"Grant writing is one of those things that small organizations love and hate. I would say the idea of grant funding, that is, funding programs that feels like large amounts of money coming in and one ask is really a dream for so many small organizations, but they struggle with how to do it.” — DeaRonda Harrison
get those grants with DeaRonda Harrison
Are you still hesitant to hire a grant writer for your organization? Maybe you’ve had great success with grants and the portfolio has become time consuming and too large to handle. Or, maybe your sending out applications left, right, and centre and still not having any luck. Join DeaRonda Harrison to deep dive into all things grant writing - from benefits, challenges and the importance of it!
How can grants help small organizations
How to get started with grant writing
Guide to hiring grant support and internal training
Outreach and networking for grants
Managing relationships after getting the grant
Connect with DeaRonda:
[00:00:00] Cindy: Grant writing is one of those things that small organizations love and hate. I would say the idea of grant funding, that is, funding programs that feels like large amounts of money coming in and one ask is really a dream for so many small organizations, but they struggle with how to do that well and how to report on grants and how to take that one time program funding and turn it into more sustainable long term investments. We're going to talk about all things grant writing today on the podcast. I'm your host, Cindy Wagman, and you're listening to the Small Nonprofit podcast, where we bring you practical, down to earth advice on how to get more done for your small organization because you are going to change the world and we're here to help. So my guest today is DeaRonda Harrison from June 1 firm, and I love DeaRonda's approach to grant writing, and what she does, I think is so unique in the space because she's leveraging her grant experience and helping other organizations develop the capacity to do this themselves. And so, DeaRonda, welcome to the podcast.
[00:01:28] DeaRonda: Hi, Cindy. I'm so happy to be here. Thank you.
[00:01:32] Cindy: Oh, my goodness. Thank you. You and I agree on so much when it comes to grant writing, and I'm so grateful for you to share your expertise with our audience. And we're kind of just going to dive right in because there's a lot of myths, I think, around grant writing and some of the challenges that organizations face. But before we dive into the areas for improvement, I'd love to hear from you. What is the benefit? Like, how can grants help small organizations?
[00:02:05] DeaRonda: Yes, there is a real benefit to grants. It's an additional revenue stream for your organization. And like I've shared in the past, there's more opportunities for small nonprofits like never before with the impact of Covid and all the social unrest and the life has been shined on those that have been marginalized. So really, it's a really good time for smaller nonprofits, emerging nonprofits is what I like to call them, to pursue grant opportunities. So, again, just starting in your local community, your local community foundation, a lot of programs I'm in the state. Cindy's in Canada. She's my favorite Canadian, by the way. I just want to throw it out there but really look into, like your power company. They have like, these round up programs here in the States, really big in the south, where they ask their customers to round up their services or their fees and they take those funds and they'll distribute it to local nonprofits in the community. And they just have this really simple, tiny little grant application that I really encourage a lot of small nonprofits to try out. Yeah. To apply for it. Really good.
[00:03:14] Cindy: That's so great. And the interesting thing is, I feel like the corporate giving space has shifted a lot more to grants than it used to be. Where now there's formal processes. So very often I see organizations think like, okay, we're going to do corporate and we're going to do grant writing. But often I would say the majority of corporate asks that I see with our clients are now actually more of a grant application. So if you build this skill set, it's kind of like two for one.
[00:03:41]DeaRonda: Yes, absolutely. And that's what I tell start with those like, again, your community foundations, your local companies, whatever they like, power company, utility companies, and get your language together and start applying for your corporate banks, local banks to have grant applications. Again, not anything very difficult if you provide youth services or youth programs. All the kids, they have a smart, simple grant application. The grocery train here in the south, even in the northeastern region as well. So yeah, just really check out those grant applications you're like. You can't afford a grant writer. Start there and see what it is from there.
[00:04:22] Cindy: I love that you mentioned if you can't afford a grant writer because I feel like there's a lot of people in our sector who are doing grant applications who are not formal grant writers. And so I want to talk about some options for them. I mean, one thing, let's talk about hiring out because I get so many questions. Some organizations might be able to save a little bit of money and they want to hire some support. And then after that, I'd love to talk about how you can also develop your internal staff. But in terms of hiring out grant support, I get a lot of questions around like working on commission or how many grant applications should they be submitting. So what does a successful outsource grant writing support look like?
[00:05:10] DeaRonda: Yeah, that's a really good question. So I often get so I'm going to look at this from as a consultant and give you that answer. So other consultants take this advice. When nonprofits reach out to you, they're like, our budget is this small amount. I won't say what it is. I don't want to offend anyone, but now we need to know what is your grant success rating? What is all the grants that you want? They have me, want me to send them five samples and all these things. Those are usually a red flag for me because people that organization already they need my services are like, just send me the contract. So a lot of times they'll have all these requirements but not really in a position to really pay for services, not at a high level, I'll say. So they're more, I don't want to say scared or concerned that their money, the limited amount that they may have for grant writing services, they want to make sure that they're used effectively. So they just may not be in a position to hire a grant writer at the time. And that's totally fine. But as far as the number of applications you should be submitting in a month. I give a number, but again, they're deadlines, like they're grant deadlines. It could be there's been some months, I've sent eight, which is excessively. A lot if you don't know that's. A lot of grants and reports in one month. And then some months it may be two, some months, it may be one. But just what I generally say, on average, for organizations to have a pretty robust grant program, it could be anywhere from three to four grants in a month. Yeah.
[00:06:39] Cindy: What questions should an organization be asking if they are interviewing grant writers?
[00:06:46] DeaRonda: I would say study the grant writer, follow them on LinkedIn. What is their experience in background? What if they want grants in the past? They should have all this information on their LinkedIn or on their website. And I'm one of those people, like, these days you don't even have to have a website, but just really like study them, ask questions, see who else they work with. You don't have to get on the phone and talk to all the people that they work with, but those types of things will just come up naturally if you're following them and see if they're part of any professional or membership organizations. Because if they're in the industry, this is what they do. They study the industry and they want to also be better. So just making sure that you can trust them, they can be trusted. So I just heard so many horror stories that are people paying grant writers and not turning out great at all.
[00:07:34] Cindy: Yeah. One of the big things that I get asked about as a fundraiser is working on commission based. And that is something we've never done and I don't ever think we will do. Can you talk about that myth and why that? Again, that's the wrong question. And I mean, if you have a grant writer working on commission. I would question their sort of professionalism personally, because let's talk about that. Like, why is that kind of a no-no?
Yeah, you just really, really want to stay away from that. They're paying you for your service, they're paying for the research. Teach grant opportunities to put together the grant application to review, study other funders that they've supported. If you've done any type of grant work, you know that it's a lot and you should be compensated for that. Whether they win the grant or not. Of course it's out of the hands of the grant writer, but of course you're going to put together a strong, well written proposal in hopes that they will win the grant application. So again, just always tell people to remember that you're being compensated for your services. Just like you were paying attorney for your special, you're paying accountants for their services, you're paying a grant writer for their services. And then just with the commission, sometimes people say, give me 10% of a $25,000 grant. What if the grant is $2.5 million to give you $250,000, and then the funds that the grant is given to you is for the program and not to pay a grant writer? That's in your budget. So you're misappropriating those funds. So you definitely want to just stay away from commissions just altogether. And I still see this even from grand writers that have been working. They want to move to consultant. They even like, should I get should they pay me on commission? So I know this is a real thing, so just definitely stay away from that.
[00:09:30] Cindy: Yeah. And I do think that often the people who are willing to do that are the ones who are starting out. They don't have experience consulting as a grant writer, and they're kind of like just trying to get work. But that's also a red flag because you want someone with experience. You want someone who knows and understands the work and effort that goes into it, and not just about peppering grant applications out there that are generic or not thought through.
[00:09:59] DeaRonda: Yes, absolutely.
[00:10:00] Cindy: Let's talk about, though, because you mentioned to hire a good grant writer, it takes an investment. And I see this I mean, I had someone reach out and ask for a referral for a grant writer, and I think they said like $25, $30 an hour. And I'm like, first of all, most grant writers I know are about $80 plus dollars an hour, and a lot of them work on retainer. So there are organizations, especially small ones, who are our audience, who don't have the capacity to outsource, but they have staff who've been doing this function, whether it's the executive director or I see a lot of program staff write grants. How can we train them? They're not trained grant writers. What kind of skills do we need to develop in them so that they can actually do this work more successfully, so that they're not sending out a million grant applications, they're being strategic and being successful with those apps?
[00:10:59] DeaRonda: Yeah, they definitely need I think, one of the steps that have been missing some of grant writers miss is the cultivation they jump right into just applying for grants. So your program person that may be applying for grants on behalf of your organization or operations or admin or executive assistant is not talking to the funders. These are people just get on the phone and talk to them. They want to know about your programs and services. They want to know more about your organization and what you're doing. And the impact is important, the impact that you're making in the community. And you'll see sometimes I think what's discouraging for your smaller nonprofits is what's that statement when they try to apply for a grammar, it says, we're not accepting unsolicited proposals. That's just the scary way that means absolutely nothing. It means absolutely nothing to me. I don't care about that. So I just still go on to their 990, check out who's on their board trustees, see who they funded in the past. Is similar to the organization that I may be working with. I'm like, hey, don't you know so and so over there, or even if you don't know anyone, I just really research the board member. I literally, like, stalk the board members. I'll go and just, like, Google their name, see where they work, and I'll send them an email and tell them about the nonprofit that I'm working with. I'll put together, like, a template email to send to the ED. Like, you need to send this email to this person and tell them about your organization. You would be surprised that that works. So small nonprofits, just again, you're promoting yourself. It's like marketing your nonprofit and the things that you're doing, so just don't be afraid to do that.
[00:12:36] Cindy: I want to get into the nitty gritty of that email that you reach out with because I think people send so much information and so many, like, not necessarily proposals, but almost like digital brochures or just like, here's everything you need to know about our organization. What actually needs to go into that first outreach email that makes it successful? Because the goal is not to get the grant in that email. The goal is to open up the conversation. So what do we ask for? How do we send that?
[00:13:11] DeaRonda: So it's literally very short and sweet, like three lines, and that's the email that they're going to read. So you just start off with, hi, introducing you. My name is DeaRonda Harris, and I work at this organization, and I'm the executive director. I'm the newly hired executive director. That's typically what a lot of my clients, they love that. They love that. And we are perfectly aligned with your program and services. You serve young children with developmental disabilities ages ten to 18. We serve already like 300 students this year. We've been able to make this type of impact where there's typically not any programs or services for this population or even the schools may have limited options or availability or training or services for this population. We've been able to show this impact. That's pretty much it. I would love to partner with you. I don't say give us money. I don't say how do we apply for a grant? I don't say any of those things. You say, I would love to partner with you. How can we do that? I'm happy to hop on a call, happy to schedule a meeting. If they're local and you all are local, and you would be surprised. It pretty much works 90% of the time.
[00:14:28] Cindy: Okay, so everyone hit rewind and listen to that again with a pen and paper or type it out because that is gold. That is basically the number one thing most organizations can shift to do way more effectively. And if you don't hear from them that's still okay. Like, a lot of grant processes are more like fill out the form, blah, blah, blah. But you're getting on their radar whether or not they respond.
[00:14:59] DeaRonda: Exactly. And if I don't hear from that board member again, I'm stalking the other ones. I'm going to reach out to the other ones as well. So I highly encourage this email come from the executive director, and I essentially type up the email for them and just have them send it out. And this is what a lot of grant training does do not teach you. They don't teach you cultivation. They don't teach you how to do that. And that's what I teach in my training classes.
[00:14:57] Cindy: Awesome. So let's walk through. You get that meeting again, I think so many organizations are like, great, let's pitch. But what actually happens in that first meeting when you have that conversation? What does cultivation mean and look like? Because it's one of those words that we know as fundraisers and grant writers. We use it a lot. But if that's not your profession, you might not even understand what that means.
[00:15:52] DeaRonda: Yeah, that's a good question. I always tell people, you're just getting on a meeting, you're meeting a new person, so just treat them like a new person. If you were networking, if you read me, then if you are in the supermarket, just talk to them like you talk to when you meet a new person. They're an individual. They're a human being. They're you. So how would you want to be treated? You wouldn't want it to be like a gimme gimme situation. It's a mutual it should be a mutual benefit for funders are typically looking to add new products.
[00:16:22] Cindy: You're helping them do their job.
[00:16:24] DeaRonda: Yeah, they're always looking to find new nonprofits to fund sometimes. So, yeah, just have a conversation. And typically that meeting, that first meeting is just them getting to know you. And then I always tell people, let them talk. Let them talk a lot. You just be quiet and take a lot of notes, and you'll get a lot of information from those meetings. And then they'll open the door and say, we'd love for you to pursue an application. This is what we funded in the past. This is what we're looking to fund now. This is the process to do that, and I can send you the information to get that done.
[00:16:56] Cindy: Love it. I would say the art of grant writing itself is also very specific. This is not like other types of writing, and that's like a huge conversation. And I know you teach us to organizations, but what tips do you have if you are an organization? The things that you need to include as you write a grant to be successful? I always see organizations just kind of like the writing is off. Like, it's not answering the questions that organizations asking for.
[00:17:37] DeaRonda: Start with that. I was just about to say that, and they do not answer the question. I've been a grant reviewer as well, and that actually made me a better grant writer. When I would read the question and I would read the answer, I was like, this didn't answer the question. This isn't what we asked you. We asked you to describe your implementation of your program or your strategy for implementing the program. And I don't even know what you just said in this answer. So that's the skill. It's answering the question, but then not using jargon or not using language, that people that aren't in your industry. So my litmus test, as you will, is I write to a nine year old or three grader. If I was in a classroom and I was doing one of those, what is it, career, they tell me what you do for a living. I always talk like that in my grant applications. They're very simplistic, easy to read, easy to understand. Even if it's like a technical program, it's very simple to understand what's going on. That's the skill set.
[00:18:38] Cindy: I was doing homework with my ten and a half year old son this morning, and he had to answer questions for his math homework, and I'm teaching him to look back at the question and use the language the question uses in the answer. And that's what I do with grants as well. I don't write that many grants anymore, but that's what I'm like. Okay, you rephrase the question in the answer
[00:19:05] DeaRonda: all the time. I literally restate the question. My answer yes.
[00:19:12] Cindy: And I think that just helps you stay on track. And this brings up for me this templating idea, because I know a lot of organizations, they just want the templates that canned answers that they can just plug and play into all of the grant applications that they're doing, but that doesn't always work. So I think that helps me personally overcome that idea of template and actually say, okay, what information are they looking for?
[00:19:40] DeaRonda: Yeah. What I'll try to guide organizations to use this bullet-play language, or some people call it case statement language, but I really stress it has to be tailored, it's going to have to be manipulated, but it gives you that basis, and it really is kind of like how grants need to be answered. That's basically what I'm showing you, that model that you'll have once I'm gone and no longer working at your organization, or you have a new grant writer come in, this is the model, the way that they need to talk your program, and things are going to change. But it's a guide, if you will, for your grant applications. Yeah.
[00:20:11] Cindy: I love it. We get the grant. Woohoo. The work is not done.
[00:20:17] DeaRonda: No.
[00:20:18] Cindy: Right. And again, I think this is where a lot of organizations fall short, is that they think, okay, well, I'm done until I have to report on the gr