Globe Syndicate

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

for release March 17, 2000

Twenty Four Hours In Grantwriting Purgatory

Got a problem you want to solve? Get a grant.

The notion that there is a lot of "grant" money out there is like the great scholarship myth. When our oldest applied for scholarships, we learned that most scholarships are available only to students at specific schools, in certain states or provinces or entering a specific field of study. You also have to be good at "finessing" your applications and essays to make two hours of serving at a soup kitchen sound like you poured your heart into it for many years.

There may be a lot of grant money available too-indeed billions, but many of these are only for very specific causes. You also have to be an expert in the fine art of following directions-and in documenting your case. You have to submit applications, rework, and then resubmit them repeatedly in that search for the grant pot of gold. These are my darker, more cynical reflections after spending a week immersed in how to write grants.

While you may think you are not interested in this rather obscure topic, if you are a member of any community group, charitable organization, church, or school group-there may be ideas here of ways you can fund special projects or dreams. Or at least understand the process a little more if your group decides to go after a grant. Experienced grant writers, read this only if you want to tsk-tsk over how little I know.

Actually a grant is the end result-the money. So technically you are learning how to write applications for grants.  There are three basic places to seek funding: government grants, foundations, and corporations. For all, you have to define your project well enough that someone else will not only buy into your vision, but shell out anywhere from a couple of thousand to a couple million.

The government often deals in multi-million dollar programs administered through state, provincial or local agencies. But because of those concerns we all have about ripping taxpayers off, equal opportunity, environment, (the whole governmental nine yards), a government grant also entails many more pages of detail in application and in making eventual evaluations.  Foundations legally have to give away at least 5 percent of their assets every year (again so they don't become a convenient tax write-off for somebody).

Seeking funding from businesses or corporations is best done locally, our instructor said. Look around you to see what buildings or corporate logos you see from the roof of your office, church, or school. Approach the national offices of the local corporations and businesses in your own community.

The key task for all of these is zeroing in on a problem you'd like to solve and a realistic method for getting it done. Sweeping generalizations like "reducing crime" are not generally good to write into a proposal. "You never want to be responsible for a major society shift," said our instructor, Chuck Putney. "Then if the crime rate goes up, you have failed."

The temptation is to start from an idea of something you'd like to do, and then try to write a proposal to fund your idea. Instead, you need to start from the actual need. For instance, you have the idea to educate persons in poverty about its root causes. You think producing a video would do it.

"Poor people don't need a video telling them they're poor," quipped Putney. "Instead of a video, how about a coat?"

In another case, a half way house for women recovering from drug and alcoholic abuse faces closure if it can't fund the very low salaries of three dedicated staff members. However, a foundation may not be inspired to pay for salaries. But if you talk about a grant that makes it possible to help women return to being productive, healthy, useful citizens, that appeals to everyone

The actual grantwriting experience, where we were teamed with 2 or 3 other people and told to produce a grant in 24 hours that would be evaluated by our peers in the training, was something close to being on a cloistered jury. So why not just hire it done by a professional? Really good grantwriters get $70 an hour, and get most of the grants they go after. But you can't write the cost of the grantwriter into the grant proposal, and you still need to know how to plan and administer programs that produce actual results.

I have not begun to scratch the surface of what we learned, but those interested in exploring grant writing further, can contact The Grantsmanship Center, 213-482-9860, or check the website

Comments? Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail:

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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.

NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 770 words; end material = 105 words

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