5 Things You Should Know Before Writing a Grant

5 Things You Should Know Before Writing a Grant

As the Frederick nonprofit community continues to grow, so does the advice that we offer to these organizations. While our specialty is on the legal side of nonprofit management, we want to offer our clients more. This month we invite Mary Ellen Mitchell, local nonprofit expert and CEO of Allow Me Consulting & Housing Frederick to the blog. We first met Mary Ellen as a client of ours, helping her launch and register both the small business and nonprofit organization. Over the next few months, Mary Ellen will be offering insider knowledge and tips for nonprofits. This time it is all about grant writing. Let’s dive in.

Grant writing is not for the faint of heart.

I’ve been writing grants for more than 15 years and I’ve had some wonderful mentors along the way. Their sage advice has helped me keep my cool through the process, and my sanity as well. I am paying it forward and letting you in on a few secrets:

#1 – You will be asked to provide crucial information in a way you don’t keep it. 

As an example – your Board list is organized alphabetically, and the foundation will want you to list them by role and years of service. Some organizations will want more complicated financial forms than you know how to create. Don’t they understand that you just throw receipts in a box and hand it to your accountant once a year and you don’t have audited financials? (Joking/not joking/I’ve seen it) Or maybe you do have audited financials in a PDF – but the file size is too large to attach electronically, and you don’t know how to fix that!

#2 Grant writing is a team effort, even if your boss and board don’t think so.

A grant application requires information about all aspects of your nonprofit, so unless you are a one-person shop, you need input. Financial documents can come from your finance director, board treasurer, accountant or your executive director. Numbers should be reviewed just as closely as spelling and grammar, so find someone to help you verify information.

#3 Applications count characters with spaces

You are going to have to get creative on how you make your case in 250 characters. Yes, characters. Not words. And a space counts as a character.  I don’t know what we did as grant writers to deserve this punishment. Editing down a grant is like eating kale for me; ultimately, it’s a good thing, but I don’t enjoy it. It makes my brain hurt, but it also makes my brain stronger, and it has made me a more creative writer.

#4 Technology is your frenemy

The majority of grant applications are submitted online, which can be convenient. Convenient until you realize you didn’t back up your work in the application. (I did it once, and wasted hours and tears in frustration rebuilding my brilliance, while bemoaning my stupidity.) Note to self: hit save, a lot. My suggestion is that you copy and paste the grant questions or download the application to your computer and work from there, which makes point #3 above that much easier.

#5 Don’t wait until deadline day

We are busy people. We wear many hats. And inevitably, we find out about a grant a day or two before it is due. And because we are nonprofit heroes, we rush forward and try to beat the deadline. Deadlines don’t scare us! We are strong, until we realize that the CFO is the only one with the audited financials on her computer – and she is on the plane to Bora-Bora and no one knows her password. Another note to self: don’t ask the CFO for documents on the days the auditors are in the office, or on tax day, or the last day of the month when she is trying to reconcile the budget.

In conclusion, being a grant writer takes patience, the ability to keep one’s cool and a great deal of respect for other people’s time and the information they can provide to you. It’s important to see what you are writing about first hand, so whenever possible engage in the mission of your organization. Your first hand experience will add depth to your grants. Engage with your colleagues and get their input, impressions and reports to inform your ability to write and thought provoking and heart felt application.

Upcoming Workshop

If your staff, volunteers or Board members could use a primer on grant writing, this is the workshop to attend. Mary Ellen Mitchell of Allow Me Consulting has been an intrepid grant writer for nearly 2 decades and has not permanently damaged a CFO yet – or so she tells us.  Join her for the “How to Write a Grant” workshop on Friday, February 7 from 10:30am to Noon in the 2nd floor STEM class Room at the C Burr Artz Library, 110 East Patrick Street in downtown Frederick. You will learn grant writing basics. She will cover where to start, how to research, what you need in place – plus how to set yourself up for success in managing your grant and reports. The workshop is free to attendees, but a sign up here would be appreciated.

About Mary Ellen

Mary Ellen is the CEO at Housing Frederick & CEO at Allow Me Consulting. After 20 years in the industry, she launched her own consulting firm to provide nonprofits and small businesses with capacity building and public relations expertise. She launched the nonprofit Housing Frederick in 2019 to collaborate, advocate, and educate the community on affordable housing.

She has a strong track record in program and event creation, strategic planning, and partnership building in the fields of education, health, and housing.

She serves the community through the Frederick Coalition for Financial Success, Leadership Frederick County Council, the Women’s Giving Circle, and as an appointed member of the Frederick County Government’s Affordable Housing Council.

You can reach Mary Ellen at me@allowmeconsulting.com or ceo@housingfrederick.com.