Most nonprofits can’t—and shouldn’t—look to grants as the path to the promised land of stability. But a solid search strategy, a strong sense of grant writing fundamentals, and a commitment to integrating grant-getting into an overall revenue plan can help ensure that your nonprofit thrives.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be posting a series of discussions on finding, writing, and winning grants. Today, we’re starting at the top: developing a solid search strategy to locate relevant grants.
New nonprofits may assume that grants account for the majority of their funding. But most nonprofits have a diverse revenue stream, and grants usually account for less than 20 percent of funding. Of course, “less than 20 percent” still adds up to a significant sum, so winning grants is essential work.
The first step to landing a grant is conducting an efficient search. While government grants often seem like the biggest and therefore best place to start, these grants require that nonprofits meet minutely specified standards, and they are intensely competitive.
Nonprofits should certainly search sam.beta.gov (the new site for The Catalog of Domestic Assistance) for information on available federal grants and grants.gov to inquire into specific granting agencies.
But nonprofits should also look closely at local government sources (in Minnesota, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits has a helpful page of links), and they should look even more closely at local and family foundations and corporations.
In 2016, foundations gave almost 60 billion dollars in charitable giving. To identify relevant local entities, start with your board. Board members usually know corporations and foundations with grantmaking power and can provide helpful advice.
Next, identify local grantmakers with interests that align with your nonprofit’s mission and needs. This kind of research starts with board members (and Google), but it should also include searching directories like the Minnesota Grants Directory for information on available grants and point-of-contact staff.
Finally, it can be worthwhile to pay for a subscription service like The Foundation Center. For about fifty dollars a month (Minnesotans receive free access through many county libraries), The Foundation Center provides data (like top-funder reports with aggregated financial stats) to help nonprofits capture grant dollars. The subscription can pay for itself for nonprofits seeking to bring in new money (and sustain recurring grants).
The process of finding, applying, writing, and winning a grant is unending and arduous, but it's also necessary. In the coming weeks, we'll help you break it down into a manageable—and remunerative—practice!
Last week, Molly wrote about a new research study that found writing—specifically, writing a to-do list for the next day—can promote sleep. While it may be strange that tallying to-dos promotes sleepiness, it turns out that writing about as-yet-undone tasks is both relaxing and practical.
In fact, the utility of ending the day by planning for the next day should be obvious: it saves time and provides immediate focus when you sit down bleary-eyed in the morning.
This logic also holds true for big projects—especially big writing projects. Projects that require days, weeks, or months can become all-consuming and feel overwhelming. It's easy to get decision fatigue and lose sight of the big picture, which then paralyzes our ability to make real progress.
But there are some simple, practical tactics to avoid this seemingly inevitable loss of productivity—namely, by ending each day planning for the next.
1. Each day, take quick stock of what you've accomplished. It helps to note progress, however slight! (And remember, even discovering roadblocks is a kind of progress.)
2. Check in with the overall project timeline. If you’re off track, what resources do you need to get back to where you need to be?
3. Make that to-do list for tomorrow. Take special note of the first thing you're going to do when you sit down, so that you can be off and running without having to think about it.
4. Write it all down! There's something magical about committing your ideas to paper (or screen)--studies have put hard data to the fact that writing down goals makes us more likely to achieve them.
This kind of "parking downhill," as our writing consultant friends like to call it, works. It helped me finish my dissertation in my graduate school days of yore, and it helps me now when I'm working on big client projects.
Give it a try. It may give your productivity (and your sleep) a boost.
Sleep was so great. I can still remember—so well!—the muted delight in putting my head down on a pillow, sliding my socks off under the covers, and falling quickly into REM sleep. Or later, post-children, lying face-down on the bed with a pillow doing its heroic best to safeguard against noisy nights. That worked pretty well, too.
But no longer!
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve accumulated more responsibilities, more worries, and apparently more always-firing synapses. I’ve consequently said a reluctant goodbye to an easy full-night’s sleep.
These days, sleep requires more rigorous methods of relaxation. I read of course…although some books put me to sleep more quickly than others. But now, in addition to reading, I’ve also started writing.
According to new research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, writing—and specifically writing a to-do list—can promote sleep (or act as an aid for falling to sleep). Researchers found that people who wrote to-do lists fell asleep faster than people who instead wrote out their day’s accomplishments.
In some ways, it’s totally counterintuitive that writing out the day’s un-done tasks would provide a map to dreamland. In other ways, it makes a lot of sense. Writing has always been a method for imposing order on chaos. And writing a to-do list is often much more satisfying than actually completing any written-down tasks.
If you’re not sleeping either, perhaps your to-do list should include writing tonight.
The good news: your organization is growing. Maybe you've got new funding sources, your client base has expanded, or you've rolled out successful new services. You're expanding your reach, your impact, and your team. All of this requires strategy.
Growing your communications does, too.
In many ways, communications don't scale like other organizational functions. This is especially true of internal communications, which for small organizations may be completely organic. But whereas organic communications processes may be adequate (even efficient) for a team with a handful of people, they quickly become inefficient (even hazardous) when that team grows.
Growing organizations face two big problems when it comes to internal communications: lack of documentation, and lack of formalization.
Because small teams tend to function organically, there's often little or no documentation of roles and procedures. Team members know each other's strengths, pick up tasks as needed, and fall into familiar routines. But when too much lives in employees' heads, an organization can be on precarious footing when it starts to grow.
Ensuring institutional memory by creating and maintaining external records of communications is crucial for future growth.
Similarly, the organic functioning of a small team can hinder the development of formalized internal communications procedures. After all, maintaining a regular meeting schedule or planning and tracking workflow can seem cumbersome when you interact with everyone on your team every day.
But when an organization relies too much on informal communications to keep its wheels turning, it risks those wheels grinding to a halt. By formalizing communications procedures, you create the conditions for sustainable growth.
So what does it actually look like to document and formalize communications?
While the specifics are different for every organization, it means determining and codifying what works. It means finding the right tools—from calendars to trackers to meeting procedures—to accommodate your organization's growth. And it means creating and regularly updating written documents that detail communications operations in a way that makes them clear and easily adoptable for new team members.
Consciously scaling internal communications is crucial when it comes to organizational capacity-building. It's a forward-looking task that helps ensure the health of growing organizations.
Katie Thune is an advocate, a teacher, and the founder of Mad Hatter Wellness—a wellness center for classes, workshops, and retreats that empower children and adults with and without disabilities.
She is also a Double Shift Press author!
After spending 12 years teaching and advocating for kids with disabilities, Katie has seen firsthand that students need—and teachers want—a comprehensive guide for sex ed in the special education classroom. Sex ed is a tough subject, sure, but because people with disabilities face rates of sexual assault that are seven times higher than other populations, Katie knows it can’t be ignored. Her book offers the necessary guidance on navigating sensitive situations, teaching sexual education, and helping students develop healthy relationships.
From Katie’s perspective, kids with disabilities are vulnerable because they aren’t taught about the standards and expectations around boundaries, touch, consent, and healthy relationships. They don’t always recognize what inappropriate behavior, or a “bad touch,” is—even when they engage in it themselves.
Her book gives teachers the information, case studies, and curriculum ideas they need to educate students in the special education classroom on sexuality and sexual health.
Katie's work is already having an impact—you may have heard her with Marianne Combs on MPR. Her book will fuel her advocacy and broaden her reach, and it will give readers a practical tool for making a difference in children's lives.
We've been doing a bit of mental spring cleaning at MWS—namely, how best to package our most requested services. That's led us to a bit of spring cleaning for our website: check out our new Services page!
Our three packages (Comprehensive Communications Plans, Review of Public-Facing Communications, and Review of Communications Operations) describe the support we provide for the challenges we see most often among our nonprofit clients. We created them to offer the most efficient, effective means of determining and resolving organizations' needs.
But we also offer support for discrete projects such as grants, websites, blog writing, reports, workshops, and presentations. If you don't see what you need, reach out! Let us know what's on your communications spring cleaning list—we can almost always help.
My (very few) Twitter followers already know that I loved Patricia Lockwood’s essay, “How Do We Write Now?,” published in Tin House, particularly what she calls its “alternate title”: “how the fuck do we write now?”
Lockwood is a poet—and a bawdy one—so the vulgarity is allowed, expected even.
But she makes a good point. How do we keep going on projects large and small when social and other media relentlessly point out all the ways the world is falling apart?
You can try logging off and muting all, which we’ve advocated before. You can also try slowing down and noticing (maybe even appreciating) the unpixelated view out your window, which Lockwood and Jocelyn Glei suggest.
But if you’re just putting off a big job or trying to finish a complicated one, you may not need inspiration. You might just need persistence.
There are many research-based strategies that promote actual persistence (the kind that follows from engagement). You could, for example, integrate weekly updates into project reporting. Psychology professor Gail Matthews’s study on goal achievement in the workplace found that 70 percent of participants who updated friends weekly on their progress reported goal achievement.
Or, you could break down a new project (or what’s left of an old project) into smaller, finite (and thus reachable) goals. By doing so, you manipulate the completion bias—the bias that makes us feel like we’ve accomplished something when we’ve simply made a to-do list—to serve your bigger purpose.
Or, you could constrain your project (and yourself) by shortening your timeline. This isn’t always possible (or desirable) for large-scale, multi-team projects. But when projects are given a long lead, scope can creep and focus can become more diffuse. It’s Parkinson’s Law: tasks expand to fill the time allotted for completion.
Persistence doesn’t have to be the purgatory of productivity. If none of these strategies work, just follow Lockwood’s lead: go ahead and write a fucking poem.
This is the third part in a series about communications plans, which are crucial tools for nonprofits and businesses. Check out part I and part II for more!
A communications plan lays out a comprehensive picture of an organization's communications goals and offers executable steps for how to achieve them. It can be created or updated annually to align with the fiscal year, or it can be developed as a companion to a 1-, 3- or even 5-year strategic plan.
It’s an incredibly useful tool for mapping out future growth. But it's impossible to create without first understanding where you are now.
That's why, when we create communications plans for our clients, one of the most important steps entails laying out a comprehensive picture of an organization's current communications channels. This includes digital publications such as blog posts and email blasts, social media, print publications such as annual reports and newsletters, and events and in-person communications such as fundraisers or tours.
This can be a simple list, but it should be as comprehensive as possible. For some organizations, it might include five channels; for some, it might include 50. And for each channel, all relevant details should be included: give bullet points to the goal of the communication, the target audience, the timeline or frequency of the communication, who is responsible internally for producing the communication, and any budget and production specs available. That way, there are multiple angles available for easily slicing through the communications picture: Which members of your team currently bear the greatest communications burden? Which projects require the largest chunks of your budget? Which audiences aren't hearing from you frequently enough?
By laying out a complete picture, you can begin to see where you're putting most of your energy, what's being neglected or underutilized, where you're doubling up unnecessarily, and how content can be leveraged from one channel to another. If, for example, your primary goal is to grow your organization's membership, but all of your resources are going to annual reports and blog posts, it becomes clear that changing tack is merited.
In other words, this part of a communications plan is from whence the planning commences.
This picture can be used to develop and prioritize new communications projects, strategize ways to streamline workflow, design upcoming campaigns, revamp existing collateral, or create tools or templates for internal use. In short, it's the best foundation for an organization to ensure that it's moving in the right direction to efficiently align its communications with its long-term goals.
Our post on beta readers offered a strategy for soliciting structured feedback before project release. But it didn’t discuss strategies for handling that feedback once it arrives in your inbox.
Reading criticism is hard. After all, writing requires time and self-expression. No matter how professionally oriented, criticism can sting.
But integrating criticism is even harder. It's never easy to judge which critical feedback is useful and which isn’t.
The simplest strategy? Look for repetition.
Repetition can be straightforward. If more than one beta reader (or more than one feedback form) specifies the same weakness, well, it’s a weakness.
But repetition can also be oblique. Consider the beta-reader responses to a question that asked about the translation of SME material into everyday language:
And repetition can be overwhelming. It's no fun to read about the many different problems with your project. Luckily, these can usually be condensed into just one or two actual issues. For example:
Criticism might not be fun, but it's so fruitful. And not just for you. Soliciting critical feedback and then actually (and visibly) using it sets in motion a positive feedback loop that strengthens your project, your team, and your business’s commitment to your organizational end game.
We're thrilled to introduce one of our inaugural Double Shift Press authors: Margaret Klein Salamon.
Margaret is the founder and director of The Climate Mobilization, a New York-based nonprofit that's shifting the conversation about climate change, activism, and ultimately, the future of humanity.
The Climate Mobilization lays out a policy platform that approaches climate change as a global emergency that can—and must—be met head on with honest, reality-based solutions.
Margaret holds a PhD in clinical psychology as well as a degree in social anthropology, and this perspective informs The Climate Mobilization’s approach. In a recent article, she argues that we must respond to a changing climate by acknowledging and experiencing the dark feelings that this reality provokes. Only when we allow ourselves to feel fear, anxiety, and even despair will we be able to look at the cataclysmic specter of climate change honestly, and start grappling toward real solutions. And when we begin to enact these real solutions, we'll begin to feel real and encompassing hope for our shared future.
Why is Margaret writing her book now? She wants to gather her existing work, currently published in disparate places. She wants to expound and intensify her ideas through examination and evidence. And she wants to use her book to launch a series of high-profile discussions that will spread The Climate Mobilization’s work.
Margaret is writing the future, and we feel lucky to be a part of it. Check back for more about her forthcoming book.
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, and mom to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, and mom to three troublemakers.