As we discussed in a recent post, before applying for a grant, you need to apply to apply for a grant.
 
But then. Then! After you’ve written the Letter of Intent and received an invitation and RFP to apply, it’s time to actually write the grant.
 
Surprisingly, the grant writing at this stage is easier and more straightforward (though because it’s longer and more detailed it’s also more work): Not only have you received instructions in the form of the RFP, but you’ve already written your template in the form of the LOI.
 
In some ways, the grant proposal is the LOI, but more. Whereas the LOI is about 2 pages, the grant proposal is more like 8 to 12 pages. Whereas the LOI provides a snapshot of your organization and its program objectives, the proposal spells out in more (and repetitive) detail your organization’s background, needs, program model, goals and objectives, methods, evaluation and tracking, timeline and work to date, and organizational information.
 
To write the right proposal:

  • Follow formatting specs regarding font, spacing, and margins
  • Respond to each element of the RFP clearly, directly, and fully
  • Ensure goals are clearly stated (and differ from objectives)
    • Goals are desired big-picture results
    • Objectives are S.M.A.R.T—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-sensitive
  • Cite reputable data and secondary research to support goals and objectives
  • Source letters of support early by identifying program partners or beneficiaries and asking if they’d be willing to write a letter of backing (or more typically sign-off on a letter you’ve already drafted)
  • Break down the grant budget in a specific and believable way

 
Proposals can be onerous and overwhelming. Many organizations want to break the project down, assigning various elements to various staff members. Resist this urge! Instead, assign the proposal to your organization’s strongest writer (who, ideally, practices extreme attention to detail), and provide that writer with vigorous support.
 
And if this is your organization’s first effort, consider spending the money on training your writer in grant writing or on hiring a grant writer. The outlay might hurt your organization’s wallet in the short-term, but the final proposal will pay long-term dividends (even if it doesn’t win the grant) because it will be the basis for future—winning!—proposals.

Let’s take a quick mental tally: In the past month, have you received a tone-deaf email from a colleague and were left to ponder what he actually meant? A memo so full of jargon that it required two or three reads to decipher? A set of instructions poorly written enough to require its own manual? A rally-the-team note from a manager or the c-suite that fell completely flat because of insipid or vague writing?
 
If you answered yes to any (or maybe all) of those questions, you’re not alone.
 
It’s not breaking news that Americans spend a lot of time communicating at work. But unfortunately, a lot of that time is wasted.
 
To be more precise, as Josh Bernoff reported in the Harvard Business Review, 81% of businesspeople say that poor writing wastes a lot of their time. All those vague emails, poorly organized presentations, and jargon-laden reports add up—and take a major blow to an organization’s productivity.
 
Of course, it’s not just the internal workings of an organization that suffer under a culture of bad writing. Bad writing filters out to customers, clients, partners, and stakeholders, too. It signals a lack of professionalism, lack of organizational self-awareness and integrity, and lack of respect for your audience. We can probably all agree that those are un-good signals to send.
 
So what’s an organization to do?
 
Small steps can make a difference, if you’re willing to commit time (and possibly money) to improving your organization’s writing.
 
1. Make sure you’ve got polished templates and models for anything your employees routinely produce, such as project reports, slide decks, or blog posts. Templates not only save time, but they ensure that materials are consistent—and consistently well written.
2. Model good writing from the top. Management sets the tone and the standard for team members to rise (or fall) to. Even casual emails from a team lead or a department head (not to mention the ED or CEO) should be thoughtfully and properly crafted.
3. Design your organization’s workflow with the writing process in mind. Make sure that all public-facing communications are adequately reviewed and vetted—for example, by building in a beta release for larger projects. And if your staffing allows it, consider providing dedicated in-house writing support for those who routinely create communications.
4. Provide training for employees, whether new hires or veterans. Everyone brings different levels of comfort and experience to writing, so it’s crucial to periodically create the opportunity to ensure that everyone is aware of organizational standards and able to use best practices.
5. Bring in external support when needed. Sometimes an outside perspective helps, both to identify problems, and to conduct the necessary training to get staff up to speed. Experienced consultants can bring fresh ideas to new communications projects or old communications inefficiencies.
 
Now, go forth and write (better)!

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In our last post about getting the grant, we discussed developing a solid grant-finding strategy. While finding a grant is easy, finding the right grant—the grant that you can win for your nonprofit—is hard(er). Today, we’ll discuss next steps, including best practices for writing the Letter of Inquiry.
 
Once you’ve identified the right grant, you may want to establish contact with the grantmaking group. Many grantmakers (though not all—be sure to read that RFP!) tacitly assume applicants will reach out. So send an email or make a phone call to gauge their interest in your organization and its work. The effort ensures that both you and the grantmaker views the a grant as a good fit. It also helps open the door to a relationship: As most nonprofits already know, relationships are key to sustainability.
 
If you’ve established contact and learned more about your target grant, you will also learn about their preferred entry document. Often, this is a two-page Letter of Inquiry. The LOI provides an excellent warmup for writing the grant. It asks you to show off your organization and to succinctly articulate grant-relevant goals. The LOI may feel like a chore (and it is), but by enabling grantmakers to efficiently make a first cut, the letter helps save you from writing a grant you are not positioned to win.
 
If the grantmaking group offers an LOI template, use it. But if not, create your own LOI according to the following specifications, aiming for two pages in length.

  • Executive Summary: A one-paragraph summary that includes a “thesis statement” succinctly stating how much is requested and for what use.
  • Background and Needs: A brief history of the org that outlines the needs it serves and that explains the specific need for which the target grant is sought.
  • Program Model: A a description of the program that will be served by the target grant.
  • Goals and Objectives: A description of the measurable goals and objectives that will determine the program’s success.
  • Methods: An explanation of the ways in which goals and objectives will be met.
  • Evaluation/Tracking: An explanation of how goals and objectives will be followed.
  • Budget/Sustainability: A description of the program’s total cost, other funders, and the program’s future.
  • Timeline/Work to Date: A description of what has already happened to further the program’s agenda and what is planned for the future.
  • Organizational Information: A callback to the nonprofit’s history, mission, and partnerships.
  • Contact Info

Ideally, your LOI will be accepted and you’ll be asked to apply for the full grant. But that doesn’t always happen. In the weeks after you’ve sent your LOI, follow-up with a phone call, and consider requesting a meeting. Establishing relationships with grantmakers—even grantmakers who don’t ultimately award you a grant—is never a bad idea.
 
Now, as novice grant writers (also all writers) quickly learn, you need to start earlier, do more research, and write more drafts than you think you do. In the next post, we’ll turn to the writing process itself.


Bookmobile is a Minneapolis-based short-run book printer serving trade houses, university presses, independent publishers, museums, and more. They’ve got a long history, and they make gorgeous books.
 
We couldn’t be happier to partner with them to print our Double Shift Press titles.
 
We first started working with Bookmobile back in 2014, when they became a client of ours at Modern Writing Services. Nicole Baxter, Bookmobile’s director of sales, marketing, and publisher services (and all-around excellent person) reached out to inquire about our communications services.
 
Bookmobile had just gone through a rebranding process and needed help integrating their brand standards with their new website. We provided an extensive edit of the website, along with recommendations and a style guide for their in-house use.
 
We’ve partnered with them on a number of projects since then, and we always love the work—they’re passionate about what they do, they’re innovative and forward-thinking, and they value good communication. Plus, Nicole has a wicked sense of humor that always makes her emails the highlight of my inbox.
 
So it was a no-brainer for us to look to Bookmobile for printing and design services when we launched Double Shift Press earlier this year. Bookmobile has worked with over 900 publishers, including luminaries such as Graywolf Press and innovators such as OR Books. If you like to read, chances are you’ve got some of their books on your shelf.
 
The quality and range of printing and design options that Bookmobile offers far outstrips the print-on-demand services that most self-publishers use. They make everything look stunning, from standard paperbacks  and journals to luxe coffee table books and gallery-ready catalogues.

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We’re working with Bookmobile on design, printing, and eBook conversion for our forthcoming titles. We look forward to sharing the beautiful artifacts they create!

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​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 Gage 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.

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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.