Tips from a Former Grantmaker: Live Proposal Review w/ Shavonn Richardson

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September 13, 2022

Last Updated:

October 20, 2022

Have you ever written a proposal, but it didn't get funded? Have you asked for feedback from a potential funder and received no response?

​You and your team may ask "what gives" after spending hours crafting a thoughtful and competitive proposal. Grant writing can be challenging. However, grant writing is much easier with experienced insight.

In this one hour partner workshop, Shavonn Richardson, MBA, GPC, reviews an actual proposal live and provides practical, real-world insight.

We explore:

  • ​How to set your proposal up for success before you even start writing
  • How to make your next proposal more competitive
  • How to avoid common mistakes many nonprofits make
  • How to structure your proposal to maximize the points earned in each section

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Start saving 3 hours a week and increase your grant applications by 78%.

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Create your Instrumentl account using the link above. Save $50 off your first month should you decide to upgrade when your trial expires with the code SHAVONN50.

Shavonn Richardson, MBA, GPC - Shavonn has reviewed countless sponsorship and grant proposals as a former corporate foundation grantmaker. She supported Bank of America's Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives for the Atlanta metropolitan area and helped distribute over $1.5 million annually to local nonprofits. She has also served as a federal grant reviewer for HRSA and other federal agencies.

Shavonn earned the GPC (Grant Professional Certified) credential from the Grant Professionals Certification Institute and is a Grant Professionals Association Approved Trainer. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Grant Professionals Association. She also earned a BBA from Howard University and an MBA from Emory University.

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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Tips from a Former Grantmaker: Live Proposal Review w/ Shavonn Richardson - Transcription

Celia: Great. Hi, everyone. Welcome to Tips from a Former Grantmaker: a Live Proposal Review with Shavonn Richardson. 

I am really excited for this today. I wanted to be interactive. I have a little poll that I want to start us off with just so we can get our interactive juices flowing here. So, go ahead and look at that as I'm kind of walking us through some housekeeping. Give me your thoughts. Tell me what you think about grants. Right? 

All right. So, first things first, this is being recorded. And we will send you the replay afterwards. So, definitely keep your eyes open for a follow-up email from me in case you want to review anything today, or maybe you want to send this to a colleague or a friend to get some of that greater insight. 

I know that there will likely be questions that come up. We will try to get to as many as we can. Feel free to drop those in the chat throughout. Just use those three hashtags in front of your questions so that I can find them. There's always a lot of chatter that goes on in these chats. And I don't want to miss your question. 

So if it is your first time here, I'm Celia. I’m with Instrumentl. And this is a free grant workshop through our Instrumentl partner webinar series. So, these are collaborations between us and Instrumentl and our partners, like Shavonn to provide free educational workshops for grant professionals and nonprofits. So, our goal with these workshops is very much similar to our goal as an organization. And really, that is to support grant writers and nonprofits with tools and insights that they need to find more funding while doing less work. Right? Isn't that always going to be the goal? 

So, what does that mean? Well, Instrumentl brains grant prospecting, tracking, and management all under one roof. And that results in saving about three hours a week. Our users typically save about three hours a week on their grant process while increasing their grant output by as much as 78% in the first year. So, we're really kind of helping people do that. 

On Instrumentl, you're going to find over 12,000 active opportunities. If it's on there, it's active. So, there's no more of the sleuthing around. You find a great opportunity. You find out they haven't actually accepted our proposal in five years. Right? 

And then once you set up your search, we're going to continue working for you in the background. So, this is like a personal assistant in your pocket. You set it up. You go back, and do one of the other 15 jobs that you have to do. And this is going to be working for you in the background, finding good fit funders from you, and then emailing them to you once a week. So, you don't miss anything. You don't miss any deadlines. You don't miss any new opportunities. Right? 

Beyond that, our platform is helping teams to collaborate better with one another. And also, to collect and keep a library and a record of everything they've done. So with our document collection tools, you can take that proposal template that maybe you're going to hone in today after you listen to Shavonn give her kind of tips. You can drop that into Instrumentl and then you will always have access to that in the future. So, I am going to drop a link in the chat really quickly for Shavonn’s link if you want to try 14 days free. 

Anita, I'm going to message you separately. And, yeah. And then thanks to everyone who participated in our poll. Really interesting responses here. What grant proposal characteristic would you say is most important when applying for grants? We've got a pretty close tie here between a clear focus and tailored specifically to the funder. So, it's really interesting. And then which of the following do you think is the most important step in the process of becoming a grant writer? Overwhelmingly, I'm not surprised, gaining real great writing experience. So, I'm glad to see it. Thank you for participating. 

And with that, with all that housekeeping out of the way, I want to go ahead and introduce our -- I’m going to stop my share here, introduce our awesome, Shavonn, who is going to give us a really good insight today. And I couldn't honestly think of a better person to do this with today because Shavonn has reviewed countless sponsorship and grant proposals as a former corporate foundation grant maker. 

During that time, she supported Bank of America's corporate social responsibility initiatives for the Atlanta metro area. She helped distribute over 1.5 million annually to local nonprofits. She's also served as a federal grant, right, reviewer for HRSA and other federal agencies. Shavonn has also earned the GPC, Grant Professionals certified credential. Wow, I cannot talk today, credential, from Grant Professionals Certification Institute. She is a Grant Professionals Association approved trainer. And she serves on the board of directors for the GPA, the Grant Professional Association. 

So, Shavonn, I'm so excited to have your perspective today. Thank you so much for joining us. I am going to hand it over to you and let you kind of take the reins here.

Shavonn: Well, awesome. I'm super excited to be here. I'm always just shy and embarrassed when my bio is read because I feel like, yeah, I've done so much, right, as far as just contributing to the grant professionals industry and just working as a former grant maker, which kind of informed my career path, actually. It was a really good experience to see what foundations look for being in the room listening to those conversations. 

And so, today, the goal is to really bring all that insight and experience to you, guys. Right? To share it because I feel like it's really, really meaningful information to know. 

So thank you, Celia, for that wonderful introduction. I’m super excited to be here. Super excited to connect with everyone. I know a lot of people talked about wanting to learn more about budgets and learning more about supporting clients that are not quite ready. I feel like there's so much to talk about on both those topics. So, I feel like Celia's future workshops, I feel inspired by those potential topics to share in future workshops, for sure.

So, who’s Shavonn, right? I’m all these things, all these wonderful things that Celia read for me. I personally am obsessed with red wine and vintage albums and yoga. I am an absolute yogi. That's what I love to do. 

I got my undergraduate degree at Howard. We're currently having our homecoming. So, everyone is so excited about that. I got my MBA from Emory. I do live in Atlanta, Georgia. And our firm is based in Atlanta, Georgia as well. 

So, that's a little bit about me and my role. Right? What do I do? I am founder and CEO of Think and Ink Grant Consulting. We’re founded in 2016. We are headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. We really pride ourselves in providing customized real world solutions to help nonprofits think through grant seeking strategies before inking competitive proposals. We feel like sometimes, as you all know, we have a lot of consultants in the room, nonprofit leaders are just more apt to just write grants, right? They’re just going to write to get it out there. 

But, really, taking a step back and really thinking through an effective grant seeking strategy is what I always recommend. In our firm, we use Instrumentl to help our clients do that. Right? So, what makes this kind of unique, right, is that we specialize in supporting nonprofits that help women, children, health, and education. We do that because we feel like those are the most vulnerable members of our society. And by focusing on those four areas, we can really move the needle to changing the world. 

So learn more by visiting our website. We have our QR code there as well. So, you can kind of check us out and my team there. We have a team all across the country. We have clients all across the country. I’m just really excited to just support all the wonderful things our clients do. 

So, let's get into the start of our workshop. So, I love a good story time. Right? And I know people love a good story time. So, I wanted to really start with a story time, just three kinds of examples of things I've seen kind of working at a big American foundation as a program manager and also serving as a federal reviewer. 

I feel like it's going to kind of put everything into context as far as what we'll be talking about today. And so, just to start, right, I want to really share a little bit about the best proposal I ever reviewed. Right? And for context, this proposal was a federal proposal. I came across this working as a federal reviewer. And this particular proposal actually scored 100 points, a perfect score across all four of us as reviewers. 

And what made it so good is how well-organized and structured it was. So as a reviewer, I was literally reading through the rubric assigning points and I was looking at the proposal. And they were addressing everything as they went. So, they made it super easy for me to score their proposal. And that's why I deem them as the best proposal that I've ever reviewed. It was super easy. We didn't have a lot of kind of back and forth on that. So, yeah, that's just an example of one of the best proposals I’ve ever received.

The best cultivation strategy I've ever seen deployed was during my time at Bank of America Foundation. And a lot of times nonprofit leaders will send emails and they'll send follow-ups to conversations and all that. But the best cultivation strategy that I really liked is one nonprofit sent in a handwritten note from one of the children that they support. I believe it was Reaming Crayon, actually. It was the cutest thing. Reaming Crayon. And it had like a picture of that child kind of engaging in some of the activities that nonprofit did. And that was the best cultivation strategy because I never forgot it. And I actually kept the handwritten note and the picture on my wall in my office. And I never forgot that. So, it kind of stayed in my mind. 

And then another really popular way too was the fact that it arrived via mail on my desk. I came in and it was like there's an envelope on my desk. And I'm like, “Wow, who mail stuff anymore.” Right? Most people email. So to receive something via mail was kind of unique too. So, it stood out kind of in the sea of emails and phone calls and all that stuff. And I never forgot that. 

So, that to me was like the best cultivation strategy that I've ever seen deployed. And the worst proposal I ever received. That was also a federal proposal. It was laced with errors, and all types of misformatting and a lot of things that did not make sense. It was kind of like you can tell they were kind of like putting it together the night before. Very difficult to read, kind of no ideas kind of really tied to one another. And so, that wasn't scored favorably either. And that was the worst proposal I ever reviewed. 

And funny enough, the best and the worst proposal were in the same funding cycle. So literally, I got the best proposals. I said, “Wow, this is great.” And the worst proposal, I'm like, “Okay, this is what it is. Okay?” 

So, that was just quick story time before we move on to the next part of what we're going to discuss today.

So if you don't take anything away from this workshop, it’s got a lot of different things. But the one primary thing I want you to take away from our time today is to make your proposal easy for the reviewer to review. That is really the basis of everything we're going to talk about today. 

So, our agenda kind of breaks down what that looks like. But it all leads to making it easy for the reviewer to review. If it's easy for the reviewer to review, they will more likely score your proposal higher. They will see kind of like the train of your thinking and will make it easier. There's nothing more than having to look at a proposal and kind of like shifting through different pages trying to find different sections of a rubric. Right? It also meets the requirements of the rubric. And no one wants to do that. It's very difficult to do that. 

So, first part of our agenda. We're going to learn to set your proposal up for success even before you start writing. Right? This is the thinking part, right, like the strategy part before you start writing. The second piece is how to make your next proposal more competitive. So, this part will be all about the kind of tips and things to do to make sure that your proposal is competitive. 

The third thing is how to avoid common mistakes many nonprofits meet. So, this is based on the same things that I see over and over again as common mistakes. I want to make sure that you don't make those mistakes or make those mistakes for your clients. 

And lastly, we want to learn how to structure your proposal to maximize the points earned in each section. So at the end of the day, it's really about maximizing points. You will hear me say use the word points. So, it's more specifically for federal grant writing. But overall, when we're talking about foundations, we're also talking about kind of making sure what you're writing appeals. 

So what they do, each foundation has a different internal evaluation process. Some may evaluate by points, some may not. But at the end of the day, it's really about just making sure that you are presenting the best information possible, whether it's a federal grant or whether it's a foundation grant. So, I want you to absorb what you'll be learning in today's workshop just kind of with that lens. Okay? 

So, we're going to go through it step by step. There will be a pause for everyone to ask questions. So if you don't mind holding your questions to the end, that would be great. 

So the first thing, setting your proposal up for success. I have already shared that our firm uses Instrumentl is the reason for that. Instrumentl is very convenient as far as not having to look at multiple places to do research. It's all in one place. My team and I have saved countless hours using Instrumentl. It's our go-to place that we go. And we use it for multiple other reasons as well. 

So, our first point of using Instrumentl is to find aligned funders. When you go there and you're putting in kind of the details of your programming as far as finding -- or not the essence of your program, but like your focus or what you do, right? So if you help those experiencing homelessness, or if you help women, or children, or education, K through 12, right, you can pick that. 

And then you can also kind of narrow it down to funders that are more aligned to what you're looking for. You don't really want to ever focus on applying to a sea of funders. Right? You really want to narrow that list down as much as possible. It will save your time and it will also save the funder’s time. It will allow you the capacity to compose a competitive application and also built relationships, which is highly key. So, it's really about using Instrumentl to find just a small set of funders that are really, really well in line with your work and focusing on those funders. 

The second bullet is cultivating a relationship with the funder before submitting an application. I know there are some funders that don't require this. There are some others that do require it. There are some others that like you to cultivate a relationship, although they don't even say it. Right? 

And so, I always say, at least if there's an opportunity, try to cultivate the relationship. The good thing about Instrumentl, there is a contact information page that does have any publicly available information of a funder available that you can reach out to. And so, when I’ve looked at it, I've found emails and phone numbers and different things. So, always kind of suggest reaching out to a funder making sure your program is aligned with their focus areas and making sure that you can have a conversation with them, right? And maybe you pitch your idea before you go through the hassle of doing a full proposal. So, that's always good. 

Another thing -- and this is kind of like the strategy, right, like setting your proposal up for success. Sometimes we get those questions. And there are so many thoughts going through our mind as far as how to approach those questions. I would say start by -- before you even start writing, start by bullet pointing what you want to say in each section. This will help you not repeat things in different sections and provide valuable insight into each section. And also kind of like cherry picking the most important points that you want to make. Especially, we have word limits and character limits. Your proposal is precious real estate. 

So, you don't want to waste time, or energy, or space kind of talking about things that don't directly answer the question. But when you bullet point exactly the points that you're trying to make, that will kind of help you be very, very focused on what you want to say in each section.

The second part is setting your proposal up for success. This is specifically about federal grants. And so, let's say if you have a federal grant, and a lot of time -- well, a lot of times, they may have like a 10-page max, right? And then separately, you will find a rubric where they'll say, “This section is worth 10 points. This section is worth 15 points. This section is worth 25 points.” But oftentimes, especially if you're a newer grant writer, they don't give guidance as far as how much to discuss a certain section or not. Right? And so, my guidance when it comes to that is to use a weight average approach. 

And so, if there's a specific section that's worth 25 points out of a total 100 points, that's 25% of the points going to that one section. So if 25% of the points are going to that one section, you want to make sure that 25% of your real estate. And that is the pages in the proposal are dedicated to that one section. 

So in a 10 page proposal, you want to make sure that it is at least -- you're addressing that section, using at least two and a half pages to address that section that's worth 25%. And keep doing that for each section so that way you have a well-balanced proposal and that you're sufficiently meeting whatever the funder is looking for. 

So, I'm going to take a break and ask to see if there are any questions specifically about setting a proposal for success given the four things that we’ve talked about here.

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Celia: Yeah. We definitely have some questions. So one question we got was, is it okay to ask for a rubric from a grant reviewer? Or is there a way to create a rubric from the proposal guidelines?

Shavonn: Is this for federal or for nations?

Celia: Good question.

Shavonn: I can answer both. If it's for a federal grant, the rubric most often is already included in the RFP. I think sometimes people may just read like the program eligibility may stop. But if you keep reading, sometimes they'll have an evaluation and then they'll either bullet point the things that they're using to evaluate your proposal or have an outright rubric that says this is worth 25%. And that is the same rubric that reviewers use to evaluate your proposal. So, the answer to the federal grant side is it's included. 

Foundations, sometimes, it is not as clear. But they do communicate like their preferences, right? We prefer it to address this, this, and this. You'll really get a very insider information as far as how they're going to actually review your proposal.

But most of them do have the kind of preferences of things that they would like to see within their proposal. You want to make sure you meet all of those.

Celia: Got it. Another question was, how can you make it easier for the reviewer if you have to answer each question specifically. Question sent from the Fed or the foundation.

Shavonn: Yeah, we'll talk more about that in the next few slides.

Celia: Cool. Got it. 

Another one was, what about funders who don't want you to reach out before submitting? I know this one comes up all the time. How can we best cultivate that relationship?

Shavonn: Yeah. Well, for those that don't want you to reach out, usually the way to get in is to an LOI, a letter of interest, and submitting it that way. And that starts the dialogue. 

Celia: Great.

We actually have a great on demand video if you guys want to check it out on LOIs on our blog. So, check that out. We have -- let's see. We had a question. Did you give feedback on your proposals when they didn't win so that they could improve?

Shavonn: As a federal reviewer, that's not always possible. But there's a process that you can go through to request a copy of the reviewer’s comments. 

Celia: Got it.

Shannon: So, it's not direct. But you can get it in writing. As an employee at the Bank of America Foundation, corporate, right, there's a liability there. 

Celia: Yeah.

Shavonn: Right? As far as giving feedback. So my heart of hearts wanted to give feedback. But we weren't always in a position to do so. So just know that if you don't get the feedback, they'll take it personally. Sometimes people just can't, right, like rules and regulations. And legally, they're just not allowed to give feedback.

Celia: Yeah. Absolutely. Last question, and I think we'll move to the next section here is, what is the best way to conduct a follow-up after a denial? 

Shannon: Yeah. Well, I always encourage clients. And we help our clients do this, create a ballot template, email template, just thanking them for the opportunity. Maybe asking for feedback on their proposal.

In writing, sometimes you can't get a meeting to get feedback. If you are, definitely consider yourself blessed to be able to get someone to schedule a time to give you feedback on our application that's been declined. But definitely, just a really well-crafted email, thanking them, asking for any insight input on future programming, and potentially saying, “We may reapply in the future,” especially if you're giving some guidance as far as what you can do to improve. And always keep it really open and friendly because you never know when you need to submit another application. And you may need to just follow up on emails even years after So -- 

Celia: Yeah. 

Shavonn: That's what I'm going to do. 

Celia: I know I said the last one, but really quick question. Someone asked, is it more important to use the majority of the -- should you fill the word amount allotted? Or should you try to say what you need to say in less words? 

Shavonn: I was talking about this with one of my employees the other day. And my take on this may not be a popular opinion, but it's my opinion. I would say use the space as needed to say what you have to say. 

Celia: Okay. 

Shavonn: So if you can get to it quickly, get to it. But if there's additional space, there is opportunity to maybe expand or kind of just add some additional things. So just for example, if you have a question and they're asking about outcomes and metrics like how are you going to measure it, right? So, answer the question. “These are our outcomes, boom, boom, boom. This is how we're going to measure it.” 

And if there's some extra room, you can also say, take the opportunity to say, “These are some of the questions that we're going to ask or measure it. This is kind of how we plan on evaluating our program as well as giving you extra.” Right? I answer the question, but I’m also giving you extra. 

This is how we plan on evaluating the program. This is what our evaluation plan looks like. Here are the partners that we want to gauge as far as evaluating. And then when we're done doing all that work, we plan to share the results with you. I think it's just the icing on the cake if you do have some spare room.

Celia: Got it. Okay. There are more. But I think let's hop into it. And then if we have time at the end, we’ll run through some of these. Cool.

Shavonn: Awesome. Awesome. Okay. So, our next part is making your proposal more competitive. There's a lot here. So, I'm going to get through it as quickly as possible. 

Always speak in the present tense. The present tense communicates impact. It is what we're doing now. I'm going to add this. It's not on the slide. But avoid those -- that language that says, you can say, “We will do what we plan to do,” but sometimes I feel like proposals are written kind of like -- it's obvious that you're not doing the work. Right? And so, just avoiding that type of language, having confident language, impactful language, “This is what we're proposing to do.” And always speak in the present tense. 

Write in a V formation. So you guys are like, “What are you talking about, Shavonn, writing a V formation?” So, this is something that I've kind of coined to kind of best explain the way we approach grant writing, right? 

So, a V starts very kind of wide and open. Right? And it provides -- when you're writing, you're oftentimes providing context or you're kind of setting the stage to what you want to talk about later on. Sometimes proposal questions are written like this, oftentimes not. But if you have a free form opportunity to talk about something, a lot of times, it's good to kind of open up with things about your organization, right? Very, very high level potentially talking about some of you in general programming, or talking about some of your wins and successes, right, things like that. Right? 

But then as you kind of get to the bottom of your proposal, you want to make sure that, yeah, you're getting from this high context, which you're kind of narrowing down and getting really specific about what you want to do.

And so, when I say the V formation just making sure that's consistent. You don't want to start talking about the organization up here, and then you start talking about your program, and you start talking about metrics, and you start talking about your organization again. You have to kind of lead a person and walk them through a very high level. Because they're reading multiple proposals, right, and they don't know you. Right? So, you have to set that context and that background to tell them who you are, right? And you kind of walk them down into specifically what you want to do. So, that is super important. 

And another thing that's going on here that I will add is that you can also save space, right? So, if you are writing a grant proposal and the name of the organization is We Love Dogs, or whatever, you can always open up defining -- saying We Love Dogs and then putting WLD in parentheses and refer to WLD throughout the rest of the proposal. That does save space. It does save character. So, that's just another tip that goes in there. 

On the same line of space, effectively using space to separate ideas. Oftentimes, I find like run-on paragraphs. People talking and it's just no break. Right? It just runs. And so, making sure that you are separating paragraphs. And that separation of paragraph is kind of like a breath, right, and a transition to another thought. 

Now, this point is not as effective on some federal grant applications. I'm trying to think of an example. Some of the SAMSA grant applications. It is common to not have any spacing, right, and have full paragraphs of just a whole long section. Right? 

In that case, which is a point that's coming down. We use bold and italics and underline to separate and reinforce certain ideas. But the spacing is definitely important when you're writing for foundations that don't have those online submission blocks to separate ideas and avoid kind of run-on paragraphs. 

Also, bullets are powerful. Use them to avoid fluff and quickly communicate ideas. And so, what I call bullets as dropping receipts, right? So if you're answering a question, you're answering it. And then you can say, “Hey, this is how we're going to do this.” Boom! Boom! Boom! Yeah. Bullet is a kind of hard hitting bullet. This is what we're going to do. And your bullets are just so straight to the point that after the reader reads it, it's like, “How can I say no?” They dropped so many receipts to explain exactly what they're doing. I can't say no because they just build on this one point after the other. Just kind of really clearly communicating what they're wanting to do. So, I like bullets as much as applicable. Sometimes you can't always do bullets in those online forums. But when you can, they're really good. 

Like I mentioned before, using bold, italics and underline to reinforce major ideas. One of the winning grants that we did, and this was a federal grant, we did goal number one was in bold. And then we talked about the goal. Goal number two was in bold. And then we talked about the goal. And we did that, again, to help the reviewer kind of understand the separation of what was going on. And they could clearly zoom in on what was important. 

Use concise language, right? Growing communities sounds better than communities that are growing. That will save you word count, character counts, and all of that. If you use any type of Grammarly, or anything like that, sometimes they'll catch that. But just be mindful of that when you're writing, it communicates a little bit clearer when you speak in that way. 

Okay. I'll start to take questions. I know that was a lot. Before we move on to the next part of our agenda item.

Celia: All right. We will do maybe like a lightning round here. Cool.

So, you're talking regularly about federal grants. Are most of these suggestions applicable to foundations as well? Private foundations. 

Shavonn: Yeah, it's both. I wanted to make sure that you all had some exposure to both. So as I'm going, I'm specifically highlighting things that are more applicable to federal versus foundations. 

Celia: Okay, got it. What if the application sections are in the wrong order for you to make your case? Or sort of tell that story.

Shavonn: I know. Do the best you can.

Celia: Is it better to write in first person or third person?

Shavonn: It really depends. I prefer the third person. But you know what I say, whatever you choose, be consistent. That is the key thing. Don't start in third person and then forget your writing in third person all of a sudden flipped to first person.

Celia: Got it. Someone said, “I'm old school and learned to apply whitespace. Is that still applicable?”

Shavonn: Whitespace to separate paragraphs?

Celia: I don't really know. Maybe you can give us -- Sheryl, you can give us a little bit of extra information there. 

Shavonn: Yeah. 

Celia: I think that that's kind of it. 

Shavonn: Okay.

Celia: Cool. We'll keep working on that. Sheryl, let us know what you think and we'll see if we can answer that question for you.

Shavonn: Yeah, happy to answer it. All right.

So moving on to the third part of our agenda, avoiding common mistakes. Again, this is the stuff that I've seen. Right? That I don't want you all when you're advising your clients to make these mistakes. So, sometimes there could be blind spots or things that aren't really clear. And as human beings, our brains are kind of programmed to fill in missing information because you're the one writing it. So although it's not on the paper, your brain will fill in the information to make it make sense. Right? 

But that's why you have a third-party read it because they don't have that going on. So, a third party is an assay person to just have them read it and to make sure that it makes sense. And they can ask questions, right, like clarification questions and they'll give you an opportunity to go back and make some corrections. 

So, that third-party person is kind of like how a reviewer will be reading it. So definitely have a third-party person that is not associated with the program do that. And you can kind of spot any missing things. I'm laughing because I see a missing thing on our slide. 

The second point is to avoid spelling and grammatical errors. So, make sure that you're running any spellcheck. Grammarly is really good too to make sure that everything is kind of on par. Avoid run-on sentences. 

So, sometimes it's easier to have two simple sentences than one run-on sentence. So, don't be afraid to break a run-on sentence into two sentences because it'll be easier for the reader to digest. With the first sentence, they can digest that. Any of the second sentence was just continuing the first sentence and they can digest that. It comes across very clearly when you do it that way. 

Know this -- and I don't know how many people know this. Numbers zero through nine are written words. And so, if you're saying one or two or three in writing, it’s written in words. Anything 10 and up is -- you can actually write as a number. So, that is maybe some old school grammatical thing. But it's something that I learned years ago. And it's something that's grammatical standards that I don't know if everyone is aware of. So, I want to make sure that that’s shared. 

Another thing is make sure you're using consistent font and font color. I know we often do a lot of cutting and pasting. And sometimes we may not be paying attention, especially if it's like a dark grey. Sometimes when you cut and paste dark grey, it looks very similar to black and you don't even realize the difference. When I look at it, I always realize the difference because my mind is just trained to review. And so, make sure that the font colors are all the same. 

If you're doing all black, do black font, not like light grey or anything like that. And also, be consistent with the font. Again, when we're copying and pasting, sometimes you might paste Arial instead of Times New Roman. And sometimes it might be 11.5 versus 12. Right? And your eyes may not catch it, but just making sure that you're going through the whole thing and making sure that all the font and the font colors are consistent. 

Be really careful when using links. This is specifically -- when we’re talking about federal grants, more specifically, sometimes reviewers are not allowed to click on those links. And they're not allowed to see any information that's outside of the proposal. It has to be in the proposal. So, it's okay to use links if you have a footnote. Right? Including the link in the footnote for reference so that they know that there's a source to it. 

But sometimes, they can't click on the links. And sometimes those links take up a lot of room in their proposal and you're wasting space because they can't click on it. Right? And then other times, they have to print out their proposal and review it, especially if -- and this is more applicable for foundations, right? 

A lot of times, it's a bunch of people in the room and someone is handing out a printed copy of a proposal and everyone's reading the proposal together. It's not being accessed on a computer, so you don't know how it'll be reviewed. So to be safe, just avoiding the links is the thing because you don't want to lose points because you thought that a person was able to see a link and they can't. Okay? 

Last bullet on this slide is to use parallel language and structure. So, sometimes I'll start with the bullet one. Sometimes people will have bullets. Some of the bullets have periods, and some of them don't. Whatever you choose to do, because there's different opinions on this, whether you choose to use periods or not, just make sure it's consistent. Right? Just don't do periods for a few bullets and none for other bullets. Right? So, that's really what I'm talking about, like a consistent structure. 

And parallel language is if you're saying that we serve the community and are growing, whatever, and are distributing whatever. You want to make sure it's consistent. If everything's supposed to end in -ings, it should all end in -ings. Don't have to serve and then support and develop as different parallel languages. So, that's another thing to be mindful of. 

Okay. I can stop and take questions there to avoid common mistakes.

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Celia: Let's see. I think we had run-on sentences. What do you think about that?

Shavonn: Me? 

Celia: Yeah. 

Shavonn: Yeah, avoid them. 

Celia: Got it. 

Shavonn: Just simple sentences, break them into two sentences if you can.

Celia: Cool. Struggling with word limits. Can you use one through nine as numbers rather than words?

Shavonn: I wouldn’t. You can. 

Celia: Got it.

Shavonn: There’s a lot of things you can do. I just wouldn't.

Celia: This is not totally related to your slide. But I'm currently writing proposals for project goals and then for steps, will take to achieve those goals or steps equivalent to objectives. And should they be smart?

Shavonn: Oh my. I love this question. This is another workshop. 

So, goals. So objectives are the specific steps that you're going to take to accomplish a goal. I have heard the word smart objectives. However, I prefer the term smart outcomes, which is very different. That's another workshop, I'm sure. And I don't want to take away time today explaining that. But I prefer smart outcomes versus smart objectives.

Celia: Got it. Okay. I want to -- I know there are tons of questions. But let's keep moving because we have a lot to do. 

Shavonn: Yes, a lot to cover. 

Okay. So the last thing is, I'm looking at the time, wow. The last thing is how to structure your proposal to maximize points. So, I might have said this before. So, what are your responses in the same order as a rubric? When I was talking about that proposal that I loved, it made it very easy to follow along. And also, use the language from the rubric within your responses. 

I recently had one of my employees serve as a reviewer. And she came back and she was like -- and I asked her, “So, what was the biggest thing that she learned?” She said, “The biggest thing that I learned is to use the language from the rubric. Because when I saw people doing that, it made it easy for me to review it.” I'm like, “Good. That's what you were supposed to learn.” 

So just to provide an example, let's say if the question is, what challenges did you encounter? You can open your response and say whatever your organization name is, right? XYZ organization encountered the following challenges. So, if you're doing it bullet pointed, that would be the lead in. But if you're not, just kind of like really opening up using the funder’s language. So that way, when the reviewer reads it, they're like, “Oh, I know what question they're answering. They're answering this question.” 

And then if you open up another response, then the reviewer will know, “Oh, they're transitioning to this next part.” So, you have to speak and kind of use words to help the reviewer transition to the next part. So, that is what's key as far as that part. 

This is grant writer 101. Fully address the five Ws and the H. What is that? Right? Another “Shavonn isn't right.” The five Ws are the who, what, where, why. And the H should be the “how” of your proposal. You want to write a proposal in a way that the reviewer has no questions. They fully understand everything that you're wanting to do. You have left no stone unturned. And when they read it, they understand exactly what you're doing. 

Now, in the case of foundation proposals, sometimes, like I mentioned before, it's a group of reviewers reviewing your proposal. And I hate to say it, sometimes it's like a devil’s advocate you’re on. Right? They always have to shred a proposal apart like, “Well, they didn't address this, or they didn't address that.” And you never know how that person's opinion may sway the group. So, you always want to write to the devil's advocate in the room where it's like, “I don't care who's in the room. No one can question this proposal. We have addressed everything fully, fully, fully. And there's nothing more to be explained.” The only question that you want to hear is when are they going to send the check and when are you going to get the grant agreement signed and back to them. That's the only question you want them to have. You have to review your proposal. 

The next thing is to answer the question the funder is asking. Oh my gosh, I thought we used to feed people kind of like, I don't know if they didn't have a response. So, this provided some fluff. But address the question that they're asking. If they're asking you about sustainability, don't talk about something else. Right? Address the question, right? And if you can't address the question, then that's kind of like another conversation. Right? 

Your organization needs to do some kind of thinking and some strategizing around common questions that are coming out that you're not able to answer. You need to really think about what that could be. And the last thing here is to fully answer each part of the question. This applies to both foundation and federal grants. But it really, really is important as far as federal grants. Right? 

So, the example is to explain the impacts of your programming on stakeholders, beneficiaries, and the greater society. Those are three things that you want to make sure that you address. You don't want to make sure -- you don't want to address stakeholders, and you have nothing to say for the other two. And you think you can just continue on, right? No, that's not going to work. You need to sufficiently address each part of what they're asking. 

And this is important, like I said, for both foundation and federal proposals. But, especially with federal proposals because no matter how well you address stakeholders, if you don't address stakeholders, beneficiaries, and the greater society, you may not get points for that question. And as to how folks are trained to agree this. So, super important that you fully answer each part of the question. 

All right. So before we look at a real proposal, I will stop. And I will see if anyone has questions about what we've talked about so far.

Celia: There's so many. We might have to follow up with a follow-up Q&A. 

Shavonn: Oh my gosh. 

Celia: For the proposal, should you start each section by reiterating the question or just answer the question?

Shavonn: Just answer the question. 

Celia: Answer the question.

Stories make a super impact. Often, proposals don't allow for stories. How do you work around that still leaves an impact?

Shavonn: Can you repeat the question?

Celia: So, essentially, stories are really impactful, but sometimes the character length, or whatever, doesn't allow for you to tell a full story. How would you work around that to still leave an impact?

Shavonn: You need to provide a testimonial, a one or two sentence testimonial.

Celia: Okay. Okay. Cool. I think that's it. 

Melissa had a question about the first or third person. And I think you already answered that. You could do either. Just be consistent. 

Shavonn: Yes.

Awesome. So, we are going to review our proposal that came in. And the person that submitted this proposal is in this workshop. So, I want to give Marianne an opportunity to, number one, share a little bit about your organization. And number two, kind of give us some context or some background about how you came across this opportunity, what are some of the things that you all did to prepare for this opportunity, and anything else that you feel would be helpful?

Marianne: Okay. ACLENet is an organization that was founded about eight or nine years ago. And its mission is to decrease injuries, deaths, and property damage from lightning across Africa. Because there's a lot more lightning in Africa and there are almost no safe places for people to go. They are here in the United States. 

We're the only organization in the world that is doing this. There is now one in South Asia with eight countries in the network that took our bylaws and changed the name. And one in Latin America, Lightning Network, who's about two months old. And we work very closely together. So, I don't mean that in any kind of snarky way. 

We all work together and support each other. So, the problem is I can't go to any other organization and see who their funders are because there are no other organizations like this. Secondly, the number one risk -- the people who are most vulnerable are students because the schools in Africa are small structures of one, two, three classroom blocks. They're not protected. You have 50 kids per classroom, sometimes as many as 70, or 80 per classroom, and the ones that I visited about a month ago. And lightning hits the building. And we had 18 children killed in one lightning strike back in 2011. 

So, however, there are no keywords for lightning injury prevention, or even injury prevention. If we try to go under community -- the reviewers are specialists in what they do. There's no question about that. And I respect them tremendously. 

The problem is, they don't look at things the same way we do. So, if I say it's education, because we want to make the kids feel safe enough to stay in the school and learn instead of scattering and running home, which is what they've been taught to do when dark clouds come over. It's not how to teach maths better in the seventh grade. If we're community development, no, they're interested in water, and whatever, technology, applications.

If we say we're a disaster, they're interested in COVID response, knots, and disaster prevention. So, it's really, really, really hard for us to find any kind of fit for the kinds of things we do. And most of the foundations and grants are for the United States. Let's face it. We have food pantries, pet shelters, but not for Africa. 

So, this was an organization. And I have to confess, I wrote this about 18 months ago. So, I have not reviewed it a lot. This was an organization that was -- it was almost like one of those prizes that you can compete for. But it was general support for organizations that are fulfilling their mission in doing something special. So, that's why we applied for these folks. It wasn't specific, “How are you going to get immunizations for three year olds?” 

Shavonn: Got it. Got it. Well, I want to--

Marianne: And we don't fit under anything that Gates does. So don't say, “Apply to Gates,” because Gates has nothing to do with anything we do.

Shavonn: Yeah. Well, I want to thank Marianne for submitting this proposal and for being so brave. And so, we're going to go through the review. But I want us to look at this review from the standpoint of just trying to do the best we can. Right? And dealing with the lab obstacles that Marianne explained. Right? 

So, we're going to look at it with grace and through that lens. So, really high level because we have nine minutes. Okay. So, really high level. I made some comments here. And, Marianne, hopefully, you'll have that. Right? 

And so, some of it I already touched on. And so, I won't go too deep into that. But this was highlighted, really, using font or language in the response, right, as a recommendation. Right? 

A lot of these other things are things that I've already kind of mentioned about. Extra comma, that's another thing. People have very passionate opinions about whether to use the extra comma or not. I'm for it. But whatever you decide to use, be consistent. 

So another thing that I kind of came across here was using some past tense language. Sometimes when you're writing -- this is specifically for federal grants. You can't help but use some past tense language. Even in foundation grants, when you're talking about what your organization has done, you have to use past tense language. Right? 

But as we get kind of talking about impacts and your programming, we want to make sure we keep it active. Right? Some of this was -- I added a few words, right, that I felt would be good to clarify. This is another part here about using consistent language. Right? That's very key. 

Forgive some of these changes you see here. That's not necessarily a spelling error. But we had to convert it from a PDF. And so, it does not convert over perfectly. So for this purpose, just kindly ignore that for now. So, this was kind of what I was talking about using links. And, Marianne, I do understand you included the link for research, right, and to maybe give some additional resources to the reader. Sometimes the foundations will allow you and federal grants will allow you to create a resource page. Or they may say, “Hey, is there anything else you'd like to include or share with us?” You can put that there as well as some additional resources. Not to say they can or will read it, but it just shows that you did your due diligence. 

Kind of going through this a little bit more quickly. So, this is the part where we're starting to answer the real questions. Right? And they're asking you about challenges or opportunities. Right? But I just found reading it I could not -- here you’re giving us context of the problem, right? But the question specifically asked about what challenge, opportunity or situation are you seeking to address. And so, I would have probably gotten right to it. 

And you don't have to -- and the word “or” is there. So, you don't have to address all three, but you would address either challenge, opportunity, or the situation. But I probably would have started addressing it further up, right? So that way, you're getting right to what the reader is looking for. 

There are a few other changes here, too. I think one thing that is really key here is that the approach to safety was through public and professional education, and other things, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this. It's always good when you're listing things like that and then you're coming back and actually doing a 1, 2, 3 to actually present it in the same order that you listed it above. 

So, I was expecting in my reviewer of mine that this first bullet would be public and professional education. Right? And then the next thing being protection of schools. And so, when I got here, my mind was a little thrown off because that's what I was expecting. But I didn't get it. So, that is just a tip that is really, really good. 

This one sentence was great. Ain’t it? I love that you all kind of communicated what was going on and you use numbers, which is interesting because it communicates scope. So, 33 of the 55 countries in Africa. 

There are some others here. I feel like I'm running out of time. But when they're talking about outcomes, stick with outcomes that are actually measurable. Right? Because when you do your reporting later, you're going to have to report out on measurable things. Now, sometimes, like public service announcements and media coverage, there are ways that they can be measurable. But you have to make sure you just kind of communicated. Two run-on sentences are here. Recommendation splitting into two. And we are unfortunately out of time. So, I will stop there. 

And, Celia, I will kind of transition back to the deck so that way we can --

Celia: We can -- I don't know what your schedule looks like. If you have an extra couple of minutes, we can keep it going. I know you're a busy lady, though. So if not, we can also just kind of wrap it up. But you can keep going. And even if you have to hop off right at the top of the hour, I'll wrap everything up.

Shavonn: Okay. Well, I don't believe I have any meetings after this. I feel like I blocked myself off. But I will double check to make sure that we're good. And I'm happy to continue. 

Well, we can go an extra maybe like 10-ish, 10 minutes. 

Shavonn: Okay. Cool.

Celia: And then if anybody does have to hop off, just a reminder, we will be sending you the recording. So if you do have to hop off, you can just zoom through to the very end and catch the last little bit here. But also, as I do that, I am just going to share the signup link if anybody's interested in checking out Instrumentl before you go. That is Shavonn’s link. And with that code, you'll save 50 bucks, which is great. 

And the other thing was our freebie. We've got a couple of things today for you from Shavonn and from Instrumentl. So, check that out as well and just drop that in the chat. And then I will be quiet and let you. 

Shavonn: Well, thank you. Yes, definitely sign up on my link and get $50 off for Instrumentl, which I highly recommend you check it out if you've not checked it out or never tried it or want to do the two-week free trial. Check it out. Use my link. 

Here's more about my website and my team. We're passionate about our work. Love it. Love it. And feel free to also connect with me on LinkedIn. Here's my QR code to my LinkedIn profile. So if you want to connect that way, you can as well. And I'm happy to take some questions.

Celia: Awesome. Cool. Let's grab some of these questions then. 

Someone asked. Sorry. I’ve got to zoom back here in this. Here we go. Lots of questions. Okay, here we go. Some of these are questions. Some of these are just statements. So, should you number the questions in each section when answering?

Shavonn: Number the questions.

Celia: Or should you write it? I think the question is like, should it be like, question one, answer? Question two, answer? Or should it be sort of a story?

Shavonn: I would stick to a narrative approach as much as possible. 

Celia: Okay. Cool. Got it. Just sort of trying to find a couple questions here. This is a great question. I think this is probably a different webinar, potentially. But what if your superiors don't agree with certain protocols and best practices when they incorporate them? Tell them Shavonn told you what to do.

Shavonn: Yeah, that'll work. You mean as far as your programs?

Celia: I think as far as some of the best practices you gave on how to write. 

Shavonn: Oh. 

Celia: Like some of that. 

Shavonn: Yeah. Yeah. Just tell them, “Shavon said it was okay.” 

It's hard. It's hard. I understand where you are with that. And I understand internal approval processes. Everything I've shared is what I learned it, right? I used to read it in a book. I have mentors, right? It's out there. So I think like the zero through nine thing, if you do a Google search, it’s there. Right? You can present it like, “This is a real thing. I'm not making this up.” And then after that, I mean, I don't know what you can do. But just know that everything that's shared today is, for lack of a better term, evidence based.

Celia: Yeah, that's great. We had a question on fonts. Any fonts that you like or think are easier to read? 

Shavonn: Oh, this is such a cool question. So, I never even thought about this. But I'm thinking about it now. I tend to like Times New Roman for federal grants. I'm just old school like that, like federal. And then I like Arial for foundations. So, that's a great question. I never thought of it.

Celia: Yeah. Let's see. We had a question that’s kind of interesting. What’s with the arbitrary character counts that grant makers determine? Do you think we can ever get to a place where every application agrees what is reasonable length to complete standard questions?

Shavonn: Hopefully. 

Celia: Got it. Cool. 

And then the other question, and I'm curious what you think about this is, do you think grant writing should incorporate advocacy into our work in order to make the entire process more equitable? So, that's sort of following along the question of these arbitrary character counts and-- 

Shavonn: Yeah. 

Celia: Yeah.

Shavonn: Yeah. So I will say that, that's definitely a broad issue question. But one thing I could share is I serve on the funders equity committee for the Georgia Grant Professionals Association. And a lot of our local work is working with foundations to talk about those things, and more, especially in areas of diversity and equity inclusion. 

So, I know these conversations are happening. We can all do what we can to try to influence these conversations. And I know kind of my little bubble of Georgia we're trying to have this conversation. So, that's a great question.

Celia: Cool. And then someone wanted to know--there’s a couple questions about you, I think, too. How do you become a federal grant reviewer?

Shavonn: It takes time. 

Celia: Yeah. 

Shavonn: It took me years. I just started by getting my resume out in every registry and updating it often, and then eventually people started calling. Knowing that these grant reviewer opportunities, they like to have a diverse group of folks. So, some of them are subject matter experts. Some of them are regular folks. Right? Some of them are grant writers, some of them--so they'd like to have a lot of different folks. 

So when you're filling out your background, right, just keep that in mind that you bring something to the table. So, just share kind of like all your background and your experience and different things you've done. And they’ve just basically kind of looked through them and followed up. 

But it took years. 

Celia: Yeah, yeah. People want to see the 100% proposal that you mentioned. 

Shavonn: I can't share it. 

Celia: Sorry. 

Shavonn: But as a federal reviewer, I can't share it. I can't mention it. No name. So, nothing. But I was blown away. It was so beautiful.

Celia: Awesome. Anita, who is also, I think, in Georgia or in Atlanta, wanting to know how you should get information on the organization that you serve in Georgia for grant writers.

Shavonn: So, I am a member of the Grant Professionals Association National and I serve on the board for the Grant Professionals Association. And shameless plug, our GPA conference is taking place, the first of the fourth. Instrumentl is a sponsor, right, Celia? You guys are sponsors.

Celia: We’ll be there. We’ll be at GPA. 

Shavonn: Oh, exhibitor? 

Celia: Yeah. Yeah. I think--

Shavonn: Is that sponsored? 

Celia: I don't know. We’ll be there. Well, we have a booth. Come see us. 

Shavonn: Okay. Good. Yep. Instrumentl will be there. They have a booth. My firm, Think and Ink Consulting will be there. We'll have a booth. We're exhibitors this year. And I'll also be speaking about logic model live. So, it's very similar to this. But I'm actually walking folks through like a live logic model. And we have to solve a problem of the community. It’s in-person only. So if you're not going, I'm sorry. There'll be other opportunities. 

And so, I say all that to say that's all National stuff. But then locally, we have--each local chapter has their own chapter. So if you're in Idaho or if you're in New York, or wherever you are, you have a local GPA chapter that you can join and engage in. So since I'm in Georgia, I'm also a member of the Georgia Grant Professionals Association chapter. And within our chapter, we develop that committee to do that important work. 

Now, that committee is not in every chapter. It's just something we decide to do on our own. 

Celia: Cool. 

Shavonn: So if you're interested, hit me up on LinkedIn. And we'll get you connected.

Celia: Awesome. Anita, hit her up on LinkedIn. 

Shavonn: Yeah.

Celia: Nancy had a question really quickly on Instrumentl on the 14 days. That is full access to our standard plan, which has a couple sort of extra fun features. So, you can try that out for 14 days free. Set up a project. You'll get your own list of custom good fit funders that you can use now. You can export them and use them later. And if you decide that you'd love it, you can use Shavonn’s code, SHAVONN50 to save 50 bucks if and when you decide to subscribe. 

So, let's see. I think that that was kind of it. So, this is probably a good place to wrap it up.

Shavonn: Oh, my goodness. Well, it's been an absolute pleasure. Is there another slide? Oh! Celia. 

Celia: No worries.

That's our freebie. So, we've got a couple of things for you today. The first thing is awesome--I think it’s a chapter, right, from your kind of book, Shavonn, that we're offering here, How to Design and Fundraise a Nonprofit Program.

Shavonn: How to Design a Fundable Nonprofit Program. So, it’s not designing before you write. Make sure that you have everything in order.

Celia: Got it. So, you get that. And then you'll also get our 10 lessons from 10 grant writing experts there, too. All you gotta do is put in your information. You don't even have to do anything. 

And then after the fact, if you're like, “I know someone who needs to come to one of these webinars,” we've got a button that makes it really easy for you to invite your friends to the next event. So, hopefully, you'll be there. 

Shavonn: Awesome.

Celia: So, drop that in the chat. The freebies link is in the chat. And we will follow up with an email here soon with a replay and with the links for the freebies. The links to sign up for Instrumentl, Shavonn’s code, all the stuff that you might need to get going here. So, thank you so much everyone for being here. 

Shavonn: Thanks, guys. 

Celia: Okay. Thanks, Shavonn, we appreciate your time.

Shavonn: You’re welcome. You guys take care. 

Celia: Bye, everyone. 

Shavonn: Alrighty. Bye.

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