There are days when I sit at my desk and write for hours on end. Sometimes I enjoy the solitude and preparing an application or report that shows the dedication and thought that goes into this work (versus a rushed deadline). However, as I am sure is the case for many of you, most days are punctuated with conference calls, meetings and other high priority activities that can deter you from the work you plan to do that day. I also find it particularly difficult at times to transition between activities and also between work and personal life. For those of us who work from home, this can be particularly challenging. Arianna Huffington talks a lot about the need for sleep and to remain present in her latest book Thrive, which has also started a movement.

We are a highly stimulated society with social media, emails, smart phones and other devices that can easily deter us from completing our work. What are we to do? Since I deal with this issue daily, I am offering some advice for how I try to stay focused in my own life.

  1. Meditation – If you can start or end your day with a few minutes of quiet; this is a better way to decompress and/or energize you for what lies ahead. I really like Simply Being and there are meditations that only last 5 minutes.

 

  1. Space – If you work from home, close your door when you are not using that space or shut down your computer. Even the physical barrier can help separate your work and home life.

 

  1. Device Lockdown – Unless I proactively do work in the evening, I try not to respond to work related messages in the evening. I also try to disengage when I am with my children (I am more successful sometimes than others). Are there times when you can just put your phone in another room to avoid temptation of accessing information? I bet that most of the information you seek is not mission critical.

 

  1. Running List – I try to keep a post-it note as a reminder to do things when I am not at my desk and need to remember something important; I have also been known to send Outlook reminders to myself. I also set up blocks of time in my calendar for personal activities, including food shopping and picking up library books.

 

  1. Project Management – I use Nozbe to manage all my client, training and business development deadlines. Whatever system you use, make sure it is current, accessible to others (if needed), and forward looking at least 6-8 weeks.

 

What will you do to remain focused?

 

Philanthropy is a term that those in the nonprofit sector understand all too well. Raise money for our organizations (or clients’ organizations) so we can achieve certain missions or address societal challenges. Well, living in the Washington, DC metro area can have its perks. My son often asks me what I do, as it can be difficult to visualize philanthropy and fundraising. Now, I actually have a reference!

The Smithsonian’s Museum of National History has an exhibit called “Giving in America” and is focused on successful campaigns (think the ALS Bucket Challenge of 2014) and causes (think March of Dimes tin cans for coin collection) that have shaped our history. As their website states: “Giving has taken many forms throughout American history and has become firmly woven into the American experience. Every year millions of Americans contribute money, time, talent, and resources to causes across the country and throughout the world. Philanthropy is not unique to the United States, but Americans’ ideals of participation, equality, resourcefulness, and shared responsibility have shaped a distinctive form of giving in America.”

I think it’s wonderful that philanthropy is viewed in a historical context. We often have tunnel vision and don’t immediately see the impact of our work, not just for the organizations we serve, but for our country as well. I am proud to contribute to the public sector and raise significant funding for organizations in need. I hope you feel the same way and find value in the work you do each day – every little bit counts.

When I started my business nearly four years ago, I tried to cease every opportunity. Sure, I’ll meet with you at a location of your choosing. Sure, I’ll do some extra pro bono hours. Sure, I’ll provide another consult call to make sure you have what you need to move forward with our work together. However, at some point you have to take stock of your assets. I’m not just talking about your equipment or infrastructure, but about your intellectual capital – expertise, network of contacts, tools and resources that you have created. What are you willing to freely part with in the hope of finding new clients or colleagues?

I struggle with this as I primarily work with nonprofit organizations. When I started my business, I jumped at the chance to offer free trainings through preferred partners and organizations, but started to get burned out. I needed a better way to ensure that I was providing useful content to current and potential clients, and also maximizing my time to the greatest extent. Here’s the checklist that I use when I think about offering a free training session.

 

  • How many people will be at the session? Are you willing to conduct a session with few attendees?
  • Is this training online or conducted in-person?
  • Is there content that you can use from previous sessions or will you have to create new content from scratch?
  • Will you be leading the session with another colleague?
  • Does the entity offering the training have a well-established reputation within the industry/sector of prospects you are trying to reach?
  • Do you have a pre-established relationship with the entity?
  • Is the location of the entity offering the training easily accessible?
  • Will you have to significantly configure your schedule in order to conduct the training?
  • Is the training conducted through a regional/national conference or a one-time session?
  • Is there potential for paid training in the future?

 

My goal is to offer some free training per year, but I am more selective with the trainings that I actually conduct. If you do offer a training, what are you doing to maximize your time to the greatest extent?

This year I finally reached a parenting milestone – one child out of daycare and started kindergarten. Throughout the school year we transitioned into a new routine of drop-offs, pick-ups, school activities, PTA meetings and new friends (for both him and us). While it does make things easier and more financially feasible since we have one less in preschool, the summer represents a new challenge.

I always hoped when I started my business that I could seamlessly balance between work and home, but we all know that this is not so easy. I do have some vacation time, weeks off and personal time planned this summer to maximize our pool membership and visiting friends and family. Here is what I hope to do to make sure I have balance in my life this summer:

  1. Block of time in my Outlook calendar for personal appointments, trips, etc. to ensure that I actually do the things I hope to accomplish personally.
  2. Stay off the grid when I am on vacation and work with my virtual assistant to respond and categorize emails and messages to ensure a less chaotic entry back into real life upon return.
  3. Reduce off-hours work time (i.e. hours when my children are not in camp).
  4. Work outside to maximize the beautiful weather.
  5. Connect with my other colleagues for coffee to discuss our work and any new items coming up.
  6. Turn away or outsource work when it impacts #1-#5 above.

What are your summer plans? Hopefully, you will take some time to disconnect, enjoy time with loved ones and become mentally prepared for what lies ahead.

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.