Last Wednesday, August 22, eCivis’ very own Dr. Beverly Browning (Dr. Bev), author of Grant Writing for Dummies, was interviewed on Lexinet's "Marketing Talk for Higher Education and Fundraising" radio program to discuss her new book (in fact, her 40th book!), Perfect Phrases for Fundraising, as well as eCivis’ grant writing and review services and our flagship grant database and tracking and reporting system, Grants Network. I’ve excerpted some of that interview to take you into the middle of the discussion. Dr. Bev begins here with a discussion of her division, Grants Professional Services. For clarity’s sake, I’ve ordered things differently for the ease of reading. Be sure to check out the full interview on Mike & Christy’s radio program.
Dr. Bev: In April 2011, I was brought in to launch my division, Grants Professional Services. What that division has turned into is really a miracle. I have over 120 cream-of-the-crop grant professionals, writers, evaluators, budget analysts. I assign them to our clients that come to eCivis for help…. The criteria for getting on our GPS team is rigorous; you have to have a high funding success rate, 80%. That means that if you wrote 10 applications last year, at least 8 of those had to have been funded. And I have some team members who are at 100%.
Mike: Wow that’s pretty impressive. So what you’re saying is, it doesn’t matter how many grants you’ve written. You’ve gotta have results. You’ve gotta have grants that have actually received funding in order to participate in your program.
Dr. Bev: Exactly…. If I were a full-time employer on my own, and I employed a grant writing person, I would be a horrible boss because I would expect 80%, 90%, 100% every year, all the time.
Mike: Because you know it can be done.
Dr. Bev: It can be done, but it means perfect matches, correct funder courting, contact relationship-building, not jumping out there and asking for money from a stranger, and understanding that you look for the money you need next year now, not the money you need next week.
Mike: I love that because what you’re saying is that it’s important to plan ahead, have a strategy, and align your message with the right match. So let me ask you this: For those grant writers that are listening, and they’re thinking, “Okay, Dr. Bev, I’m internal, maybe I don’t have that 80% or 90% that you talk about. How can I achieve that 80-90%?” What are some tips that you can share with that person who is employed?
Dr. Bev: First of all, I’d take a look at what your database subscriptions are…. I like the all-in-one alert. I no longer subscribe to everything in the universe—and I’m not just saying this because I’m with eCivis. If I weren’t with eCivis, I would subscribe to Grant Network: Research, because it’s all there—federal, state, and foundation grants. And I can fine-tune my search. If I want to find funding to start program for Latino middle school children to help them come into my community college and participate in a cultural awareness educational program, I can fine-tune it that much and look for dollars that aren’t elusive…. Once the proposal is submitted and funded—now I need a way to keep track of it, because most writers fall into the task of having to do grants management. I can use our Tracking & Reporting system to do that easily without having a lot more gray hair.
Mike: And how many grants does the typical grant writer have at one time that they’re managing?
Dr. Bev: Well, I’ve talked to some grant managers who are managing upwards to 12 to 15 and they hate what they do.
Mike: And they hate it because they’re not getting results?
Dr. Bev: No, they hate it because they’re also the grant writer, and so that the next time that somebody drops a grant application on their desk and it happens to be from a superior, who says, "Hey, we want to apply for this," they’re already groaning silently.
Mike: Well, right there, I see that as a potential problem. Is that going to allow them enough time not only to put their heart and soul into it, but also to do the appropriate research that needs to be done to make sure that it’s the right match?
Dr. Bev: No, it’s not. I honestly think that the grant manager and grant writer should be two separate positions because it requires two different types of skill sets. The grant writer is the excited, researching, “can’t wait to get these words typed into a paper because this is my award-winning phrase” type of person. The grant manager is the accounting person, the bean counter. You know, crosses the T’s, dots the I’s, files the financials, goes out and talks to program staff. These positions should totally be separated as two full-time jobs.
Mike: What are some of the mistakes that people make in writing a grant application, and what are the top things that they should say or shouldn’t say?
Dr. Bev: The #1 mistake is that you wrote the same application two years ago, it wasn’t funded, you ordered the peer review comments from the federal or state government agency that you submitted the request to, you only missed being recommended for funding by two points, and so you think, “Hey, why rework this document? Let’s just polish this up and send it in.” That’s a red flag. Read the guidelines, write to the guidelines, write everything original, stop all this “copy/paste and use what we did before” thinking. I am federal peer reviewer, and if you don’t entertain me, you are not getting taxpayer funding for your program.
Christy: Do you have an example of a story that you used for a grant application that was compelling and that you could share with the listeners?
Dr. Bev: I have an example that comes from southern Mississippi, and it was back in the ‘90s, and it was one of the most phenomenal grant applications that I've ever written to the U.S. Department of Education. And it was for dropout prevention of high school students to encourage them to graduate and also to encourage them to enter the community college. The problem was that students that were part of the target audience were the highest at risk. They were the students who were either in the juvenile detention facility, or they had been kicked out of school, or they were academically at risk. They were first-generation students to even make it as far as 10th or 11thgrade—that’s how critical this was.
And so when I went to visit the community, I gathered all the demographics, and I came back and I wrote probably the most compelling statement of need that I had ever done at that point in my career. And I talked about all of the problems and I talked about the bright stars that had come from that community, like Leontyne Price, the opera singer. And I talked about how these kids would not even have a chance to even get to that level or even graduate, and that there were approximately 59 gravestones in the local cemetery for teens under the age of 15. And I put this all in the federal grant. Not only were we funded for what we asked for, to do an alternative high school program, but the Education Department did the ceremonial cardboard check presentation in person and they gave more money than what we asked for.
Christy: Wow, I’m imagining the goose bumps on the grant reviewers as they’re reading this story.
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