Thursday, November 4, 2010

Armor Clad and Recession Proof

A grant writer suffers the same dilemma as any copywriter, fiction writer, financial writer or a paid writer of virtually anything. Doubt raises an ugly head and peers at all of us from weird angles.

With the elections behind us it seems to take a few days for things to settle down in our personal and working worlds. Were there any candidates up for election that gave you any worries about your future in the market place? Did you prefer one over the other for that reason?

It doesn't really matter what your answer is because the night passed and daylight has returned to either brighten our spirits or to darken the cloud above our heads. It is a matter of perspective. Is it the old glass half full or half empty syndrome? Not really; that pertains to relative volume. Here I believe it is a matter of the facts you have on hand verses the reality of the outcome.

I do sometimes feel as if I am clad in a suit of armor. The buzz word heard today and everyday for the past several years has been "recession." It is either here now, on the way, on the way out or non-existent. If you believe all the blogs, or at least the ones you are reading, we are deep in the sludge of misery. Even the larger foundations and corporate entities say they must cut back their funding to manageable levels.

The immense size of the nonprofit world is what scares me when I get stuck on thinking about the ramifications of it all. If the nation's resources are being hit so hard is there going to be enough to fund the causes that really need or deserve it?

I Think Not!

In times of perfect GNP growth, astronomical levels of giving and unprecedented spurts of generosity there is never enough to fund all the nonprofits that need a helping hand to complete a project or even exist on a daily basis into the near future. It is all relevant. Grant writers are no more immune now to the words, "sorry Charly maybe next time," than they have ever been before. There is never enough to go around to whom we think individually deserve the funds, now, before or in the future. It is the way it is!

We are not recession proof. Grant writers have never been recession proof anymore than the nonprofits they write for. As long as we wear our armor full pressed to our chests it is life everyday as we know it.  Some receive more funding in times of recession, some receive less. I do not have the stats but I would bet more Requests for Proposals are announced in times of less funds available than in times of plenty. It is the nature of the beast to want to offer smaller amounts of goods and services to a larger number of recipients.

My suggestion to my list of clients is to have 2 or 3 different boiler plate proposals on hand to submit to 30 to 40 different smaller foundations;  rather than compete with the multitudes applying for 2 or 3 huge grants. During such competition it takes very little to remove your nonprofit from the running. Forgetting to dot a few eyes or cross a few tees becomes ever so important in high dollar grant proposal applications.

Being recession proof is an impossible task. Being prepared while wearing your full body armor is always proactive in times of  downward dips as well as in times of extreme prosperity. Like the Boy Scouts of America has been saying for over a hundred years, "Be Prepared."

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Telling the Story

Sunshine knifed through a square of broken glass. The rays pierced my eyes one at a time. I shifted a few inches causing the blinding light to search for me on my pillow. The whiteness of the light seared hazy images into my groggy mind. Slowly reality was coming back; I was safely asleep in a cottage on the beach. The sun was my wake-up call.

Copywriters love to tell a story. They want to involve you quickly with a sympathetic character that may be just like you are.  Picture you waking up on the beach, forgetting the night before, soon to be reconnected with the day.

In my grant writing career which spans decades, not! I have developed the love for creating a fictional story which centers on the reason a proposal is being submitted; telling a tale to make a difference in the readers’ perspective of the same –o-same-o proposal submission.

Now I am not saying to completely fictionalize a story. I believe there is a defining narrative for your nonprofit’s existence. The Mission statement does not always tell the REAL tale. Summaries, biographies, past experience, funded projects and evaluations of how the funds were used previously do not usually include the story of why your organization is what it is.

Day to day operations get in the way. Following the guidelines to the tip of the edge is important, it is very true, but how do we get the uniqueness of who we are to sing a subtle note or two where otherwise our tune would go unheard?

The story of our nonprofit’s uniqueness is necessary if we are to gain a valuable edge of any kind. Keenly we must state the unobvious by bringing attention to a real story of need. One where the act of funding will change the face of the details to a completely different outcome. A story where everyone is cheering when the winner is announced.

The Winner!

Wow, how often do we hear the funder’s choices announced as the winners? Though that is exactly who the proposal writers responding to the funder’s RFP becomes.

Don’t you agree?

In one of Stephen King’s four part novelettes, there is an opening in one of them where the story’s location is in the entrance of a very well heeled men’s club. An exclusive club, offering chess, books, libations and mutual enjoyment to a highly successful minority of the upper crust. These men lounge, dine and sit in a luxurious glowing fireplace setting.

Upon entering this impressive club, one is greeted by the presence of a massive stone fireplace. Over the mantle is a large engraved metal sign. It simply states “It is not the story; it is the teller of the tale.

If a cover letter is not requested by the proposal’s guidelines, creating one may still be in your nonprofit’s best interest. Capture the heart and soul of your readers in the opening moments when you meet on paper. Tell the story with your unique personality which otherwise would never be heard. Through the entire proposal process much like repeating the refrain from a piece of popular music to induce a particular mood, return ever so lightly to your reader with a reminder of your beginning story.

Weaving the vein with your nonprofit’s total individuality throughout the proposal will have the funder not only remembering who you are but why they want to fund your cause.

Tell your story every time. You may discover a world of ears have been waiting to hear your tale.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Diamond in the Rough

I have been reading lately how valuable it is to write stories that warm the heart.

Want to have your readers fighting to get to your proposal when it is received?

The mundane remains exactly that when there is no magic assigned to it. Telling a story that sets your nonprofit apart from everything else a foundation receives is your task. Giving them every item they ask for is essential. Giving them more of your story that sets you apart is the difference between being funded or not.

Why not simply tell them your tale.

When does the simple become precious?

I wonder to myself as to when, the moment… when the simple, unloved and unprecious becomes the loved, the desired and the coveted?

Have you ever had something so precious, that immediately you had to devise a method to keep it safe from harm, protect its health, keep it from damage, prevent its loss or hide it?

Suppose a good friend gave you a loose diamond, a genuine sparkling diamond, nicely cut and valuable? Would you simply stick it in your pocket? Would you wrap it in tissue and place it in your wallet or purse?

You might if you had no other temporary means of protection. You could place it in your mouth; that would certainly protect it in many ways. Even if you swallowed it, it would ultimately return to you in a protected state.

I have a radio that I really find valuable for my needs. It is only a radio. It plays music, news and sports through a speaker or earphone. It operates on batteries or AC power. It tunes all the broadcasting bands, am, fm and shortwave. Its nothing really special but I am attached to it!

Though I believe that I am careful while using it, I have bent the antenna, broken the clear plastic cover that protects the digital readout, ripped the plastic stand that allows the radio to free-stand on a counter top and generally have rubbed away all symbols on the case that explains which button controls what operation.

I have caught myself being very protective of its survival. Even though I put in due diligence to protect it from further damage, it seems to want to be harmed a little bit at a time.

For example, I might place it in close proximity to where I am working on my car. I put it quite firmly into a spot where it will be the safest from any sudden movements that I might make. I put it inside a square empty box filled with old towels to support it from the bottom and side of the box. It lays on the surface of the cloth. The antenna, or what is left of it, protrudes from one side, allowing it to pick up what signals it can.

I work for hours cleaning my car. I decide I need a box to put un-needed items away for a rainy day. I grab the first one I see quite hardily, my radio not only leaves its protected cocoon but is launched into space, still playing of course. It isn’t until I realize what is flying through the air that I have forgotten where my radio was located.

The radio has any number of possible landing surfaces to end its short flight. It could gently touch down on the stack of moving blankets that cover three quarters of the driveway’s surface or it could attempt to destroy itself on the boulders and miscellaneous junk that are propped against one side of an oak tree.

Every detachable piece of plastic, battery and loose appendage is dispersed in a 360 degree radius from its out-of-control landing. The radio does not land on its six possible flat surfaces but on one corner on a point in a descending spiral. I didn’t know that plastic could disintegrate until now.

I walk slowly over to the rock pile. My radio is embedded in the stones. I am reminded of the obelisk from the film 2001, except my radio is silver, not black.

Well, Hi Ho Silver. I have often thought of my radio as a tough one, but this is testing its armor to the max.

I pull it from the debris, turn it over, its digital display is in permanent flash on and off at least indicating that the internal battery is still in place somewhere inside the electronic guts. A sigh of relief escapes me. It reminds me of an old VCR that has lost its programming.

Flash on…flash off…flash on…flash off.

I collect all the pieces I can find. I attach the remaining section of the antenna back on the radio. I slide two knobs back on their exposed stems, reinstall four AA batteries into their compartment and slide the battery cap back in position. I dust the radio off and make note of all the new cosmetic scrapes and scratches. I hit the on button. Music surrounds me from the little speaker. I am soothed and satiated for the moment.

Now what has all this got to do with protecting diamonds from destruction? Well…it’s all the same, don’t you think?

No matter what value we place on something or somebody, the level of value is often confused with where we place our allegiance. My radio for instance; it pleases me to no end to listen to any program or music that I desire, anytime, anyplace and at any time at my whim. It is what the machine ultimately provides and not the vessel that produces the sound. What I deem so precious and valuable is the gift the radio delivers to me in the form of companionship.

That the end product is in the form of music, news and sports does nothing to negate the reason I find it so desirable.

I must conclude that I often protect the wrong things and situations when I should be looking at the results of what we actually desire.

If I give you a diamond and you casually stick it in your blue jeans pocket; and as you do so you smile at me in such a way as to let me know that something truly special has taken place and passed between us; would it make any difference if I had given you a paper band from a five cent cigar and placed it on your finger?

I think not!

Especially if you smiled at me in the same knowing whimsical way, my protection mode, my loving need for your affection kicks in as if you had announced to the world your need for my attention.

Maybe we spend too much time trying to keep the things that mean the least. We may be comforted for a time, pampered for a fleeting moment, but when all the marbles have been counted, the only thing we have for ever is the love we share between us.

Kindness is a thing and it deserves our attention.

Have you ever purchased a new car? Then in the next few days of your ownership you begin to notice how many others are driving one just like it?

When we devote our attention to things, people and situations as a group, in mass it seems to draw our collected consciousness of the Universe to it. Thoughts become things. We should only concentrate on the best ones. Love like there is no tomorrow. Believe that the best is yet to come. Give it all your best intentions.

I know. Sometimes I am more of an imagineer than grant writer. I know that this helps me. I want tell the story they have been waiting to hear. Time always lets me know if  I was right or wrong.

What do you think?