PSGA Ken's Corner

Observations and advice on grant writing from the other side of the desk

Haiku Small Grants

1 Comment

For a few years now the Oregon Community Foundation has awarded three small grants through a haiku contest. The grant application is condensed into the seventeen syllable haiku format. Below is the outline for how the haiku should be constructed and an example. (Note: only Oregon charities are eligible.

Title of poem = The name of your organization.
1st Line (5 syllables): Tell us about your organization.
2nd Line (7 syllables): What need does your project address?
3rd Line (5 syllables): What do you propose to do about it?

We serve homeless vets
No one can find our building
We need a new sign

Goodwin Deacon and I used this at our PSGA Panorama session. We like the exercise because it reinforces two key ideas that are important for grant writing success. Look at the structure of the haiku again. See how you’re asked to cite a need before your solution?

That approach is the exact opposite of what I see in many LOIs. Too often an LOI launches right in to details about a project without shaping the need that the project is meant to address. That approach is the enemy of a compelling request. For example, read this slightly altered version of the example:

We serve homeless vets
We need a new sign
No one can find our building

Does this feel as compelling as the original example? In writing, items that come first in a sentence or earlier in a paragraph or document shape the meaning of what follows. Here’s another short example. “Bill hit Bob” or “Bob was hit by Bill.” The sentence you would use depends of context. If you’re talking to a friend who knows Bill, the first sentence is better. If the friend knows Bob, then the second sentence is better. In fact, this is a great example of using the passive voice. If I know Bob, I’ll pay attention when I hear his name, even if it is in the passive voice. What does this mean to grant writing?

If you want to connect with funders, you need to appeal to why they make grants. I don’t know of any foundation or corporate giving committee that has a mission of buying trucks or helping to build buildings. But many, many grants from many, many funders have helped to buy vehicles or contributed to buildings. Why? It’s because of what those “tools” can help an organization achieve.

The other aspect of this exercise is based upon stating one simple “need” and a solution that is directly related to the need. When you pair that approach with the idea that you state your “need” in terms of what will catch the reader’s (funder’s) attention, you realize that each LOI–or application–needs to stand on its own. That includes LOIs that are for the same project. One funder may find one aspect of a project compelling while another funder may find another aspect, or the same aspect slightly restated, the best approach.

How can this help you in your work? Try writing a haiku after you draft your LOI, but before you do the first re-write. See if that helps you focus. Another way to use the haiku exercise is to think restating those second and third lines for various aspects of your organization’s work. For example, a Meals on Wheels program might see a need it faces as a lack of nutrition for seniors. But it also might look at the program as providing the benefit of companionship. Either can be correct.

This can be a great exercise to help you think creatively about your organization’s work and how an outsider–a funder–may look at that differently than you or others in your organization. That insight can be a great help  in the long run for you and your organization.


Author: Ken Ristine

Over 40 years experience in the nonprofit sector; Senior Program Officer for a Pacific Northwest family foundation. Co-author with Goodwin Deacon of the recently published Grantsmanship for the Genius.

One thought on “Haiku Small Grants

  1. I love the haiku method! A few years ago I was helping a research scientist write a proposal, and he responded to my request that he write the summary: “Trying to fit a summary into 300 characters is like writing a haiku.” So I wrote him a haiku:
    Salmon spawn when cool
    Log jams may cool streams better
    Helfield testing

    I considered including it in the proposal, but chickened out. (We didn’t get the grant.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s