How Eight Days A Week’s Worth of Writing Tips Can Make You Memorable, Fundable and Unique

Do you have a project you  are passionate about?

Chances are you will need other people to fall in love with what you are doing to make your project a success.  You will need a bigger pool of supporters and fans to rally and believe in your work.

How do you convey what you know so well to a prospective patron or supporter?  With so many people competing for funding for their projects, do you ever wonder if your letter of inquiry has a chance?

According to a recent grant panel I participated in, the funder awarded 20 grants out of a pool of 1700 applicants.   Pretty competitive.

Foundations, philanthropies, and government funders are overwhelmed with requests . You probably are just as frustrated by the process.

So how can you make your next letter of inquiry jump out of the slush pile into the yes pile?  Where do you start and is it worth the effort?

You bet it is. And it’s easier than you think.

Chances are, your letter is one of many similar letters that land on the desk of a grant officer slowly drowning in a sea of paper.  Now, if you were that person, what would be the first thing you would want to do to make your life easier?

Here’s a hint:  Hunting for a reason to keep a letter in the slush pile is not the answer.

The truth is, that first thing that reader wants to do is whittle down the pile of letters to consider by eliminating the weak ones.  You don’t want to give them any reason to toss your letter out of the pile.

You work hard for what you love and now you need to that love to come back to you.

8 WAYS TO CLINCH YOUR LETTER OF INQUIRY

I sat on a panel with three very smart people from a foundation, a politician’s office and from the artist community.  After spending time reading drafts of letters of inquiry from attendees seeking financial support, we came away with a handful of advice.

Eight tips, to be precise.  I paired them with some images in this quick little video.  They are also here with some of my thoughts.

The following are eight ways to get Eight Days A Week  worth of love for that project you love.  They are easy to use and can double your letter’s appeal and chances for getting to yes:

 

1.  Be Clear

clarity
Arthur Schopenhauer


Be simple and clear about what you need.  The clarity of your request will be greatly appreciated by people who do not have to go digging through pages of text to find out exactly who you are, what you want and most important of all, how they can be helpful.

Example:

“I respectfully request $10,000  (WHAT)  to support three productions of original plays about seeking identity as second generation immigrants  (WHY and WHY THIS MATTERS)  by emerging Bengali playwrights  (WHO)  to take place in September  (WHEN) at the XYZ Theatre  (WHERE).”

 

2. Be Short & Sweet

 

short and sweet
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Use short sentences.  Choose simple words, not jargon.

Say:

  • children under 5, not constituent
  • make friends, not outreach
  • work with people, not implement a program
  • understand, not seek common ground
  • see if it works, not assess the metrics

Your writing should follow The Mini Skirt Rule and be:

Long enough to cover the basics and short enough to be enticing.

3. Do Your Homework

do your homeworkSamuel Taylor Coleridge

Nothing is worse than a letter requesting apples from someone that has oranges.

Take the time to find out what projects your local legislator has funded in your district to see if your project is something they would be interested in.

Example:

“Your support of the ABC reading series for seniors at local library branches is a greatly needed and appreciated community program.  Our intergenerational open mic workshop has been carefully designed to build upon this success and to give local seniors more ways to become involved with the rapidly growing literary community in your district.”

 

You have shown your knowledge of a project that has been recently funded.  Rather than duplicate efforts, you are enhancing this  program’s success by collaborating with other local resources.  This shows you understand how to build working partnerships and how to leverage support in a deeper way.

 

4. Update Your Website

TourGuides_1980-2

 

The first place people will go to find out more about you is your website.

Make sure there is fresh content on your homepage and that your contact information is up to date and easy to find.  Add images to make your pages more attractive.

A ghost town website will undermine your credibility.

5. Love Your Layout

written text

Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone

Dorothy Parker

Most people skim before they read.  A wall of text is sure to make someone’s eyes glaze over.

Why not break up your text into two or three short paragraphs and add white space to “let your words breathe”?

Use bulleted lists to make it easy for your eyes to focus on important points.

 

6. Get Another Set of Eyes

get a second set of eyes

Abraham Lincoln

Not your mom.  She will love you no matter what you write.

Get someone unfamiliar with your field to review your letter and see if your message is clear to them.   Ask a colleague to proofread your work.

Then ask your mom.

7. Make it Easy

make it easy

Zig Ziglar

If you are sending work samples such as a video or an audio recording, make sure everything is clearly marked and cued up ready to go.  This is actual proof that you are an expert in what you love to do and promise of your potential.  A little attention to the technical details will prevent glitches from preventing people from seeing you in action.

Send your letter out as a PDF and as an attachment.

Having your document in both formats makes it easier for people to access no matter how old or temperamental their computer is.  People will appreciate having options.

8. Follow up

follow up

Rose Kennedy

Now that your letter has been sent,  you have an opportunity to check in.  If you are successful, say thank you.  A lot.  You can never express your appreciation enough.

If you are not successful, you can call and say thank you for their consideration.  You can also develop a relationship by asking for panel comments and where you fell short so that you can do a better job the next time.

No is not no.  It is not yet waiting to become a yes.

 


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The S & M Secrets of Pro Bono

photo (3)
Robert Acton
“I have a confession to make…”
OK, you got my attention.  And attention, as if all you smart people don’t already know, is the most important thing in the world in marketing.

Pro Bono, for me?

I actually don’t remember what the confession was, and by this time, the speaker, Robert Acton, the Executive Director, NY of the Taproot Foundation, was well into his talk with a roomful of eyeballs focused on the topic of the day – pro bono management training.
Yes, I got up really early, hopped on the 6:35 ferry from Rockaway, downed two coffees at The Blue Spoon before catching an uptown train to Irving Place to spend the next few hours to:
  1. Learn the principles of great pro bono
  2. Maximize the value of my investment in pro bono
  3. Scope a pro bono project that meets my needs
  4. Discover how to find and secure pro bono resources
  5. Prepare for managing my pro bono engagement
  6. Plan my next steps for implementing a pro bono engagement

Are Pro Bono projects for me?

Pro bono is a powerful resource.
This is something the good folk at ConEd Power of Giving Forum realized when the got together with the Taproot Foundation to host  Need Marketing? Go Pro Bono, a session to strengthen their nonprofit partners – I love that they call us partners, not grantees which sound like a lesser form of plant life, in my opinion –  by giving us the tools and training we need to get successful pro bono engagements.
Powered by Pro Bono, the Service Grant Program of the Taproot Foundation, has a similar goal: “to help nonprofit organizations scope, secure, manage, and scale pro bono resources independently and sustainably, so that they can scale the impact on the communities they serve.”
photo (2)
Stacey Winter
There were two Taproot consultants at Table 3.  Virginia, of  Blake West, Blake West & Co. LLC  told me that she spent thirty years in the corporate marketing world and felt it was time to give back.  Monica Juniel Byers of Ensequence Inc.,  in a panel later on in the session moderated by Stacey Winter, Program Director, NY of the Taproot Foundation, mentioned other reasons people do pro bono work that included the following:
  • People want to help
  • A new challenging project is very appealing
  • People have a personal interest and passion for your work
  • Interest in nonprofit world

What does a successful Pro Bono project need from me?

  • Give beginning and end date – people like closure and to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Also, people have a lot of other stuff going on in their lives.
  • Clearly articulate the project – clarity is a great way to manage expectations and gives the consultant a way to understand how much time will actually be needed for the project.
  • How to keep momentum going?  Forward motion, show progress, stay connected.
  • Show appreciation, say thank you a lot
  • Stay on deadline – and of course, stay in touch.
  • Send consultants invitations to stuff you do – this is a great way for them to see you in a different light and to become excited about the work you do.  A gala, performance or special event is a perfect way to build dimension to your relationship.
  • Training is part of the project – consultants want to make sure the project is sustainable.
All of us in the room share common challenges – lack of time, staff and resources.  Clearly, getting pro bono assistance has great appeal for nonprofits.  In an interesting ice breaker, we discovered other  commonalities at our own tables.  Some of the more unexpected ones were:
  1. We’ve all seen the wizard of oz
  2. Love to drink and never been arrested.
  3. All been to circus.  We all have been to the Bronx.
  4. We love garlic and hope you will still talk to us.

The S & M of Pro Bono

Once you strip away all the hype, the drama, the melodrama, take off the bells, whistles, whips and chains and chances are you will have a simple, straight forward act whether it is sex, drugs, rock & roll or  your pro bono project.   You will probably find yourself  thinking, “Is this what the big fuss is all about?”

What I really like are the bullets and the clear layout of a working plan that we were encouraged to think about.  These were the big bullets in the workbook and for me, the essence of it all:

Scope  
 – Can you clearly define the work that needs to be done?
Secure  
 – Who is out there and where do you find them?
Manage
 – Act like a paying client

Some final words of advice for managing Pro Bono

I am always surprised at how basic and common sense like professional advice can be.   Short of rocket science, you can accomplish a great deal with common sense and courtesy.  Here are some parting words of wisdom from the Taproot consultant panel:
  • Know what you know
  • Ask questions
  • Avoid summer
  • Keep your organization aligned and on board with consultant
  • Be clear about what you want accomplished at the end of the project
  • Treat project as professional

What are your next steps?

 There is a lot to think about and even more to work on should you decided to work on your own pro bono project.  I suggest you begin with three things:
Join the Powered by Pro Bono group on LinkedIn
Read Powered by Pro Bono from the Taproot Foundation
Best of luck!

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How To Get A Grant In Literature

lip books

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GRANTS PANELIST

Bowed by the heat of August, and somewhat intimidated by the willowy and unspeakably beautiful models wafting into the elevator, matchsticks stemming out of stilettos, maybe a hundred or so per elevator car, I emerged, ego crushed, onto the tenth floor of 300 park avenue south where I would spend the next two days poring over literature grant applications at the New York State Council on the Arts, seeking  coffee and people who looked, and thought and talked more or less like, well, me.

I spend a lot of time around grants, grants panels, grantmakers conferences.  big, small, national, regional, family foundations as well as my own council grantmaking activities. At the end of the day, after every rating has been entered, every comment logged, every cookie eaten, there is always that sigh that rushes through the group that wishes the applicants could have done this better, or avoided doing that, we grumble about the bigger picture, the smaller pool of money, we long for more time to talk about what we just went through, call it a policy discussion, a debriefing or simply going out for drinks around the corner.

For those of you who want to surf on that collective sigh as one of the bright spots, one riding the crest of the next ratings sheet, here are my comments on this panel:

NUTS & BOLTS

To give you an idea of what an actual day of panel is like,  I list a few of my own personal criteria.  Why is this important?  Panelists are human beings too, and the distinction in this case is that we have already spent hours reading and reviewing pages upon pages of grant applications and are about to confer the almighty rating to determine their funding status. Be nice to us.

    1. Care of panelists
      1. food:  Fresh fruit, homemade cookies, lovely berries.  Coffee available upon arrival.
      2. egrant interface:  Wonky at first, who knew you had to send in an affiliation statement?  I would have preferred having all applications and work sample materials available in one place.  Not two screens.  What about prescoring?  That would save some time and provide a place to start from.  It is also really interesting to see if panelists change their scores upon discussion.
      3. panel experience:  In these literature panels, we are daytrippers, dipping our toes into poetry, unleashing flashes of philosophy, self deprecating humor, bookish, fierce, loving.  We opened  our first day with a reading of a poem by Jorge Valente entitled, “Song” followed by a metaphor by one fellow panelist about how being in the lobby of a modeling agency immersed among throngs of the most beautiful people on the planet reminded him of what Billy Joel said as he was standing next to Christie Brinkley, his ex wife and gorgeous person, “I feel like a slab of bacon.”  Another voice piped in quickly, “But people love bacon!”
    2. number of applicants:  27
    3. amount of money to be granted: Unknown, but last year I hear it was about $960,000.00

WHAT CAN HELP YOU GET YOUR NEXT GRANT

The Most Common Mistakes

BUDGET NOTES:

I think most of us are willing to fund an organization showing a deficit, possibly a string of them, as long as there is an explanation about it and they are thoughtful about describing their plans to address it.

SELECTION PROCESS: 

We want to know your strategy for making choices.  How are schools and artists chosen? Can you explain your curation process?

TYPOS:

Are you kidding? This is a literature panel.  You will not be punished for bad grammar, misspelling and typos.  You will be crucified.

 

THINGS THAT MAKE A PANEL LOVE YOU

UNABASHED COMMITMENT:

Care and feeding of writers and all their needs including laundering their linen.  This is the philosophy of a small and dedicated organization, passionate to its dyed hair roots, serving up literature, at its very, loving best.

 

HONESTY:

Be fearless and honest about stating your challenges.  We will sooner sympathize and rally around a sinner than a whitewashed prayer. We appreciate honesty and actually see glimpses of growth in your challenge areas.

 

RAPID RE-INVENTION:

Project funding is rapidly sinking in the rearview mirror of the program funding roadster hugging the curves of economic development.  I love how some groups embrace the new reality by being proactive in working with the big guns in establishing their internal capitalization structure, creating risk capital and pointing their navigators forward into a wider range of future partnerships.

Hmmm, that sounded really clunky, way too much jargon.

Let me say that in English:  Be creative about making the new economic realities work for your bottom line.

 

SOLVE A REAL PROBLEM

Seize a problem and do something about it.  Like a project that seeds a group of diverse interns in the white publishing industry.  (Grumbling point:  This application could have been more specific about the backgrounds of the interns).

What a political statement, an unapologetic shot across the bow of the publishing industry!

FROM THE WATERCOOLER

Looking back over my notes, these are the topics that kept coming up throughout our review. I think they are illuminating and can help guide your thinking as you write your next grant.

    1. EXPECTATIONS, UNEXPLORED POTENTIAL & INNOVATION:  Expectations shift with every group. What is acceptable for a small group in a remote rural area is not acceptable for an organization immersed in urban density because of the difference in  unexplored potential. So, is potential, unexplored or not, a criteria on the list?  Going forward, what are you doing that is new and innovative?  This is a benchmark question that only two or three groups answered successfully by stepping into the discomfort of being different and defining what success looks like, talks like and behaves like in their own particular universes.  The key here is to create a set of finite local successes that not only address immediate problems but resonate deeply in the universe of human experience.
    2. MULTIYEAR FUNDING:  How do you give and manage multiyear funding to organizations in flux and change?
    3. DIVERSITY, RACE & THE UNDERSERVED:  This goes beyond the easily pencilled in categroies of white, black, hispanic and asian.  How do you define these in your practice and community?  Are the developmentally disabled, queer, aging, youth at risk, jail spouses, foster children, migrant workers, deaf and refugee populations included in your definition of diversity or underserved?  aAre the underserved the same as marginalized?  Is it about access and opportunity?  Who are the gatekeepers?

 TWO PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS

    1. There is great interest in the idea of reinvention. For example, Joyce Carol Oates reclaiming the gothic novel as a feminist novel, a feminist press reconfiguring women in pulp novels from the 50’s that were originally anti feminist in tone, indie presses reinventing the independent book store as an Amazon model of niche, curated ebook sites.   This lead to the the question:  How hard is it to reinvent oneself, to keep the verve and vibrant energy of more youthful years, in an organization for so many years?
    2. Great panelist comment about an idiosyncratic, yet successful, applicant: “They will never be world class, but they will be classy in their own world”

I think that people who need to have their passion for literature funded should start asking themselves it the things they do really, I mean really, deserve to exist.  Clearly, people want literature to make life unapologetically rich, full and open to unexpected fullness.

Who doesn’t want that?

I hope that my punch list of observations, tips, hints at greatness and fiercely held preferences guide you in writing the great american novel of grant applications.

To your success!

Can a Poem Save the World?

 

We are all in love with the written word

The annual LitTAP convening draws people out of their insular silos and into a space where we are startled by the presence of so many others just like us – lovers of the written word.

Actually, I am hopping around in the space where text, image and  restless thought live at the center of the Venn diagram of my life.  I wrestle with each demon that fights for center stage.

 

It is a stage as gracious as the head of a pin.

This recent convening took place on another kind of stage. A sound stage at Kaufman Astoria Studios at the intersection of creative industry, Queens Council on the Arts, fabulous food, the Museum of the Moving Image and the flagship performing high school created by the Sinatra family and Tony Bennett, Astoria’s home boy.

A perfect place to make visual how one board member’s passion for the work of the Queens Council on the Arts became the site of a statewide discussion on how we and our board members can be better champions of the literary world. H

Here are some things I heard that stuck with me:

  • Mission gives you the power to say no.
  • Don’t be afraid to make the ask. Think of it as a chance for someone to invest in something they care about.
  • “No” is often code for “not yet”.
  • Say “Thank you” a lot.
  • I don’t know what to do first. Maybe I should eat this cookie.

 

Love those Poets in Unexpected Places!

I captured what I could with my Flip video camera.  Watch the magic here!

 

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Measuring Success: What Kind Of Yardstick Do You Use?

 


shelves3

 

lovely photo from diane

 

post by Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer

 

 

 

Are all of the front desk assistants of the National Endowment for the Arts pregnant?

Some things you simply cannot avoid wondering about if you happen to be outnumbered by young women, hands cradling their swollen bellies, waddling around the hallowed halls of the NEA.  “It is a very busy time.  Everyone is going from one meeting to another,” murmured Vanessa, a slender woman – not pregnant – who greeted us at the offices for local arts agencies where we  were scheduled for a meeting.

This is our yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, a time for me to personally touch base with the folks who shepherd our grant requests through the labrynth of their panel process and with whom I have become good friends with over the years.  I like the train ride down to DC, wandering wide eyed through Union Station and stopping to say a quick hello to everyone before they duck into yet another meeting.

2013-02-06 11.07.51

the lovely ladies working for local arts agencies

“We love when people come to see us, especially now that our travel budgets have been cut.  I wish more people did,” said one director to me who I caught grabbing a quick lunch at the Indian take out place.  I have to admit I don’t understand why more nonprofits don’t make it a priority to visit funders.  Every time I sit down with the directors, it is a chance for me to let them know what we are doing, what we intend to apply for and very often I will gain a valuable insight or piece of advice that will make our proposal rock.  If you want to be a successful grantwriter, consider this:  there is an art to writing for money.

This time, the big thing is innovation and transformation.  They want something that presents new learning or insights.  Something replicable and measurable.

“What does that look like to you? ”  I asked.  “Can you give me an example?”

Answer the Question, Goddamnit!

The director smiled.  “We talk about that a lot  The answer to your question is that we will know it when we see it.”

This is an answer?

They don’t know what a successful innovative and transformative project is.  And if they don’t know that, they cannot describe it.  Or measure it.

LIke many other funding opportunities out there, the NEA wants to see their dollar make an important impact.  Something that changes and transforms lives.  A model that can be replicated in other places.  And it falls to the artists and creative thinkers to visualize a project that can do all that and, most of all, deliver such an experience that allows the vision of the funders to bundle up the act and set up shop in another place.

It is a competitive category.  We need to leave no doubt among the grant panelists that yes, we are worthy of funding.  Why?  Because we transform lives.

How do we do this?

By creating a picture of the success we intend to create and a space for a funder to feel part of something that is moving towards real and tangible goals with benchmarks that can feed back into the process.

 

Do They Know?

Anyone who tells you “they will know it when they see it” has no idea what “it” is, which actually is a very good thing.  It is an admission of not knowing what they want to achieve, only knowing why.  This is a very good thing.  It tells me funders are willing to be outcomes focused and open to anything  as long as it is new in philosophy and that it changes something. To make art make a difference.

 

 

What You Should Know

For us, transformation has to be demonstrated by what an artist does with the skills, learnings and confidence gained by being part of what Queens Council on the Arts provides.  It is no longer and, in my book, never was enough to describe success as well attended events or satisfied customers.  How do I know this and why do I believe so strongly in this comes from simply watching the body language, especially the eyes, of the directors.  Their eyes did not light up when we talked about how happy the artists were to be part of the workshops, and to learn new skills.  We will have to create a vivid image of success that we will set as our goal which will be the artist as a confident, engaged, creative professional whose art can change the world.  Our yardstick will be the gradual changes their art and their actions cause in the world.

Here’s an excerpt from Marion Conway’s summary of the 2013 Annual Letter by Bill Gates:

In the last year Beth Kanter has been talking about the importance of measurement to the networked nonprofit.  Now Bill Gates opens his 2013 Annual letter talking about it with a quote from William Rosen’s  “The Most Powerful Idea in the World.”  Bill writes: “Without feedback from precise measurement, Rosen writes, invention is “doomed to be rare and erratic.” With it, invention becomes “commonplace.”……..But in the past year I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal-in a feedback loop similar to the one Rosen describes. This may seem pretty basic, but it is amazing to me how often it is not done and how hard it is to get right.

 

There, I said it.  And I believe it.

What does success look like, move like, sound like for what you do?

This way of thinking could be catching.  Unlike pregnancy, thank God.

 

 

 

 

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