PSGA Ken's Corner

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

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Capturing Stories

In the past few years we’ve heard a lot about storytelling as a tool for grantwriters. Telling stories involves characters, and who are those characters but the people an organization helps? Yet, hand in hand with that idea is a concern for the dignity and privacy of the people our organizations assist.

This isn’t a new issue. Newly on the fundraising staff of United Way in Seattle in 1978, I had a long discussion with the director of a sheltered workshop about United Way tours. It was common to try to take people from employee groups to United Way agencies during the campaign. This director characterized the tours as a form of “handicapism.” The tours, to his thinking, did nothing but put the people working in the sheltered workshop on display. Frankly, I had to agree that there was an element of that behind the idea of taking people on tours of United Way agencies. But tours were also a way of helping people see and understand programs in the community that they might otherwise know existed.

That discussion has stayed with me, and I’ve keep it in mind whenever I make a site visit now as a funder with a private foundation. Grantwriters, and their organizations, have to balance the dignity and privacy of the people they work with and the need to talk about their work. But there are also times when the people they work with want, and need, to step forward and be heard. And helping someone do that can mean just as much to dignity and growth as privacy. Along that line, I received the following from Gayle Tice, a freelance writer who attended the recent PSGA Annual Conference, with thoughts on that topic. With her permission, I’d like to share her thoughts.

Beyond Impact

by Gayle Tice

As someone who has been served by the work of a wonderful nonprofit organization, and attributes much of her current success and self-esteem to it, I want to say that the biggest capital “I” Impact that organization had on me came from asking me to speak on its behalf. As staff in the nonprofit sector you may feel that you should not inconvenience those you serve by asking them to help you. Their lives are hard enough, you might think. You may even be concerned about offending them, making them think that you want to hold their sensitive situation out to the world for your gain.

But isn’t it also possible that it could be their gain? No matter what your mission may be, you are likely serving populations that do not have much social or economic power. Your clients probably would not be asked to make keynote addresses. They probably do not often hear: “I think you have a valuable perspective and I would like your permission to share it.”

As a high school student, when I was first asked to speak on behalf of my school’s branch of Communities In Schools, I was terrified. I tended to view myself as a bundle of problems that could not possibly have the authority to speak. But I was also intrigued. So I said yes. They kept asking, which told me I must have done something right. And I spoke on their behalf for years. I spoke in front of grant panels, and I spoke to representatives in government. I even got a quote published on their website, a personal favorite since I like seeing my name in print.

Instead of calling me a bundle of problems, a potential statistic, a low grade, or a list of missing assignments, they called my perspective valuable. Instead of simply lowering a hand in my direction to help me out of a tough position, they did that and then asked me to walk beside them. They asked me to help define and communicate their value. And inside that framework I found mine.

If I were to sum up the mission of most nonprofits into a single phrase, it would be the pursuit of human dignity and the respect of life. Why not let those you serve help you define where you fall within that phrase? Who can better communicate what your impact is than the people you impact? Communities In Schools never put me out by asking me to speak on their behalf. They simply made me their equal.

They empowered me in the best way possible, making me see that I did not have to suffer in silence, making me see that I could act on my concerns for this world. They turned a bundle of problems into a partner. They made an impact that will never leave me. They made me consider how I can move that impact outward.

When I think about what I want to do with my life, I start there. I think about what they did for me every day.

Gayle Tice, a graduate of The Evergreen State College, is a freelance writer living in Seattle. She is also a prospect researcher with Deacon Consulting. She can be contacted at


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Funder Forums

It’s that time of year again for the South Puget Sound Funders Forum. It’s on the campus of UPS again on Friday, December 4th. If you haven’t signed up yet you can go to the new PSGA homepage at and link to the registration.

Funder Forums are important even if you don’t have a project on your desk right now. And that’s especially true for the December Forum. Since it can take you three to nine months to navigate the process at some larger funders, what you hear at the December Forum may be important to ideas you’ll be working on for mid-to late 2016 and on into 2017.

Also, I encourage people to sit at one table that may not be directly related to their current work. Why?

  • The more funders you hear from the better idea you have about how funders work in general
  • Your organization may have a project in the future that is relevant to that funder
  • You may change jobs, and this funder might be important to your work in the future

Even though your goal for the Forum is listening, there is one thing you should be prepared to say. You need to have a short elevator speech ready if a funder asks who you are and what your organization does. The key is short. Grantseekers often feel a pressure to say more and more and more in hopes that something they say will resonate with a funder.

The problem is that the more you say, the less memorable it is. So a short elevator speech that hits the key points is better than going on and on. What are those key points?

  • Your name
  • Your organization’s name
  • 1 sentence about what the organization does
  • 1 sentence about where it works, i.e., geography

If you’ve never been to a Funders Forum here’s a checklist of things to listen for:

  • Why does the funder make grants?
  • What are the funder’s priorities?
    • Geography
    • Type of program
    • Type of grant
      • Operating support
      • Capacity-building
      • Capital grants
      • Project grants
    • What’s the process for an initial approach?
    • Deadlines, if any
    • Range of grant amounts
    • Frequency of grants

If you talk to other grant writers you may hear about other key questions that are helpful.

Over the many years I’ve sat in the hotseat at Funder Forums I’ve learned a lot from the people sitting at my table. I see new faces, hear about new organizations, and often people I know, some of whom are now at new organizations. And that brings up the last benefit of attending.

You need to be there just to be seen. It’s always a good idea that you get a chance to meet a funder, put a face and a voice to your organization, before you have a grant request in hand. While there’s a rule that you don’t come to the Forum to push a proposal, the fact is that it’s just a plain good idea.

I hope to see you there.

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The importance of grant reports

If you’re in the South Sound or can get down to Tacoma on June 17th the South Sound PSGA meeting has a great topic: Grant Reports: Obligation or Opportunity.

Full disclosure, I will be one of the panelists, partly because I’m a funder and partly because it’s a topic I’ve covered before in presentations. And while I try to look at the issue from a broad perspective that applies to all funders, Sylvie McGee and Karen Pickett will also be on the panel. They have both worked with a variety of funders and can provide insights from that work.

The reason South Sound PSGA chose the topic is that it raises a lot of questions. After all, if grant reports were easy we wouldn’t be having this session.

One thought I’ll offer, and expand on at the presentation, is that there are two levels of reporting. First is reporting on activities. For a program grant it might mean citing units of service or the unduplicated client count. A building campaign might simply document progress on the building and in the end that the building is complete, open, and being used for services.

The other level of reporting is impact reporting. This can be harder. It begins by looking at the reasons you cited for doing the project. For example, you undertook to create a new food bank in River City because you felt there were too many people going hungry in that area. Your case for that may have cited anecdotal information, surveys such as the Department of Agriculture’s Food Insecurity Report, or some combination of sources.

Your case used those pieces of evidence to both suggest there is a hunger issue and that the best way to do something about hunger in River City was to create a new food bank there. Reporting that the food bank is open, operating, and how many people its serving is an activity report.

A funder may ask, “Okay, you’re doing what you said you would do; but is it solving the problem?” Connecting what you are doing to the needs is impact reporting.

Reporting on impact can be challenging for several reasons:

  • Your original data sources are too general or take too show changes
  • Your organization didn’t plan in advance how it would show or measure impact
  • You were just old to raise money so the organization could just do what it wanted to do

That last reason is the one you really want to avoid. You can work around for the first two situations with some advance planning and support from your organization. For example, that’s one of the rationales for Evidence-based programs. (You’ll have to come to the program to hear how that works.)

That third reason is the toughest because it means your organization isn’t interested in working with funders; it just wants to get money to pursue its own goals.

Finally, one last teaser question: “What if a funder doesn’t want a report or just wants a very superficial report; what should I do?”

You can get details of the June 17th event on the PSGA website at

I hope to see you there.

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Grant Writing

I’ll be a panelist at this month’s Seattle Lunchtime Program on March 25th. The session is on the writing part of grant writing.

How important is writing? Grant writing isn’t a writing contest. But writing skill is critical. Why?

You always have much more to say than space to say it.

It’s as simple as that. Basic writing skills can help you turn a mountain of data into a tablespoon of information.

And note, I wrote “writing skill” not writing talent. Skills can be developed. Or as Stephen King put it:

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

This month’s program focuses on something we all deal with–pulling pulling together information from a variety of documents and sources and turning it into a comprehensible whole with a consistent voice. You face this writing a full proposal or filling in an online application question by question. I face it doing write-ups of applications for a board meeting.

The key presenters will be Connie Chaplan and Kyra Freestar from Tandem Editing, LLC along with Patricia Kile, President of Open Door Consulting and a PSGA board member.

And I may make a comment or two from a funder’s (i.e., reader’s) point of view.

Again, it’s Wednesday, March 25th. Doors open at 11:30, program at Noon.

Location: The Swedish Club, 1920 Dexter Avenue in Seattle.

You can register now at the PSGA website.

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Grants by Community Foundations and other public charities

While private foundations list their grants on the 990-PF they must file each year, public foundations such as United Ways and Community Foundations file 990s. Those 990s are like the organizations that seek grants from them. As a result it’s difficult to find the grant listing on the 990—but it’s there.

Take the great folks at the Moyer Foundation. Their 990 for 2013 shows on pages 1, 2, and 10 that the organization made $824,000 in grants to other organizations to carry out its work. In typical IRS fashion none of those three citations tell you where you will find a list of those grants. What is cited on pages 1 and 10 is that the organization must complete line 22 in Section IV. That section is in those four pages (3-6) with the mind-numbing list of questions about disclosures, governance, and other policies.

What you find there is that if a public charity makes grants to other organizations then it has to complete Schedule I, as in I for Income (which is curious because the grants are expenditures for the organization filling out that 990, not income). If you look at Schedule I on this 990 (which begins on page 32 of the return) you’ll see the list of grants. It includes the grantee’s name, location, purpose of the grant, and amount of the grant.

The bad news is that the listing for a community foundation can be quite large. The Seattle Foundation’s 990 for 2013 is almost 500 pages, most of them the grant listing. Also, it’s difficult to determine if a grant is made from unrestricted funding or from a special source such as a dedicated fund or a donor-advised fund.

Yet, the information is there. The 990 grant listing is most useful for getting to know a smaller public foundation. It helps you understand what the organization’s grant guidelines really mean. A general listing that a funder supports Education doesn’t tell you a lot. Scanning the grants list in Schedule I might tell you if they mean K-12 or higher education.

Many of you may already know and use this approach. But from time to time it’s good to put it out there for people who haven’t researched public foundations before.

Email me at if you have an idea you’d like me to cover.

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Collective Impact

Over the past several months I’ve had a calls and emails about Collective Impact. Grant-seeking nonprofits have heard about Collective Impact and are asking, “How do we start a collective impact project?” or “How do we find out who’s funding Collective Impact?”

Good questions and here are a few thoughts that may clarify things for grant writers.

Collective Impact is a funder model. It’s about funders joining together to move in a common direction around an issue. Funders are looking at Collective Impact when they feel they need to be a part of a joint effort in order to really affect an issue.

When a number of nonprofits join together on a common project it’s called Collaboration. Collective Impact and Collaboration are two sides of the same coin.

Here’s what they have in common. Funders joining a Collective Impact project agree to five key ideas:

• A common agenda or vision
• Shared measurements
• Mutually reinforcing activities
• Continuous communication
• Backbone support organization

Don’t those all sound like basic elements of collaboration? Collaborations ask nonprofit partners to share a vision, agree on what success looks like, ensure that their activities work towards the shared vision, communicate often, and finally agree to a lead organization when needed for grant and other funding.

How do you find out about Collective Impact projects and funding?

In a Collective Impact model the project funders usually choose a lead organization to re-grant funding in line with project priorities. That can be a challenge for local nonprofits because traditional grant research may not find those opportunities.You need to rely upon informal communications to hear about these efforts.

When funders select a backbone support organization for a project they look for an organization with experience in the field of service and the capacity to communicate with interested parties. As a result, you need to be active with other organizations that do similar work in your area. If you are active and a Collective Impact project begins in your area of service, you should hear about it and the funding opportunities it brings.

In some Collective Impact projects the lead organization doesn’t re-grant. It coordinates communication and priorities between local nonprofits and funders. Funders use that information to shape their grant making. Again, if you’re active with other organizations and networks you will probably hear about a Collective Impact project directly or from others in your community.

Collective Impact is still in its infancy in the Northwest. I’m sure we’ll see more such efforts in the future. And Collective Impact will change over time. For example, if it begins to get used enough I could foresee organizations such as community foundations and Philanthropy Northwest making concerted effort to alert communities about Collective Impact projects.

For now, keep communicating with others that serve your community and people you’re dedicated to helping.

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Getting the most out of a Funders Forum

The Funders Forum on the campus of UPS takes place on Friday, December 5th. Here are some ideas from a funder’s point of view about how to get the most out of these events.

First, look at the list of funders attending the event and check their websites or other information. Make your top priority getting around to funders that you don’t really know, but who make grants to organizations like yours.

Second, go ahead and sit at the table of one funder that might not be directly relevant to you now. In a year or two your organization might have a relevant program. Or you may be working at a different organization.

Third, check out funders you’ve worked with to see if they have new priorities. The upcoming event at UPS will include both the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation and the Employees Community Fund of Boeing. Both have new giving guidelines. While the Employees Community Fund made a presentation at the PSGA Annual Conference, this format should allow for more information.

Finally, on a practical note, make sure to listen to each funder. Listen for the words they use, how formal or informal their speech is, and other cues that can help you drafting an LOI or completing an online form.

Also, while pitching a project is not only against the rules, doing so can also do more to lessen a funder’s interest than raise it.

There’s nothing wrong though with introducing yourself, mentioning your organizations name, and saying thank you to the funder for attending the event. That creates a positive impression that can help your next LOI or application.

More information and registration for the event can be found at PSGA’s website.