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Navigating the Grant Writing Process

Grant Writing Insights from Liz Green, an Expert Grant Writer Consultant

At Cultivate & Engage, we understand how crucial funding is for a non-profit. This article guides non-profit professionals and aspiring grant writers through the grant writing process effectively. We invited grant writing expert Liz Green to share her insights with you. 

Transitioning from a communications firm where she focused on writing, Liz quickly realized her calling was in the non-profit world. Initially, she thought her path would lead to social work. But as many know, our plans sometimes go differently than we envision. Case in point, I thought I would always be working in-house, but here I am at an agency, using my non-profit background to make a difference on a broader scale! Liz’s writing skills and curiosity about program operations and budgets steered her towards grant writing and development instead. 

As she joined the non-profit world, Liz quickly became the Director of Institutional Giving at Family Houston, where she honed her skills in cultivating relationships with foundations and corporations and discovered her passion for grant writing. This passion led her to the role of Chief Development Officer, where marketing and strategic development became key aspects of her work. Liz had many achievements in her role. Her career highlights include significantly increasing grants, donors, and other funding sources over her fifteen-year tenure, expanding and managing a highly successful development team, and orchestrating virtual fundraising events during the pandemic featuring special guests like Bryan Terrell Clark. Despite her success, Liz’s passion for grant writing led her to start her own business as a grant writer, allowing her to spend more time with her family while continuing to make an impact in the sector. We talked with Liz about what a successful grant application encompasses and tips she can offer to non-profits or aspiring grant writers.

Critical Components of a Successful Grant Application

When asked about the essentials of a successful grant application, Liz underscores the crucial balance between emotional appeal and hard facts. “Using stories to paint a warm picture of individual struggles while also providing them with concrete evidence of the need for your services and your organization’s impact,” she explains. This approach not only appeals to the reviewers’ emotions but also provides them with concrete evidence of your organization’s impact.

Standing Out to Reviewers

Simplicity and clarity are essential. “People often underestimate the importance of readability,” she notes. “Short sentences, short paragraphs. Reviewers are going through numerous proposals, so make yours easy to read and understand.” Highlighting strong outcomes and demonstrating your impact with clear, quantifiable metrics is crucial. Acknowledging and learning from past challenges can show a funder’s reflection and growth. Visual aids and strategic outreach, such as having a board member or other connection to the funder put in a good word, can also be beneficial.

Overcoming Challenges in Grant Writing

One common challenge grant writers face is adhering to word limits. “Being succinct can be difficult. Sometimes, writing a smaller proposal is harder than a longer one,” she says. Liz recommends leveraging resources like “On Writing Well” and “Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace,” which provide tips on shortening phrases without losing meaning. Tools and techniques that help maintain accuracy while being concise are invaluable in grant writing.

Compelling Metrics for Funding

Regarding compelling evidence for funding, Liz highlights the importance of reliable data sources. “Census data, studies by the Greater Houston Community Foundation, and HISD campus-level report cards are all excellent resources,” she says. These metrics provide a solid foundation for demonstrating the need and impact of non-profit work. While those are specific to Houston, many cities have similar resources that you can utilize.

Trends in the Grant Writing Landscape

When asked about any trends she has noticed, she said an emphasis on metrics and outcomes in the grant writing landscape. “Foundations are now requesting specific outcomes rather than simply relying on outcome metrics developed by each individual nonprofit,” she notes. This shift in focus requires non-profits to be more strategic in their planning, execution, and reporting. While these expectations are generally reasonable, non-profits must balance their capacity with these demands. Collaborative efforts and focusing on multigenerational impacts are also becoming more prevalent, indicating a shift towards more sustainable and long-term solutions.

Advice for Small Non-profits

Liz advises non-profits just starting with grant applications to ensure grant readiness. “Before you apply, ensure you can provide detailed reports, financials, and demographic data to the funders,” she cautions. Building relationships with funders is crucial; sometimes, when starting out, being a sub-grantee can be a strategic move. She also highlights the difficulty of securing grants. “Submit proposals, but have realistic expectations. Not many will come through, so diversify your funding sources.”

Best Practices for Maintaining Funder Relationships

Maintaining and nurturing relationships with funders post-grant is as important as securing the grant. Liz recommends regular updates and transparency. “Check in midway through the project, not just at the end. Keep them in the loop with any adjustments or progress,” she advises. Additionally, involving the CEO in communications with the funder can underscore the organization’s commitment and value. This emphasis on maintaining funder relationships can empower small non-profits, making them feel more in control of their funding prospects.

Liz Green serves nonprofit social service organizations as an independent consultant and grant writer. She draws upon twenty years of experience in the nonprofit development sector. Prior to launching her business as a consultant, Liz served as Chief Development Officer at Family Houston, a social service organization that addresses basic needs, mental health, and financial stability. Before venturing into nonprofit work, Liz served as a writer and account manager for a marketing and communications firm, and as a proofreader for the Texas Legislature. Liz received her B.A. from Texas State University. To learn more about Liz Green and her grant writing services, visit www.lizgreengrants.com

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