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October 22, 2009

Storytelling for Grantseekers

A foundation officer I once worked with complained to me about an executive director who had dropped by the foundation’s office to follow up on his grant request. “Why can’t this guy let the grant proposal speak for the organization?” he quipped. I imagined an anxious E.D. (for some reason, he’s also rain-soaked in my mental image), in desperate need for funding for his organization, trying every means possible to stand out from the pack. In this case, it was clear this strategy had backfired.

I just finished reading the second edition of Cheryl Clarke’s excellent book, “Storytelling for Grantseekers”, and I suspect that E.D. might have been in a much stronger position if he’d read it, too.

This book demystifies the process of writing grants in less than 200 pages. It explains how to use storytelling to write creative, compelling grants, while outlining a smart approach to do so. Clarke lays out useful rules of thumb on topics such as:

  • How to determine if your organization has a good shot of getting support from a grantmaker
  • How to write a compelling letter of intent
  • How to set up the elements of a successful story arc in your proposal, including characters, conflict, and resolution
  • How to use budgeting to reinforce your story
  • The difference between goals and objectives, and how to integrate your objectives with outcomes and impacts, which are often the focus of grantmakers’ evaluation criteria
  • Using headings, bullets, timelines and back up documents to make your proposals easier to read and use
  • Why you should never send your grant to a funder in a binder (who knew?)
  • How to follow up, and what to do if they don’t fund your proposal

In the spirit of full disclosure, Cheryl and I have the same publisher (Jossey-Bass), and she reviewed my upcoming book, “Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money through Smart Communications” . What I found was a book full of useful tips, tools and inspirations any grantseeking organization should keep on hand.