and may invoke an emotional response.

 Federal Grant Proposal or Contract: No!

Unfortunately, federal proposals or contract applications do not lend themselves to beautiful prose or emotional language; just the facts ma’am. You can (and should) include letters of support, which will provide more personal details to add credence to your proposal.

 Appeal Letter: Yes!

Appeal letters are based on emotion – they are meant to evoke feelings that propel people to donate. If you are to include personal information, the appeal letter is the place to do it.

 Fact Sheets and Annual Reports: Yes and No!

You can actually convey a lot of emotion through photos and infographics, as they tell a story through statistics and facts. You can marry the two as a fact sheet and annual report are the summation of your organization’s work that is shared to the general public. This should contain outcome-based information to show impact and also identify the needs of your organization’s target population.

Benefits of conveying personal information:

  • Offers information about a target population through real life examples
  • Provides more context to a difficult challenge or problem your organization is trying to resolve
  • Expresses a perspective that seeks to educate others
  • Greater likelihood of sharing via social media

 

How will you show your organization’s personality in your writing?

My daughter loves to sing and dance around our house. She turns on the charm when she knows she has an audience, and enjoys watching people react to whatever she does. She stands out of the crowd simply by bringing joy into people’s lives. While some of us crave the spotlight more than others, I do think that we should try to stand out, and we can do this without being boastful and without bragging.

Why should we stand out?

Quite simply, this gives us a competitive advantage. If we can’t differentiate ourselves from our nonprofit or business competitors, why would someone want to acquire our services or give us money to operate our organizations?

How should we stand out?

You obviously want to stand out because of something positive you accomplished or a benefit to your clients or constituents. We hear so much negative news, that we forget all of the wonderful ways that we positively impact our communities. There is no need to spend money on a marketing tactic that won’t lead to long-term growth or a viral sensation that will fizzle out. Think about how your approach feeds into your strategic or business plans and priorities.

What tools can I use to showcase my competitive advantage?

  • Update your website to highlight your accomplishments and achievements
  • Use social media to share upcoming trainings, case studies or key wins with others
  • Reinforce your brand through colors, taglines and captivating verbiage
  • Create a compelling fact sheet or capabilities statement that uses infographics and statistics
  • Maintain and update testimonials and success stories
  • Understand your competitors and how you do things differently and more effectively

While we can’t all be like my daughter, I do hope we can find a way to stands out that are unique to our work, promote quality and inspire others.

A February in Maryland usually consists of some snow (at least one or two storms) and several school day closures. However, during this unseasonably warm winter, I spent a lot of time outdoors with my family. My children were excited to go to playgrounds and run around until the sun went down. One accomplishment for my son is that he finally learned to ride a two-wheeler on his own. He was unsteady when he tried to ride his bike in the fall and needed training wheels, but somehow gained the balance and confidence to ride on his own last month. He was so proud of himself and excited to ride his bike as much as possible. This made me think about boundaries and taking on new situations.

We talk ourselves out of taking risks and sometimes do not try out new things for fear of the worst case scenario. How do we remove ourselves from this vicious cycle? Everyone has to deal with challenging situations such as a difficult proposal, new client or boss or new job, and they test our ability to overcome the voices in our heads that raise doubt. Here are some tips that might help:

  • Don’t overthink the situation
  • Take it step-by-step so it seems more manageable
  • Call for reinforcements
  • Don’t take on a challenge that you know you don’t have the resources or skills to complete
  • Practice and do your research so it seems less daunting
  • Come in with a positive attitude – mind over matter
  • Praising yourself when you complete or make progress on the challenging situation

What challenges do you face and how will you overcome them? Think like a 5-year old and you’ll be fine and riding a bike in no time!

I typically don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, but I thought in honor of this day, I would rather turn this into a giving holiday and share what I love with other people. While I could say the usual things (family, friends, vacation, Chai tea lattes), I thought that it would make more sense to provide a list of some useful resources that actually make me more successful. What tools help me with work-life balance and also support me as an independent consultant? Here it goes….

  1. Nozbe – This online project management tool keeps me organized, on track and focused on my priorities and deadlines.
  2. Microsoft Excel – I use Excel daily for tracking information, sorting prospects, budgeting and creating useful charts for nonprofit clients.
  3. Flowcharts – The best way to map out a system or process to determine roles and responsibilities and multiple steps. I have used Microsoft Visio, must there are many other online resources out there that are less expensive.
  4. Coffee, Breakfast or Lunch – Rather than networking groups or conferences, I find that one on one personal meetings are the best ways to meet with clients, prospects, and/or colleagues.
  5. Highlighters – I am old school when it comes to reviewing grant guidance and important documents; I actually like to print out documents and highlight key areas of focus.
  6. Protein snacks and water – I always try to stay hydrated and fueled when I am sitting at my computer for several hours.
  7. Cards – I keep some uplifting notes and cards near me so I can read positive messages when I need a boost.

I am sure that there are things you love and enrich your life. What are your “must have” items that you need during the course of each day?

My children love hanging out with their friends, and I see how it is important for them to develop their own friendships. My son is almost six years old and is now more discerning about with whom he chooses to spend his time. I am also enjoying watching my daughter (not quite three) starting to navigate this world as well. As adults, we become more selective as we do not have as much time (or energy) to spend with as many people. The same can be said with organizations. While instead of friendships, we call these partnerships or collaborations. How exactly do these partnerships help us?

  1. may-703626_640Keeping us humble – Your work cannot be completed in a vacuum so working with other organizations allows you to stay true to your mission and not overstep your bounds.
  1. Staying on track – When you work with another organization on a grant, program or event, you have to align schedules and resources. This takes time and energy and ensures that you stay focused on what you need to achieve.
  1. Providing us with information – I often learn quite a bit from my colleagues on best practices, and the same can be said for your partners. Are they adding value to your work and providing you with important content and resources that you can leverage and are you sharing the same as well? This doesn’t always have to be a competitive dynamic.
  1. Achieving greater collective impact – Ultimately, you are all working towards the same goal although your approaches may be different. Funders love seeing collaborative grant proposals that indicate unique partnership agreements and collaborations.
  1. Sharing the load – Let’s face it, working to benefit the greater public good is hard work. It is nice to share the work so you don’t feel that it falls solely on your shoulders.

How are your partners going to help you grow and achieve more success?

Let’s be honest, 2017 may be a difficult year for many, and I imagine that all of us will be impacted. Whether you are pro-Trump or against him, the polarizing impacts of the election and fallout afterwards has led to a great level of uncertainty across the board. Will philanthropic donations increase or decrease? Will federal funding be significantly slashed, and if so, what programs? How will the policies and issues that I care about most deeply be impacted? Where do my elected officials stand on these issues?

question-mark-1722865_640As we all know, uncertainty leads to stress, and stress can lead to panic and/or fear. How do we embrace this change so that we can move with the tide instead of against it? While I cannot predict the future, I am going to share some tips that I have shared with my own children:

  1. What about your friends? I am sure you have other organizational or business partners who are dealing with similar issues. Perhaps you can hold a forum, workshop or discussion group to share ideas and come up with common solutions or share information about upcoming events. Increase your circle of friends so you include as many people as possible.
  1. Learn from others. It is easy for us to learn from others who have the same ideas regarding the causes and issues that we care most about, but what about those who don’t? While it is easy to stay closed off in our own inner circles, let’s broaden our ability to engage in civil discourse. While our approaches may be different, I guarantee that we can find more similarities than what may appear at the onset.
  1. Think positive. We don’t know for sure what will happen, so let’s try not to think about “what if” scenarios without having more information.
  1. Keep reading. There are wonderful newspapers, magazines and resources out there that can provide unbiased, investigative journalism. Check the news sources from articles posted on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter so that you can be sure it comes from a refutable source.
  1. Stay local. While people may be focused on what happens at the federal level, we should also be engaged at the local level as this is what happens in our communities. There are forums and town hall meetings that you might want to attend to get more information.

Change is not easy, and neither is uncertainty. The more we can remain true to ourselves, our values, while also embracing others’ perspectives, the more we can be prepared for what lies ahead.