How to Go From 100+ Grants to The Best Fits for You: The Grant Writing Unicorn Method with Meredith Noble
In this Instrumentl Partner Webinar, we learn from Meredith Noble as she shares different grant seeking strategies that help her and her unicorn students focus on the right grants and win more funding.
By the end of this Instrumentl Partner Workshop, you'll be able to:
- Calculate competitiveness of each grant program
- Know the three stages of the grant prospecting funnel
- Find the highest likelihood of success and return on investment for your time when it comes to your grant strategy
- Understand how Instrumentl saves you time and money in identifying the right opportunities for your programs
By using that link, you'll save $50 off your first month should you decide to upgrade when your trial expires.
Meredith Noble has secured over $45 million in grants, and is the author of How to Write a Grant: Become a Grant Writing Unicorn, a #1 bestseller for nonprofit fundraising and grants on Amazon. You can find resources and more at her website, LearnGrantWriting.org.
Instrumentl Partner Webinars are collaborations between Instrumentl and its community partners to provide free educational workshops for grant professionals. Our goal is to tackle a problem grant professionals often have to solve, while also sharing different ways Instrumentl’s platform can help grant writers win more grants. Click here to save a seat in our next workshop.
Click the video link below to start watching the replay of this free grant workshop, or check out the transcriptions below the video.
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How to Go From 100+ Grants to The Best Fits for You Grant Training Transcription
Will: Everyone, welcome to “How to Go from 100+ Grants, to the Best Fits for You,” the grant writing unicorn method. This workshop is being recorded and slides will be shared afterwards, so keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up email later today in case you want to review anything that Meredith goes over. She's also graciously offering some templates and helpful resources that we'll be sharing in the recording later today, so keep your eyes peeled there. In case it's your first time here, this is a free grant workshop, which is an Instrumentl partner webinar. These are collaborations that we do with our different grant professional partners, and the entire goal is essentially to tackle a problem that grant professionals like yourselves have to often solve, while also sharing different ways that Instrumentl’s platform helps grant writers win more grants. In case you didn't know, Instrumentl is the institutional fundraising platform. If you need to bring your grant prospecting, your tracking, or your management to one place, we can help you with that, and you can set up your own personalized grant recommendations using the link on the screen that Meredith has up right now. Before we get started, I wanted to announce the winner of the $100 donation to their nonprofit. This participant shared our workshop ahead of today, and essentially got some friends to join in as well, and so the winner today is America Loves Kids, who are dedicated to ending child exploitation, so we'll be making that donation after this workshop. Lastly, be sure to stick around for the entirety of today's workshop, because we are going to have a ton more prizes than we typically have. We have, I think, 22 total prizes, and Meredith will share more details on that. Now that that housekeeping is out of the way, I’m very excited to introduce Meredith from Learn Grant Writing. Over her career, Meredith has secured over $45,000,000 in grants, and she's the author of the Amazon best-selling book, “How to Write a Grant -Becoming a Grant Writing Unicorn.” Meredith, feel free to take it away.
Let's do this. I grew up… my dad's side of the family is Swiss, so I also appreciate getting a party started on time.
Throw questions that you might have as I go in the chat box, I’m going to hit them if I feel like they're super time-sensitive, otherwise Will and Alex are tracking on them, and we'll be able to get those at the end if I miss any.
What are we talking about today? How to go from 100+ grants in Magic Instrumentl, to actually figuring out which ones are worth your time. I am the redhead, if you can't tell and Alex is to my left in this picture, and we help those that are looking for a career change become grant writing unicorns so you can build a life you love. You can basically message Alex right now via the chatbox, she's over there, but you can also just Instagram DM her at Learn Grant Writing.
We have, just to orient me with where you're at, I think Will has a survey form that should pop up on your screen. Who uses Instrumentl already, because I just want to know are we talking to some pros, we're talking people who haven't used it yet, or you've used it in the past, or used a trial? Hi, Abigail. Yes, it's so awesome. Love these names I’m recognizing. If that… I’m sure you're just trying to figure out how to pop that up, and if it doesn't work, we can all do one, two, three, as well but, I’m hoping that it's going to work to do it, because graphics are certainly more helpful. It worked. Okay, cool I think it's just on your side. Sweet.
As you all respond to that, we'll just give you a couple seconds. Hi, Teresa, hi Mary. Teresa is working on some really powerful stuff for COVID relief with some incredible innovation, and, yeah, just an honor to know her. It's neat to see so many cool names, and people I get to meet still. Okay, so I guess if you think that a fair amount have come in, you could close the poll. It hasn't popped up on my screen, but maybe you can tell me what you see. Yeah, so I see that 38 are using Instrumentl, 49 have not yet started, and 14 are currently on the trial. Okay, and it says that attendees are viewing the poll results as well. I think some other people may be able to see it too. Okay, right on, so that's helpful. Thank you for the orientation. One more question, and then we're really ready to rock and roll. Yeah, thanks Katie, yeah. It's true. I’m like, ding dong, why can't I see them? Hosts can't see polls, good point.
What situation best describes you? One, you're a grant writer, a consultant, or side hustling it, two, development and fundraising teams, three, an executive director or some other leadership role, or four, other, which I know is broad, but in the interest of keeping it simple, plug in where you fit, because that will also help me as I think through the examples I want to share with you on the fly, while getting a sip of tea from my unicorn mug. “Poor choices, many people do all of those.” Well you can… I guess… You're right, you could say “other” and it's multiple. You're welcome to just put it in the chat box. You're right. Where's the number five, which is all hats, right? Just trying to keep it simple. Katie, one, two, and four. Yeah, good point, all hats here. Okay.
Option number five is all hats. Looking at the results, we have 45 saying they are grant writer consultants, 24 saying development and fundraising teams, 15 executive directors, and then 16 other. Okay, and then X percent that are all hats, right? That's great, that is definitely the hashtag for today. This is helpful. Let's hit it, now I know where everyone stands. Thank you for sharing that with me.
Game plan for today, we are talking about creative angles to think about funding, three stages of an effective grant prospecting funnel, and how you can apply the grant-writing unicorn method. The last time I did a live webinar, well, this time last year, it was actually National Unicorn Day. My boyfriend and his twin brother crashed it in these unicorn outfits, so I don't think… I didn't tell them we're doing a webinar today, so that would not happen but we wear them occasionally, you might see it.
Perks. Instrumentl is hooking everyone up, so we are releasing on June 2nd, second edition of my book “How to Write a Grant -Become a Grant Reading Unicorn '' I'm so proud of it. It goes basically to get printed tomorrow, I’m really excited about that. They are going to be releasing 20 copies, and we're going to give two seats to our online course. All right, let's get creative on how you think about funding. I’m going to give you a specific example about a skatepark, but I want it to trigger for you, creative ways to think about funding for your project.
Here's the problem. This town had to close their dilapidated skate park. They couldn't fully afford the new one. The gap in funding was about 400 grand. What are they going to do? You google it, and you see three pages worth of Tony Hawk Foundation information, which is great, but Tony Hawk, the average award is $10,000, and a skate park costs $300,000 plus.
You can see the problem, right? That's where thinking creatively comes in handy. Like, not thinking about the word “skatepark.” It's thinking about what the skatepark symbolizes, right? And so I’m going to run through these so that you can get an idea. Neighbors… Who are the adjacent land-users, or who are other partners that benefit from your project or program happening? In this situation, they were located next to a senior housing development, and so that created an opportunity. Well, okay, how can we have a multi-generational outdoor recreational experience? Or how about health outcomes in youth, you know, skate park? How can a skate park combat unhealthy lifestyles, and serve as a safe place for youth? Water quality, the skate park actually was directly above a lake that was 303D-listed, meaning, it had known water quality issues, and so we looked at what kind of funding could be associated with improving water quality. Like, could the parking lot be permeable pavement, meaning like, there wouldn't be runoff, additional runoff, going into the lake?
This community in Massachusetts has a history of glassblowing, and so we looked at, okay, could there be some sort of integration with their arts and culture community with the skate park? But, of course, upon further reflection, I thought maybe glass and skateboards don't mix very well, but you get the creative thinking juice, right? Or brownfield, like, how can the site be… Could the site… Could a skatepark cap a contaminated site? And that might sound kind of gross, but it is actually a remediation tool, and opens up a number of interesting federal grants, and then, of course, there's the, probably what comes to mind most naturally, which is, well, what kind of park and recreation-type funding is there?
You can see how there's a lot of different ways to come at thinking about a project, and you all probably have a handle on this, but obviously there's a lot of different buckets that we can look at. We have local local grant opportunities, state grants, and low interest loans, federal grants, private foundations, they come in all sizes as well. And then we have philanthropy, so what this whole process culminates in is having a funding strategy, a road map, on what grants you're going to pursue that represent the highest likelihood of success and return on investment in terms of cash and effort on your part.
I will be giving this template at the end, which I’ve never let out of the online course, but I know it's super helpful, and it's what going through Instrumentl, going through this process should culminate in for you. Before we get there, I wanted to introduce a concept. Another way to think about it is from a tilted perspective.
We all know what a project is, right? It's a temporary undertaking, and it basically has a clear beginning, middle, and end, like when it's over, you know it's over, right?
Writing my book, that was a project. Like the project is almost over, I’m almost done with it, then there's the programs, right? And these are typically your service platforms, these are what you do continuously year after year, right? These are usually your core services. Example for me would be, “Okay, now I need to, like, tell people about my book,” and that's an outreach program forever, right? But when… so if, primarily, you have a program, I want you to try to think about it in a project-first way, because projects are easier to fund, get funded, because it's more clear what the intended outcome is, and when you've met that…
I’m going to give you an example. Here's a youth orchestra. This somewhat went through our program. Their biggest problem was just, “How do we keep the lights on? How do we fund our executive director? How do we just cover our routine operation costs?” But they also were adding on top of that a new initiative to increase diversity within the youth orchestra. Now, they had these specific, measurable, goals towards that end, and that is a project. Like, there is a beginning to launching a specific campaign, saying we are going to diversify our youth orchestra, and we're going to measure our efforts, and the impact that it's having or not. By the end of the season, and be able to report on that, so now even though they are just trying to get the executive director's time funded we're couching it in the context of a project
I hope that makes sense, it's a little bit of a tilt in the way that you think, but it can make a big difference when you set up your Instrumentl search. Okay, so funding funnel. How to efficiently prospect.
This is how we think about the process, and I will be giving you these graphics at the end That you have a way to just see it. We go plug in our search with Instrumentl. We're going to set it up, find 100 plus grant opportunities, then we need to filter those down quickly and efficiently, to about 20 that are worth our serious consideration, and from there we finalize, like, okay, these are our for sure top pursuits for this specific project or program. We're going to pop in there in a moment. I’m just going to talk through a couple more things, but if you want to get logged in, and get into your account, that'll be helpful. Why does this matter? Always good to come back to why. How many people here… put it in the chat box.
Yes, if you have been brought a grant opportunity, or you've done it yourself, where you're like, okay, I know it's due in four days, but I’m just going to go for it, like, chasing a grant haphazardly, like have you been brought something... Yeah, it’s in caps. Yeah, it's what I thought, I knew it was going to blow it up. Okay, chased, right? Chase. This whole… The whole point of what we're talking about today is that there is a systematic approach to finding grants and breaking that cycle, and it also gives you sort of a defensive tool to say, “No, I’m not dropping everything to spend two weeks writing this grant, because it's not in our strategy.”
This really gets everyone pulling in the same direction, and at the end of the day, that means winning more grants. Yeah, Round one. Finding 100+ grants. The objective here is finding them. I want you to… I think most of these organizations are non-profits, but I know someone said they were trying to get research funding, I know we have some churches, etc. We have different organizations, it's important to think about who else can you partner with to access more funding, right? And so there's a lot of interesting combinations that can be put together. And so I want you to be thinking about that, not just in the context of, “What can we individually receive?”
Let's pop in real quick, and we're going to go set up a search. Yep, before we go to that phase. I am in my Instrumentl account, you all can just watch their latest releases. Awesome. It actually aligns really, really well with the funding strategy model that we teach better, so Will, two thumbs up, I’m really digging the update. I’m going to go ahead and set up a new project. I think I want to do the national I.T. example.
Whoever posted that, would you mind adding in the chatbox any other context that you can about it? I’m going to just say national I.T for… Wait, what was the training building… go ahead, yeah.
Kelsey: Can I just talk?
Kelsey: It’d be a little faster.
Kelsey: We, our organization is Generation USA, we operate programs nationally. They're like, boot camp, really, rapid training programs to get people from unemployed and disconnected from education to an entry-level role that will kickstart a career. It's free for participants, and so we raised all of our funding through philanthropy.
Meredith: Love this, so you are a non-profit, I’m presuming?
Meredith: Okay, but what's so interesting is that you can partner with for-profit businesses.
Kelsey: Yeah, yeah, we absolutely. [crosstalk] universities we partner with community colleges as well.
Meredith: Yeah, awesome, let's see. Should I just say public?
Kelsey: Yeah, probably, public.
Meredith: Okay, and any government entity? Do you partner with, like, local governments at all?
Kelsey: Yeah, we do. Yeah, local workforce boards, et cetera.
Meredith: Perfect, that's kind of what I thought. Perfect. We're not going to look at any individuals, we're going to go ahead and say no for faith-based right now, but you can see, like, if she could have just hit… Kelsey could have just hit non-profit, but she didn't, she’s looking at everyone that she could be partnering with. Okay, so your project takes place in the U.S?
Kelsey: Yeah, yeah, so we have, like, community college partners in specific states and cities, but we have our programs open to anyone in the US.
Meredith: I guess I’ll just say national scope.
Meredith: Fields of work. I think of this as keywords. One pro tip for you, all these are an amazing depth of, like, you can scroll and scroll and scroll, and kind of lose your mind, so it is a lot easier to just think about the word that you want to look up. Feel free to fire off words that come to mind for you, Kelsey. I’m thinking for sure adult education. What else do you want to do? Art school?
Kelsey: I think so. Career, economic mobility
Meredith: Yeah, what other word did you just use?
Kelsey: Economic mobility.
Meredith: It could be economic services and development.
Meredith: Anyone else? Yeah, good, thank you for putting in some suggestions in the chat box. Workforce. Duh, you're right, that'd be a no-brainer. Yeah, okay. I think this is pretty solid, unless anyone else has another one we should add. Does anything else come to mind for you?
Kelsey: But yeah, I think this is a good start for sure.
Meredith: I think it is too. One thing that I think is a challenge, is a trap, is if you want to fill in all 10 terms, but the reality is, then you get way too many grants back.
It's better to kind of start small, and then if you want to go add in more keywords, do it, but I think that four to six is really a sweet spot. What size grants are we looking for? Why anyone would ever set a maximum, I don't know, but we can certainly… I like to set a minimum, because there's just a certain amount of effort that goes into pursuing one. I don't know what the best minimum is for you, but I think I’m going to say 20k, is that okay?
Meredith: Yeah, that's great, it's not super precise anyway. Okay, what we'll use the funds for… education and outreach project, and program general operating expense, basically everything training capacity building, pretty much, unless you are just building a new, like, theater, as someone else mentioned they are. I’m going to pretty much select all of those, because they have a lot of overlap, and then we're going to save and exit, and boom, that's the first part of the funnel, it's done. It's the easiest part, then it just progressively gets harder and more time-consuming. But what's… so Kelsey, do you use Instrumentl? Have you set up a search before?
Kelsey: I haven't, this is so neat, I’m definitely going to.
Meredith: Cool. Well then, this is great. We'll not use my other example that I had up, and we're just going to use this the whole way through. It's thinking, and while it thinks I am going to pop back and teach you all about the second phase of the funnel, and then we're going to come back to Instrumentl, while it… Oh, adult literacy, Emily, that would have been a good term to use. Kelsey, I’ll pull you back up in a second, once we get through this educational portion, and then we apply it. Round two is going from about a hundred grants to the 20 that are worth evaluating, because all grants are not created equal, right? We have to really get it down to a list that's more… Like, it's worth our time to deep dive.
There's three filters that you have to think about when you're going through this phase, and that's it. It's quick, it's dirty, it's like, in, out, keep, dump. That's all this phase is about, giving priorities, eligible projects, and funding history. What are the funding agency’s priorities? Now you cannot perfectly know this unless you speak to the funder, but that's not the point at this stage. At this stage, it's just reading the overview section and getting a general vibe from Instrumentl summary of, hey, do you think that this project is a good fit? And if you feel like you have to contort yourself to fit, the answer is no, throw it out. It's not worth your time. Like, it needs to feel good, it needs to just feel a little bit more effortless. Like, yes, we have alignment with what they are trying to accomplish with their investments.
Number two, at quick glance, are you eligible? Eligibility can be a bear, I have lots of horror stories, they're in my book, you can read all about the horrible mistakes i’ve made as it relates to eligibility, because it can be surprisingly complex, but again, this is just a high-level look at, what do you want to get funded, and is this something the funder will pay for? If you're trying to get a conference paid for, and they explicitly state they don't fund conferences, or they explicitly don't fund religious organizations, and you're a church, like, you know, Okay, I’ve got to oust that.
It's just a quick decision at a quick glance. Are you eligible, and then, probably my favorite feature in Instrumentl, not probably, it is, is looking at the funders past giving behavior. The best indication of future giving is, is past giving, right? Getting to review that 990 tax information that they file with the IRS is enormously illuminating, because you get to see, where do they give grants, who are they funding? What's the average grant amount, right? Because they might, on their website, say they fund $200,000 grants, and then you go and look, and you see their average is $20,000. It's a big difference, right?
I want to recap on this, and then we're buzzing into Instrumentl again. These are the three questions, literally all that you need to ask yourself for this phase: Do you believe there is alignment between you and the funder’s giving priorities? Do you believe the project that you want to get funded is eligible for funding? And… I’m going to move my chat box… Has the funder made awards that are similar to your project or organization type, right? Back in here, they found 173 grants for you, and we only used four keywords, so holy mackerel. That's going to be a lot to go through, and it's so exciting. I’m going to say, let's go. I am minimizing the chat box right now, because I can't see the whole screen otherwise, but keep blowing it up if you need to, and I’m going to look at it in a second.
Here we are, quick and dirty, I’m just going to go down them as they appear. I’m just looking on the right hand side, if you have a bigger screen, this is easier, but I’m just going to scan this card, and I will not leave and go to the website. Cigna Foundation doesn't specify the grant amount they give. Looks like it's educational access for underserved and underrepresented students, and preparing workers for the skills they need to succeed. This sounds like a home run, really good fit. But I want to go ahead and look at their funding history, as well, so I can… And it doesn't look like it's… Let's see…
This is a little bit of a red flag, because, you know, I’m only seeing this… We'd have to actually dig into the 990 forms. Here's the deal, some of them aren't digitized in the way that's super easy and beautiful to see, some are, but so… this isn't giving me, like, what's their total giving? What's their average grant amount? Because Instrumentl doesn't have that information yet, surprisingly. Like 40 of these 990 forms are not filed digitally, so that's part of the flag. I’m going to go ahead and save this, because it intrigues me, but I’m adding a note, like, need to review 990 information.
I haven't confirmed, it passes that second test, but I’m not going to spend time doing that right now, and I’m saving it, then it pops up, “Where do I want to put it?” It's this project, I have the status choices, and obviously, in this phase you don't have to think about that, it's just researching. Add the notes, save, done. Move on to the next one. ECMC foundation grant program grant amount is $25,000 - $300,000. Good, that's what I want. Looks like they fund the things that we want to get funded. Here is a better 990 snapshot. Let's view the 990 report.
It looks like their total giving is 37 million. Good, those are the amounts we like to see. This is also what I like to see, a progression of increasing amounts of funding going out. If you see a decline, it could be an indication the foundation's trying to give away their money and close down, so this is cool seeing that it's getting bigger and bigger every year. Then, this is so fun. You get to look at, where do they give grants? If you know, primarily in California, 40 grants have been made there, where's your headquarter? I guess it doesn't matter, because this… What I would do if I was in Kelsey’s situation, is think about, “Okay, so what program partners do we have in California or the west coast, since the west coast is pretty well-funded, that we could focus on with this funder?” Maybe I’m going to say focus on, you know, California-type generation projects, you get what I’m saying, right? I’m going to save it, like it already passed my quick gut check.
I’m going to do one more, just to… and what's nice is that Instrumentl tends to have the best matches listed already, so you're like, “Oh, wow. These are going really well.” That's usually why, and then when you get down to the bottom you're like, “Yeah, these are a little bit more of a stretch.” Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, graduating high school, college, and being career ready. Does this fit, Kelsey, with what you guys do? College, career…
Kelsey: It is career…
Meredith: Okay, yeah. All of these that we've looked at so far are ones that we've checked out, so like, it's definitely passing the test for best matches at the top. Perfect. I’m just going to go ahead and add it, then. Because it is helpful to track even those previous ones, and maybe get them in here.
You've got notes on, “Hey, we have applied for this in the past.” That information is getting passed through people on the team, you know? I’m going to go ahead and not keep going through those because you, I think, get the point. But the idea that's just so inspiring here is like, it's moving quickly. It is, “Do I want it, or am I going to hide it?” Right? Want it, keep, or dump, and just for like… I’m not actually looking at this to confirm if it's a good fit or not, but let's say… Let's say it's not a good fit, I’m going to go ahead and, go hide from this project. And it's going to remove it, so I can still go get it if you accidentally did that, but otherwise it's out of there, out of mind, and you can just focus on the ones you want to filter. Okay, I am now bouncing back to the slide deck and into our chatbox, because I have not looked at that.
If I missed anything, let me have a look and see. Not seeing… let's see… Tracy, “Is the information Instrumentl updated or flat current grant due dates, or anticipated future grant dates?” Yeah, so it is updated, and this isn't a good example, because it's rolling. Let's find another one. If it has the squiggly under it, that means that's when they're predicting based on past data that it'll be due again. But it's not for sure yet, right? Which I love. It's a great way to plan, because we're taking the long view with the funding strategy. It's not about what's due in a month, like, this is looking at what you're going to be pursuing over 12 to 18 months. You don't really care when it's due in the near-term, you're just trying to figure out which ones are right to go after so you can stack those dominoes together. Okay, if everyone's good, I’m going to go ahead and bop to the next section, and then we can come back to some more questions.
Round three, choosing the top grants. Every phase gets harder, right? This is the hardest phase, but it's the most worth your time, so this is where we're going from, you know, we'll say that I just saved 20 grants. Really, I saved three for Kelsey, but let's presume I’d save 20, and now we're going to go through it very systematically to figure out what grants are worth pursuing. There's four filters for this space: competitiveness, reviewing the funding guidelines, contacting past applicants, and getting feedback from the funder in terms of time frame expectations. This bottom part of the funnel, it really varies, it depends on how complex your project is. If it's pretty straightforward, you can do this in two weeks, if it's more complex, it can take five to eight weeks. Like, that would be a capital project, for example, or an intensive health research grant, etc.
It really depends on how complicated it is, and why it takes that long is that this is now time to coordinate with the funder, make sure you're ready to present your program idea very professionally and succinctly, and it can take a little bit of time to kind of facilitate those conversations and really confirm, is this a good fit? Okay, if there's one thing you take away from me today, please let it be this one thing. It's all you need to remember, determine competitiveness, what percent of applicants are successful? And if someone can ask the question, there should be a question that comes to mind right now for you when I tell you to do this.
Divide the number of awards made by the total number of applicants, giving you your base chance of success. Is a question coming to mind for anybody? Where do you get those numbers? Exactly, Nathan, Christopher, Abby, Nicholas. Exactly.
The way you get that is by asking the funder. You don't need to, this is not like having a full-on enchilada conversation, because this question alone will dictate whether or not you want to continue to examine the grant opportunity. What we recommend is just send this out in a quick email, or a super quick phone call, and just ask, “Hey quick-quick question on your program. We are interested in it, we're gauging competitiveness, how many applicants applied last year? What percent of those were successful? Thank you so much.” Your call, if you want to include your organization name, or not, doesn't matter, you're just trying to get back how and… Yes, thank you, such a good question. “How many of those emails get answered?”
70% get answered, from my experience, and from the experience based on my students. Sometimes it's very common to like send it back again, and what's nice about Gmail being like, it pops up the reminder, you know, like, “Hey, you haven't had a response in five days, do you want to send this again? But on the whole, people do respond to it because it is quick. It's not asking a huge amount, like, they can fire out an answer to you right away. On the whole, we definitely get pretty good answers. Yes, Abby, such a good question, “Does the COVID grant rush last year affect this?” Yes, it does. One, a new chapter that I added to my book is, “What the funder wants you to know and do,” and one of the organizations actually, that Instrumentl introduced me to, and they basically said, “We doubled our investments when we saw COVID coming, and because we knew that there was going to be an influx of requests,” and the requests were a hundred times, right?
They doubled the amount of money they were giving, and then the amount of money, obviously that skews the data, right? But it is still important to know that, and I think that they would still provide that perspective for you, so definitely worth asking, you have nothing to lose to send out a boilerplate anymore, asking this question, because if, and Jasmine, good question… Like I said, about 70% from my experience respond. Oops, I’m going back…
What you want to do is like, roughly we want a 20 or greater likelihood of success. I know that this varies depending on the space that you're in, and how competitive it is, but if we're looking at a grant, they have a two percent chance of winning, it does not matter if that thing is pristinely perfect, there will be a bunch of other pristinely perfect grants. Your time is better spent somewhere else. Jasmine, your second question, “What do you do?” I like how she's adding three hashtags, by the way, or whatever, I guess hashtag is what people my generation say, but it helps to actually pop that question out.
What do we do if the response is, “We don't share that information”? Sometimes that is what they say, but we'll respond back and say, Hey, just a high-level ballpark is fine, like, I don't need to know exact, I’m just trying to get a ballpark for how competitive this is to make sure it's a good use of both of our times for us to apply, and usually when we tone that down, and say, “Hey, we're not trying to get an exact number, just give me a ballpark.” It works well. Oh, Instrumentl's trained you to do that. Nice. Good job Instrumentl. I love it.
Next question is reading the funding guidelines. This is where you're actually out of Instrumentl, we're reading the guidelines, if provided, and you're really trying to get a handle on what needs to be in place to be competitive. How much work is this going to be versus how much we're going to get, right? Confirming if it still feels right, and there are some weird nuances that you will find in funding guidelines, especially when we're talking about federal and state grants, and so it's so important to understand those so you can ask the questions that you need to have clarified, right? And not go down a path of pursuing something to just discover, “Wow,” then i’ll give an example.
That skate park project I mentioned earlier, they were on the Cape, they're on the Cape, and so something in the program said communities on the cape are only eligible for 75,000 of park and recreation funding, and I thought, “Gosh that's such a bummer, because any other community in Massachusetts can get four hundred thousand.” What is the deal with that? I ended up contacting the funder to get clarification, and they said, “Oh, no, your community can apply for the full, 400,000,” it was like some other weird nuance that I didn't pick up and understand in the funding guidelines, but they clarified that. When the city council, whatever they call them there, I forget, they have a different word for it… came back with that question, saying, “Are you sure we can apply for 400,000? I was confident they could, and had the documentation to show it, so there are nuances, and that's why we need to get into the funding guidelines, contacting past applicants.
Asking for a copy of their grant application, worst case is they say no. We have a very highly transparent culture, if you want to see any one of my grants, you can have it. And we try to create that with everyone that's in our world, because all boats rise together. And so how do you figure out, you know, who had a grant in the past? One way is looking at their 990 information, so here I am, with the wrong example. Let's see if this one has it. I’m not pulling up the best examples here. Let's see, Kellogg Foundation. Well, okay, so I’m scrolling down, and you see here, how it says you can search for the location, and then the purpose? I can see… Okay, the Nolah Foundation got $250,000. This is what they got it for, we're trying to do something similar. It was a long time ago, it's three years ago, right, but it's still worth reaching out, you have nothing to lose to say, “Hey, how do you feel like this application, the grant process, went really well, did you like the funder? Would you be willing to share things that you think that helped you be successful?” Like, just interview them, you'll learn so much.
I hope that you find that that's a useful tool in your toolbox, and if everything is looking good, and you've gotten to this point, now you get to the most important part that you most likely want to skip, but do not do that. Contacting the funder? It's very helpful to have a one-page overview where you include the following information: One page description of your organization, the problem that you solve, what you want to get funded, why you want to work with that funder, how you align to their funding priorities, project cost, ballpark is fine, and contact information. I literally edited three of these yesterday for students in our program, but here is just a screenshot of one that we just put into our book, so you can get an idea. You can use Canva and make it look beautiful, but the point is, it's succinct, it's compelling, you've got contact information at the end, and when you basically prep this, you can then provide this to your funder, and say, “Hey, we're in the investigative stage, trying to figure out if we are a good fit for you, and you a good fit for us, and so here's an overview on what we're trying to do. Can we set up a 20- to 30-minute call or meeting when that becomes a thing?” And so, there you go. It already is distinguishing, because nobody sends these, like very few people do. It says, “Hey, I already have my ideas down on paper,” and the other reason this is so important is that if you don't send this, when you get on the phone you have this natural inclination, we can't help it, but to pitch ourselves, right? And that's not the point of this conversation, it's not trying to convince them to want to fund you, the point of this conversation is truly bringing it from a place of curiosity to say, “Hey, is this a good fit?”
Here are the questions you can ask funders… if you're scribbling these down madly, just know that we're giving you the list, so you're good, you'll have it emailed out to you later. Start off with, “Hey, did you have a chance to review that funding overview we sent?” And if they say, “Honestly, I’m sorry, I meant to get to it, but I didn't,” that's okay. Now you can just kind of read a couple parts off of it so you stay, you know, short, and if they did read it, be like, great, okay.
Based on that information, “Do you think we are a good fit for your program? Give it to me,” and this is what I say, literally, “give it to me honestly, like, you're not going to hurt my feelings, I would rather know now if we're a good fit for you or not. Like, we just want to have a super transparent conversation. You're not going to hurt my feelings with whatever you say, please just be super honest,” right? Then say, “What should we be doing?” And let's say they say, “Yeah, we feel like this is a good fit, I want to keep exploring this with you,” then say, “What should we be doing to better position ourselves for success with your program?” I have gotten some nuggets of gold delivered in this. “I would really appreciate it if you partnered with Organization X.” Okay, we partnered with them, and we got the grant funding. Okay, so, “We are a 501c3 nonprofit,” or, “We are a,” whatever you are, “a school district, we believe that we're eligible for your program, do you agree?”
This is where you're really hammering into confirming that your entity is eligible, and what you want to get funded is eligible and encouraged, “We think the best time to apply for your program would be March,” let's see, “would be in fall next year. We're going to be able to secure 50% of our funding by then. You would be our second to last in-funder, this is our plan. What do you think? Do you agree with that approach?” And this is where having your funding strategy is super helpful, because you can literally provide it to them, and they can see your logic when you're planning to apply. I did not… this question is not “when's the deadline?” That information is online. It's saying, “When is the strategic best time to apply?”
And here's why it's important to ask this. Some of the grant programs say rolling deadlines. Rolling deadline, but the reality is, the board meets twice a year, maybe June and November, to make decisions, so they need your grant program 60… they need your application 60 days prior preparing for that board meeting for that next one. If you wanted to be in consideration for November's board meeting, and you get your application in in November, guess what? You're waiting all the way for June’s cycle, right? That's why it can be super important to ask them questions like, “What do we need to know in terms of strategic timing?” Critical thinking skills are so useful here.
Next one, “What makes the successful applicants that you funded in the past stand apart?” Right? Ask that question. “Is there anything else you want us to know or to think about, please lay it on us. What else do you want us to know?" And that also opens up a great dialogue, typically, okay? Hope that that is helpful. Now we are rolling into the next part of the process, so we're at the bottom of the funnel, you've had all these conversations with funders, and now we go into preparing a funding strategy. Recap, funding strategy is a plan for your entire project or program, and it's a roadmap for your resources. Like I said, we never give this away usually, but we are today, because friends of Instrumentl are friends of ours, so I’m zooming in here on what this template looks like. Typically, it's just like a memo, right?
A memo to get everyone on the same page. You can describe the process you went through, there's literally a script here to help you with that. Then you roll down, and now it's saying… there's a hummingbird trying to get into this place… I wish I could… Wow, it's crazy, it's just hanging out there, he wants to come in, everyone. Okay, funding sources to consider. You're going to list them here. You can put them in whatever format you want, we tend to put it into a table, but you're welcome to list it however. This is not about just describing… like, rehashing out information, like the summary that's from Instrumentl. This is about giving someone exactly what they need, like, why you think it's a good reason to pursue, adding your logic. Like this is where you're describing what you're doing, right?
You continue to do that, maybe you have a draft version first, say hey, here's the top 10 grants that we're down to for this program, we still need to do a little bit more investigative work, but this is what we're looking at. And then you get it as close to final as possible, add a timeline, you know, when are we roughly trying to get this all in place. Obviously this information moves into Instrumentl, because that's where you're operating out of, but it can be really nice to have it in a memo that's presentable to the board, to directors, etc., and then reiterate any next steps that you want them to take, because there is usually like 95% of the time, some sort of project planning that needs to happen that you could really use their help with, so… let's see back here…
What goes into this funding strategy? I just told you, basically, to overview next steps to be funding-ready, the overview of each grant schedule, and the order that you want to pursue them, domino effect, and any final calls to action. Here is what the funding strategy looked like for the skate park. It was actually such a beautiful document, because I used to work with this ex-pro skateboarder, and he had all these really cool skatepark photos. The actual funding strategy was beautiful, but this is what we ultimately recommended… Start with the Tony Hawk Foundation, because they will be first in, they'll fund $10,000 to help the community, like, the local skateboarders, like, really mobilize and get active, then go after 50 grand from the Linden Paul Larusso Charitable Foundation. They have a personal and vested interest in that community. Third was going after this Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations of Community program, and then the fourth was the Massachusetts Department of Environmental and Energy Affairs, because they could fund some of the site development, like the parking lot, and some educational signage to improve the water quality of that lake.
It was this whole process, but it culminated in, here are the four grants to pursue, in this order. Here's the specific timing to hit these, and we can go get that 450-500,000 that they needed, which was successful, and the project is funded, so the real talk on this, figuring out what grants to pursue, is hard work, it's an iterative process, it takes time, but when you recognize that the work you put in now is going to pay huge dividends, you're less stressed, you're winning more grants, like, it's so worth it. You've got this. You know how to filter grant opportunities, you know what questions to ask a funder, you're going to get a copy of them, and you're committing to me that you're going to prioritize grants that you have good odds of winning.
We're going to get into Q&A in a hot second. Just a quick overview on who we are. I don't actually do that, so Alex and I are the co-founders of Learn Grant Writing, where we help those looking for a career change get into grant writing, and so we have a year-round membership program, and that's what that looks like. I know many of you probably aren't trying, you've got lots of other hats on, that's what we talked about, “#allhats.”
If you are looking for grant writing help, we actually do have a page on our website. www.learngrantwriting.org/hire-a-grant-writer, and you can go peruse through our certified grant writers and see if you can find someone that fits what you're looking for, and if you have any other questions and ideas, DM us on Instagram, email us [email protected] You'll see lots of funny unicorn videos and that's it. I think we can do Q&A, and then, Will, do you want to do Q&A first, and then explain raffles, or what do you want to do?
Will: Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and explain the raffle, then we can open up for some questions.
First off, everybody that's stuck around, there's a few ways you can enter today's raffle. The first one is, if you haven't already, you can start your Instrumentl trial using Meredith's link. There's a link in the chat if you don't want to type it in. Essentially it's www.Instrumentl.com/lgw If you already have an Instrumentl account, or you've already used Instrumentl in the past, there's other ways you can enter too. Just submit the webinar feedback form when you get it, or share on social and tag us what you learned today, and we'll be announcing the winners On Friday.
Instrumentl is going to be raffling away 20 copies of Meredith's new book, and they're going to be raffling two courses as well, and so we'll follow up with anybody that's selected in terms of getting your mailing addresses and things like that, to ship out the books and whatnot. And then, the other thing is, if you enjoyed this grant workshop, as well, you'll probably like our next one, too. It's in two weeks or so, on 7 Tips to Write Grants Like a Pro with Holly Rustick, and you can register on our events calendar, but other than that, I will open up for questions.
Meredith: I think Alex, I’m going to have her moderate some of the questions that may not have been fielded earlier, and if there's any particular Instrumentl questions as well, we can answer them for you in the chat with [Amelie] or myself. Yeah, would it be okay if I stopped sharing and did the grid view so I could see everyone's faces? It's a little bit more community-oriented.
If you guys are looking in your Zoom, go to the upper right-hand corner, and go to the gallery and we can see each other. Cool. Lovely. Hello. I got a question from Emily, and then Alex is going to help me catch up, I’m sure she kept the list. Emily, “Do you need a grant writing certification to be successful?” No, no, you don't, there's two things about certifications. One thing is that the most valuable reason behind getting certified in whatever program fits your culture is, it gives you the confidence that you do know what you're doing, and that confidence does translate to your success. A lot of times it's about, like, how it affects you, and how you feel. There's also the social validation factor.
All of our students take their certificate, they digitize it. Well, they get a digital copy too, and they put it on LinkedIn, and they put it elsewhere, and they put it on their resume, and so they feel like it really helps them. They say they're part of a professional grant writing membership, and it really helps them land opportunities. Do you need one? No, but it certainly has a lot of helpful facets. You want to hit me with other questions?
Alex: Yeah, so back to determining competitiveness. Yeah. Should it be qualified, or all applicants, to determine competitiveness?
Meredith: Great question. Whoever asked, “Should it be qualified or all applicants?” It's just all applicants, because otherwise, it's… I mean, it's impossible to say… You don't want to get into the weeds, it's not worth that, it's not worth getting into the weeds about, you know, who had a good application versus the mediocre applications versus the low ones. Like, it doesn't matter, we're just looking for a high level, is this grant two percent chance of winning or are we talking about a 30% chance? That's all I need to know to know if I want to consider it again.
Alex: Sometimes, it is difficult to find the reporting details prior to applying. Do you have any suggestions for that?
Meredith: Oh, yeah. Just to make sure I understand the reporting, like, when you have the grant and you're now managing it, and you're reporting on it, I’m going to presume that's the question. Isn’t that the truth? Why do they make that so difficult? Two things. One, that's when you contact a past funder, you can get their perspective and say, “Hey, how arduous was this? Would you be willing to share your report that you submitted?” Then you already have a template. And then, of course, asking the funder point-blank, “What are the reporting requirements? What are your expectations?” Because it's true, if they're going to, if they expect you, and there's this wave of, and we talk about this in the book, there's like, new age and old school ways of thinking about the impact of their investment?
Some want to know they bought 50 malaria nets, and the more innovative, progressive, funders are like, we actually want to know you're having the impact, which is reducing instances of malaria in youth before age five. That's what we actually care about, we don't care that you bought 50 nets. There's this shift in who and what they care about, and how they want that presented, and it is important to know where your funder falls on that spectrum.
Alex: Awesome. Living in eastern Montana, we struggle to find funders that help our area. It almost seems like a lost cause.
Meredith: Oh, yeah. I saw that actually, that question came up. I grew up in a small town, actually, fun fact. We didn't know each other, but we… Like she grew, she went and had a job in my hometown, in small-town Wyoming,
Alex: And lived with her cousin.
Meredith: Yeah, I lived with my cousin, and was the college counselor for my sister, like small town stuff, and so I know the feeling. It's a struggle for sure. But that's where you look at regional opportunities, and frankly, to be totally honest, I think rural communities have way more opportunities than the loud noise and competitiveness of big cities. Almost all my grant opportunity grants I have written have been for extremely rural communities, and we've done extremely well. Yes, they're having a hard time speaking loudly.
Alex: Yeah, living in eastern Montana, we struggle to find funders that help our area. It seems like a lost cause.
Meredith: And this is where that whole funding strategy comes into play. It's like, you're really putting together a plan, you're finding the ones that support rural communities, and then it just comes together.
Alex: Awesome. I think we can go to the chat.
Meredith: Oh, okay, sounds good. What did we miss from the chat box?
Alex: There's that one I think…
Meredith: Oh, here it is, so Angela, I’m going to get your question right now. “We're a 501C3 educational organization. Our two biggest needs are that we need to purchase our building so we can remodel it, and we want to add some special needs classes and also classes for diabetes. We also need to fund $26,000 a year of non-funded scholarships for underprivileged kids in our area. We all need to build a new theater for performance, there's just nothing in our area. What would be the best way to go for grants? We have such different needs.
Okay, so this is one of the biggest challenges, and I’m going to give you an analogy for how to think about this. Every day, every one of us gets six kicks. Imagine you've got six soccer balls lined up outside, and you get to go have six kicks. Are you going to kick every ball one time every day, and move it forward a single kick? Or are you going to kick one ball six times forward? And then again, and then it's six, twelve, eighteen, right? The exponential momentum from focusing on the thing that is the highest impact for your audience, and the most feasible. You can make a… you can make a grid like this…
Sorry, I’m like whacking, elbowing Alex out. This, if you think about it like a grid, this is the high impact, low impact for your beneficiaries, and then this is low feasibility to high feasibility for you and your resources. Anything in this top quadrant is where you start. Take everything you want to do, and you go put it on a post-it, and you park it where it needs to be, and that's what's going to inform where you got to start first, and then you establish it, and you get lots of momentum, and success, and then you tackle the next thing. Which needs to be to the left. High impact for your beneficiaries, while it's low-feasible for you right now, you're going to be planning, and allocating resources. Anything down here, it's got to go. Hope that's helpful. And then, of course, this is where the funding strategy process comes into play, being very systematic, and picking that one priority.
Alex: Kelly just asked a good question.
Meredith: Kelly asked a good question. The health and wellness one, okay. If a for-profit health and wellness coach is partnering with a non-profit women's shelter, is the for-profit eligible for funding to provide services to the non-profits? Such a good question. My grant writing career was built in a for-profit business, helping get money for our clients so they could pay us. Amazing business development strategy.
What you're going to do in this situation is, you help the non-profit get the funding, so they can hire you. The money goes to them, not you. This is your benefit. You don't want to be dealing with grant administration, anyway. They need to get something out of it as well, you know, in addition to your time. Maybe it's funding something else, or just your time, whatever, but you can use that as a business development strategy to cover your time. Help them get the grants so they can afford you. Because they don't have the time to go write that grant, you help them write the grant. It's a very effective model. Emily, I’m going to hit your question. Emily: “As a grant consultant I am struggling with a non-profit client that's looking for general operation funding that has not done strategic planning or goal planning this year.” Yeah. “And is in the middle of a potential rebranding.” That's a red flag. “And it makes telling their story challenging. Should I pause on the grant writing and wait for strategic planning to happen, or is there a way to be successful with less specific information in a grant application?” Oh, the struggle is real.
This is why, as a grant writer, you are more than a grant writer. You very often are facilitating prioritization. This is where Alex's zone of genius comes to play. Alex is the person that teaches all about human-centered design in our program, and it helps, like, giving you the facilitation tools to sometimes accelerate these processes. Like, you are the facilitator, you don't have the answers, but you can bring the facilitation tools to the table to help them get through this and prioritize. They could do a pretty straightforward one-year strategic plan that's on a single piece of paper, but for heaven's sake, it's written down, and everyone agrees. You can facilitate that, and it will be essential for you to move forward as a successful grant writer. Or else you are going to bang your head against the wall, and potentially have to fire the client, and I’ve had to do that before.
It comes down to, you need to bring more than your grant writing to the table if you want them to succeed, and then you can get to grant writing thereafter. Hope that helps. And also, what I talked about earlier, which was reframe general operations as projects, so there's some strategic thinking there on how to reframe what they're just trying to get funded as more… What's a more unique angle on it to measure improvement and impact? And that will also help you more successfully with your grant applications. Okay. So many good questions, y'all are blowing us up. Let's see, okay. Alex is helping me track down the good ones. Here we are, “As a consultant, how do you offer” oop! Keep dropping you down… “How do you offer your services to a nonprofit that cannot afford your services without relying on getting paid out of the fund obtained?” Such a good question, this is a blog post I am exactly a year overdue in getting published.
You do not get paid from the grant, end of story, old school method. It's not considered an appropriate use of funds, allowable, eligible, ethical, all those things. It's a common misnomer, so I can see why the non-profit would approach you thinking that. Here's the deal, if someone is unwilling to pay for your time to write a grant even a little bit, there's actually a value problem, perception problem there. Potentially to themselves, but also to you, not seeing the value in what you're doing.
Most of probably 50% of the people that sign up for our program have never written a grant before, and we teach them how to get paid with their first project, putting together a funding strategy, and they charge anywhere from $500 to $2000 to do that, and we charge $6,000, to $8,000, to $9000 for a funding strategy, so they're still getting it at a discount, and they're often working with a lot of nonprofits that can't afford their services… Can't afford their services, but they see the value of, I’m going to pay $800, and I’m going to get a really good roadmap, and even if they decide they don't want to hire the grant writer to implement it, they at least know what grants to pursue, and they can do that themselves.
If it's not… It's just… it's volunteering if you're writing it for free, it's not consulting, and there's a big difference, and it's… a lot of it comes down to how you present yourself. There's a lot of people that need help, and it comes down to, how you paint that value, solving the problem that they need solved, the ROI for grant writing is stupid, like, we just wrote a grant for a non-profit that helps with economic development trying to build a, like, aerospace accelerator. I think we charged like, by the time it's all said and done, because it had a lot of moving parts, $12,000 for the grant, and they got $350,000. And not only that, the grant required twenty percent match, and we painted the case that they shouldn't have to provide any match, so we got that zero match $350,000 for them, and they spent $12,000 to get that. Good ROI. That's what you provide for your organization. A lot of it comes down to how you present it.
Will: Before we go into our last question or so, I just wanted to share two quick tips from what you shared earlier, Meredith, when you were going through some of those results on Instrumentl. On that point of just like, how to get quicker through the matches view. One of the new features that we also released with this release that Instrumentlers may be not aware of is, you can actually filter now for previously-saved matches, as well as previously hidden matches, so what we tell people now is, if you set up different projects, you can actually just uncheck both of these, and it'll show you the unique ones that you've never done anything with. And so, as you start to set up different projects, I would recommend anybody that's playing around with their account to uncheck both of these, that will really be helpful when you're working through the matches that you see here, especially going back to that point of like going from 100 to 20. The other thing that we noticed when you were going through some of the funder reports, since not every single foundation has digitized yet, the easiest way to know whether or not you're going to see something like this 990 snapshot, or even just like, the digitization of that pdf is if, up here, you have that tag for 990 reports. You see here, where there's this tag that says 990 report? That's why we know that there's going to be the assets and giving trends, as well as the map of the U.S and whatnot, whereas in cases where you don't see that, if I try to find one here where it's not marked, that is where you're going to see that there isn't that information, because that hasn't been digitized yet.
That's an even faster way, whereas you're sifting through, like, going back to your point of making sure that you just as quickly as possible… you can just look up here as to whether or not you should even do the click itself. Then the other thing, as well, to keep in mind, is when you move into your tracker now, when you have it in this view, everything is going to be rolling until you move it to another stage, aside from researching, so the concept here with this new release is that anything you ever see here is never going to be overdue. Like if March 18th were to come around for the Grey Muzzle Grants, it's going to show the 2023 date. If it were like March 18th 2022, and so on, those are just some of the usability things that I would consider as well as you guys play around with your accounts. But, yeah, I think we have time for like one or two more questions, if you want to wrap up from there, and then we can…
Meredith: Yeah, well, thank you for adding that clarification. I mean, they just pushed… Instrumentl just pushed their spring update. I’m in the same boat as many of you, kind of getting up to pace. But the timing is good, because we're pushing an update to our program, so I get to go be a student as well. I think I’m in one of the webinars that you all have coming up tomorrow or Friday. Yeah, I don't know, does anyone have a… are there some questions I might have missed? Oh, Christina, I want to hit yours. This is a good one, and then I think we can probably call it, but you're also all welcome to send us an email, or DM on Instagram.
Christina, with this reframe idea of operations versus project, does this mean you apply for project grants instead of general operations, or is it just a writing strategy? It's a writing strategy. You're still looking at all of those grant opportunities but you're still qualifying the same opportunities. It's about how you present it, it's about the language you use, it's about how you define this is what we're trying to accomplish, this is the problem we're solving, and this is how we'll know we've been successful or not, and you can kind of bookmark it so they know, “Has my investment made a difference,” and that's a way to just couch your narrative, no matter what type of grant you pursue. Yeah, this has been fun. Lots of good questions.
Thank you very much for having us.
Will: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for attending, everybody, and like we shared earlier, we're going to share the recording as well as the slides and the template that Meredith referenced today, that you can make a copy of for yourself in the follow-up email, so keep your eyes peeled for that. And then, yeah. Feel free to enter the raffle. We'll be announcing winners on Friday, so you have the next, like… a little more than 24 hours, to get that in terms of the follow-up. Yeah, I hope to see you guys in our next one. See you guys.
Meredith: See ya.