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Grant Proposal Tips You May Not Have Heard

I was excited to attend Passion with Purpose: Cultivating Support for Your Project Proposal, a workshop hosted at Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership and facilitated by Elena Mireles-Hill and Sandy Barry-Loken, Community Investment Officers at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. ONEplace offers its own grant writing course, but it’s always insightful to stay current on what relevant information other organizations may present.

The hour-long workshop allowed time for Elena and Sandy to talk in detail about the most important things to keep in mind when crafting your proposal, including pitfalls to avoid. The especially nice thing about having two investment officers facilitating was their unique and valuable perspective. I have highlighted some of the best tips I learned at Passion with Purpose.

         Office EDC by Yusuf Prens used under CC 2.0

Provide evidence that your project is addressing a need. We all have personal passions, and while that can fuel your interest in starting a nonprofit, check to make sure that passion will help alleviate a community issue. That’s a sure way to present a solid case for support.

Be honest about what your weaknesses. You are probably aware of the strengths that you or your colleagues are bringing to the table, be they material, knowledge-based, or otherwise. You will want to highlight those, but it is also okay to state what you need to complement those strengths. Make sure to tie those needs to your proposal! It shows that you are being forthcoming and self-reflective.

Bring back-up when meeting with funders. Depending on the foundation, you may have an opportunity to sit down with a representative to speak more about your proposal. Feel free to bring someone else affiliated with the project or organization along, like a board member or a volunteer. They can provide another perspective, as well as quell your fears about going it alone.

Avoid being entitled or demanding. It’s okay to care about your proposal – that’s expected – but please remember that old adage about catching more flies with honey. Elena gave a great example: even if you plan to carry out your project with or without the grant you’re seeking, don’t share that in your proposal. It signals that you don’t need their support, in which case they’ll divert those dollars to someone who does.


Did any of these surprise you? Or do you have any tips that would be helpful for others? Please share in the comments below.

Just ONEthing - Feb 2016

Three times a year, ONEplace hosts a gathering of our Consultants and Trainers Network – area professionals that work with nonprofits. During each gathering, we check-in with each other and discuss the underlying issues related to nonprofit operations, management, and leadership.

Our recent gathering took a deep dive into the question, “What drives an organization, and what difference does it make?” This was not a philosophical question but one of observation and assessment. We wanted to get a read on what’s happening in the field. Three themes emerged in the discussion.

First, we tend the follow the path we’re on. This was expressed as tradition, the status quo, going down the same tunnel, fear of change, or even as an object in motion stays in motion. While organizations are consistent, they may lose sight of other options or become risk averse.

Second, we’re bound by a common cause. While most organizations have a mission statement, this point gets to a more personal connection to the cause, such as all have a family member who suffers from the same disease or endured a similar experience. Being close to the cause elicits deep engagement, and it may cloud understanding relative to fundraising or community engagement barriers.

Third, the organization will rise and fall with leadership. Organizational success often is determined by how the Board and Executive Director partnership lead the organization. The organization thrives when the board conversation revolves around impact, and it falters when the board conversation delves into operational concerns.

We acknowledged the fact that organizations are always communicating a message – whether intentional or not. Being deliberate about that message and mission creates clarity internally as well as external consistency.

Reflections on Creating Change

With the success of last year’s Inclusion Series, I started 2016 excited to plan our next installment. Conversations about equity and inclusion are happening all over the country, everywhere from the world of literature to Hollywood. Being a part of that zeitgeist, and bringing practical tools to the nonprofit sector here in Kalamazoo is a great privilege.

 Photo by @thetaskforce Twitter used under CC 2.0

I took that energy to Creating Change, a conference hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, this year held in Chicago. Over 4,000 organizers, activists, and social justice allies came together for workshops and institutes concerning the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities. I attended just three out of the five days of Creating Change, and can’t quite believe how much I learned in such a short period. Here a few of the biggest lessons I took from the conference.


1.      Lean into – not away from – discomfort. One awesome panel that focused on the experiences of queer racial justice activists encouraged the participants to expect discomfort, and embrace that. The moderator noted that turning away or shutting down due to uncomfortable feelings or truths can be a major barrier to advancing important conversations.

2.      Don’t do for, do with. One very serious, heartfelt panel about the crisis of HIV in young Black American queer men focused on how realities specific to the African American community, such as religiosity, are exacerbating the issue of HIV transmission rates. The moderator noted that because these issues are entrenched, health organizations would do well to work with communities rather than dictating terms on how to lower infection rates.

3.      Visions of justice tomorrow may not look like yesterday’s. During the State of the Movement address, one of the Task Force staff members noted that it was the 43rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, guaranteeing women the right to choose. That staffer further explained that while that event is an important one for reproductive justice, there is still much work to do to guarantee access to good healthcare for all, particularly the trans*, disabled and undocumented communities.


Creating Change was an excellent opportunity to illuminate how so many different things so essential to a fulfilling and productive life – secure housing, a good education, a safe work environment – must not be taken for granted. I am excited to use this new information as we plan for the 2016 Inclusion Series. And, if you have ideas of what you’d like to see addressed in the series this year, please email us.

Getting serious about board service

Over the past two years, I’ve visited over 30 board meetings to provide training, facilitate discussions, and assist with transitions. I’ve also held individual meetings with several other board leaders. In each one of these meetings I’m reminded of a critical, yet elusive, fact:

The Board acts as one.

Many boards lack this unity. The organization may have a clearly written mission statement but board members are not on the same page with how this impacts their work. The executive director may have a clearly written job description but there are disconnects between board leadership and the executive staff that create confusion and impair operations. The board may have a recruitment plan for members and officers but they struggle to find people to fill the positions.

These three issues – getting everyone on the same page, managing critical governance relationships, and finding great board members – thread their way through many boards locally and nationally. 

The most recent Governance Report (Leading with Intent) from BoardSource shows that, while members do a good job with technical concerns such as financial oversight and compliance (things that many do in their own jobs), they underperform on the adaptive concerns related to strategic direction and community connections. In contrast, top performing boards get the “right people on their bus” through a deep understanding of cause, purpose, and strategy that enables thoughtful planning, determined dedication, and collective commitment from board members as well as executive staff.

Let me be frank: I’m seeing too many boards struggle with ambiguities that can be addressed. I’m seeing too many organizations struggle because the board and executive staff fail to develop strong, working relationships.

Board service is serious work, affecting the lives of many – staff, volunteers, clients, and others. Every year, board personnel undergo change, so board development requires continual effort. Our Better Board Series (Jan 12, 19, & 26) offers a taste of what ONEplace can do to assist you in this effort.

Just ONEthing - Jan 2016

Every few months we offer Grant Writing Basics – an introduction to grant writing. Always a well-attended and well-liked workshop, the Basics class emphasizes one key element: worry about what you can control.

Grant seekers often worry on concerns outside their control: who else is applying this round, how will we stack up against the competition, what pet concerns drive the panel, etc. Even if we could answer these questions, it would make little difference in how we write our proposals.

Instead, grant seekers have plenty to focus on within their control. Up to 80% of grant writing is research. Grant writers need to know: details on the organization’s cause, purpose and strategies; details on the proposed program development; the organization’s history of handling such projects; details on the need being addressed and the population being served; details on how other organizations are serving similar needs or the same population; and more.

Once the grant writer knows the details above, then begins the hunt for the funder with a hand-in-glove mission fit. This, too, is within the grant seeker’s control. Using the Funding Information Network (available at ONEplace Center) and other tools, the funder search can be narrowed quite quickly.

I once spoke with a young grant writer who said, “I wrote 100 grants last year and didn’t get a single one.” Don’t be that person. Grant writing is not a numbers game. It’s more akin to finding the right pair of gloves – appropriate material, solid construction, engaging color, and perfect fit.

Top Ten for 2015

In the spirit of year-end reflections, we once again share our Top Ten lists. Recognizing that people vote with their attendance and with their post-session evaluations, we do two lists. Therefore, based upon your evaluations and attendance, here are your top workshops from 2015 (notice ties in both lists).

By Evaluation

1. Donor Recognition: Keep ‘em Coming Back (11/12/15) 99%

2. Grant Writing Basics (3/10/15) 97%

2. Grant Research Tools (12/10/15) 97%

4. Donor Retention (2/5/15) 96%

4. Securing Corporate Sponsorships (10/26/15) 96%

4. Achieving Sustainability (12/10/15) 96%

7. Starting a Nonprofit (1/7/15) 95%

7. Grant Research Tools (3/24/15) 95%

7. Three Steps to a Better Board (6/2/15) 95%

7. Grant Writing Basics (6/14/15) 95%

7. Planning your Year-End Campaign (10/29/15) 95%

7. Grant Writing Basics (12/3/15) 95%

By Attendance

1. Building a Cohesive Team (3/31/15) 43

2. Job of the Manager – Managing Yourself (9/14/15) 39

3. Major Gifts (5/7/15) 36

3. Communicating for Results (9/21/15) 36

5. Trans*, Gender Non-Conforming, & Genderqueer: a workshop for allies (8/12/15) 32

5. Managing Change & Making Effective Decisions (10/5/15) 32

7. Leading & Empowering – Growing Yourself (10/12/15) 31

8. Building Relationships – Managing Others (9/28/15) 30

9. Your Marketing Plan (4/29/15) 25

10. HR Essentials (4/22/15) 24

Thank you for all you do to support, encourage and enrich our community. You’re amazing people doing amazing work.

All the best for 2016!


Just ONEthing - Dec 2015

November brought the Operations Series to ONEplace providing a detailed instruction on Project Management, Decision Making, and Problem Solving processes. In this series we learned that the key to all three is asking the right questions to achieve better definition.

In Project Management, we ask: What needs to be done? Why are we doing this? At the end of this project, what will we have accomplished? What limitations need to be considered?

In Decision Making, we ask: What are you trying to accomplish? Can you state that more clearly? What must the decision deliver (i.e., what is mandatory & measureable)?

In Problem Solving, we pinpoint the defect through a series of questions that look at what IS the situation and what could be but IS NOT the situation. For example:

IDENTITY – What is the item that is malfunctioning? What is the malfunction?

LOCATION – Where is the malfunction observed (geographically)? Where on the item is the malfunction observed?

TIMING – When was the malfunction first observed? When has it been observed since? When in the operating cycle of the item is the malfunction first observed?

MAGNITUDE – What is the extent of the problem? How many items are affected? How much of any one item is affected?

We also adjust the questions to look at the closest logical comparison, for example: What could be but IS NOT the item that is malfunctioning? What could be but IS NOT the malfunction?

If the item is a person, we can change the language to fit the situation, for example: Who is the person that is underperforming? What is the underperformance?

Good managers don’t know everything, but they know to ask good questions. These processes provide a stable of good questions for those projects, decisions, and problems that inevitably come to your desk.

Inspiring and encouraging

At ONEplace we glimpse into a variety of organizations – new, established, small, large, struggling, thriving. Regardless of the size or situation, our area’s nonprofit staff and volunteers demonstrate a depth of commitment and perseverance to address their particular cause. What’s most impressive, however, is the intricacy and impact characterizing each organization.

It’s a gift to listen to someone explain how their organization’s services improve people’s lives. I often find myself pleasantly surprised as I learn how organizations come along side their constituents, navigating systems, removing barriers, and equipping them to move on.

This is why I so enjoy our KICtalks programs. Kalamazoo Innovative Community talks provide organizations an opportunity to spotlight their particular innovation, show how it builds community, and invite others to play a part. I learn a lot about each organization and leave inspired, encouraged, and interested to learn about other organizations.

The next KICtalks is Thursday, November 12, 5:30 – 7 pm at the downtown library. We’ll hear from Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, Kalamazoo Literacy Council, and Restore Ministries. I hope you’ll attend.



Raise more money

A couple of weeks ago our Leadership Academy spent time on fundraising. In addition to excellent instruction, we also enjoyed a highly engaged discussion with a panel of experienced fundraisers. Among the several topics, tips, and insights shared was this:

The year-end fundraiser is still king.

Virtually every organization does some type of fundraising in November and December. Gratitude and giving are in the air, donors get a last chance at tax deductions, and many have developed a habit of donating at year’s end. Whatever the reason, it’s an extremely important time for nonprofits that depend on donor contributions.

ONEplace offers programs to help you plan, prepare and deliver a successful fundraising campaign. First, this week’s video is Year-End Fundraising Campaign by Big Duck, a New York communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits.

Next, in mid-October, our video series brings you Giving Tuesday Success by nonprofit social media guru, Beth Kanter. This will encourage you to have your Giving Tuesday in place and ready to go for raising big money on December 1.

Finally, our Fundraising Series returns, beginning October 29. Michelle Karpinski (Pretty Lake Camp) partners with ONEplace to bring you three workshops designed to help you make this year’s campaign the best ever. They include:

Planning your Year-End Campaign – Oct 29

Donor Communications – Cut thru the Noise – Nov 5

Donor Recognition – Keep ’em Coming Back – Nov 12

Your time is valuable. Let these video and workshop opportunities ensure that you spend the needed time focusing and refining your campaign. You’ll save time – and raise more money – in the long run.



Just ONEthing - Oct 2015

Earlier this month, Paul Knudstrup (Midwest Consulting Group) launched this year’s Supervision & Management Series. The series not only provides critical information to new supervisors, it also gives experienced supervisors an opportunity to revisit information, assess needs, and sharpen skills.

In Session Two, Communicating for Results, Paul touched on conflict resolution and presented a five-step process for addressing conflicts of emotion or perception. They include:

1. Acknowledge the Conflict: Naming the conflict and acknowledging that it exists must occur before both parties seek to resolve it. Often, each party is waiting for the other to deal with it (most often, subordinate waiting on the boss). The fact is, one party must make the first overture, so why not you. 

2. Clarify the Conflict: All of us want to appear as rational, thoughtful people, so we’re good at rationalizing our behaviors. As we ask clarifying questions (e.g., “Good point – say more about that”) it’s often helpful to list information on a white board. This helps objectify the situation, letting everyone take ownership of the full situation. In this step, it’s crucial to listen well and reflect the other person’s emotions back to them to get all information out on the table.

3. Identify Alternatives: Having reduced the tension, we now can enter into problem solving with the other person. Listen to other person without making judgments or rushing to closure. Set out your statements briefly and fairly, but don’t hold back any information. If each of us saw the situation from the other’s perspective, there likely wouldn’t have been a conflict. From this base, we can generate ideas, suggestions, and options for moving forward.

4. Agree on Actions: In this step, we work out a mutually agreeable solution. Commonly there’s an amount of give and take but not always. If, at this point, both have reached a common understanding of the problem, then it’s easier to move to a common commitment to the best solution – regardless of whose idea it is. The key is that all parties agree. To paraphrase Stephen Covey, “If it’s not win-win, I don’t want to play.”

5. Summarize Next Steps: Once you have a solution, the final step is pretty simple. Set forth the steps necessary and an accountability system (who will do what by when). Document these steps and their timeline, and then be sure to check in to ensure that all is on course. Hold each other accountable, while allowing some grace as needed. Resolving the conflict and improving the relationship are the goals, so keep the focus there.

You’ll find more great information in Paul’s book, The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers. Now in its second edition and available at the Kalamazoo Public Library or at Amazon.