Common Grant Application Overview


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The San Antonio Funders Group presents "Preparing Effective Responses to the Narrative Questions in the San Antonio Common Grant Application".

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  • (Limit, 400 words)
  • Here you are trying to explain to the funder: why this project?1. How do you know that your target population needs the services youare proposing?2. Can you document this need? (If no outside documentation exists, youmay want to consider conducting your own needs assessment.)
  • Here is a really effective way to make your case. This is 96 words, 580 characters, by the way. Start with the general issue – something universal about the problem that would be true in most locations. Then zoom in on your community, neighborhood or service area to get more specific. You don’t need to include the underlined words or bullet point format; that’s just to help break it down for you.
  • To restate, here again is an example of the right way to write a needs statement. Note that it does not talk about the need of the agency for funds. It really is about the clients.
  • Funders know the 2010 Census data are out. They won’t be impressed if you copy and paste Census 2000 data from an old proposal.Be careful what sources you cite. Google Scholar lets you find articles from peer-reviewed journals. P.S. This advice refers to any question asking for data.
  • 400 words
  • For example, to carry forward the day care example, you might give the funder the demographics on the parents you will serve. What is the breakdown of their race/ethnicity? If it’s relevant to their ability to obtain services, what percentage are recent immigrants?What are the children’s ages?How many families in your service area are single-parent families?If a foundation has a stated interest in single mothers, be sure to say what percentage of families have a single mother as head of household.
  • 800 words totalThis might look like a lot, but some applicants will only have to complete 2 of these bullet points. Part A is required for everybody. You only complete B or C, not both. Depending on your project, you might not need to answer D, E, or F. Answer only if applicable.
  • To follow up on the example in the last bullet point: Are you using an existing curriculum? Developing a new one? Is it evidence-based? How many educators will you use? Will they pair with family members of people who were killed by drunk drivers? Any images? Free breathalizers?
  • Some funders prefer existing (“proven”) programs. Some prefer new (“innovative”) ones. Check funder guidelines or call them to find out. You will answer either Part B or Part C, not both.
  • You will answer either part B or part C, not both.
  • This question is optional – if you don’t have any collaborative partners on this project, you don’t need to answer it.
  • This question is also optional.
  • This question is also optional. If your program is entirely grant-funded, you do not need to answer it.
  • Question 4 has a 400 word limit.
  • Example:For example, if the problem is too many DWI deaths, you should be seeking some change either related to people’s attitudes about drinking and driving, or some change related to their actual behavior (fewer DWI deaths). One is short-term, the other is longer-term.Not all programs produce lasting change. For example, safety-net programs such as soup kitchens do not necessarily change lives, but they do make them better for a short period. In other words, the soup kitchen does not address the root causes of hunger, it addresses the symptoms. The change is short-lived (people are not hungry today). For this reason, it is less meaningful to talk about change for this type of program. How will you know you have succeeded in creating change, if that is your goal? For the DWI example, you could measure attitude change with before-and-after surveys. Or you could track the number of DWI deaths per capita in your community before you started the education program, vs. after you have operated it for a year. It is possible to measure the effect on people’s lives even for something as subjective as the arts. You could ask patrons to self-report on how their quality of life has been changed by exposure to a certain performance, exhibit, or series, and you could ask them to rate it on a scale from 1 to 5. You could also ask them to rate the quality of each experience.
  • SpecificMeasurable (can be quantified) – helpful to say how you will measure the outcome. AttainableResults-oriented (about change)Time-limited (accomplished within a specific time period)A common error is to write goals (outcomes) unrelated to the needs statement. If you want kids to stay in school, be sure your needs statement addressed the drop-out rate in your service area.
  • Example of a brief summary: “We will measure the improvement in perceived quality of life for cancer survivors. Please see attached sheet for a listing of four objectives and details about the types of measurement instruments to be used.”
  • This question is also optional, unless a particular funder requires it. Limit: 200 words
  • Word limit is 200 words. You do not need to include every item in the suggested list.
  • A lot of beginning proposal writers think it’s necessary to give a long history – we were founded in 1865 by a circuit rider named Samuel Johnson; the first board was composed of local ranchers; in 1972 we built a new facility. It’s okay to say when your organization was founded, but funders are more interested in what you’re doing today. Example:“Our agency is very complex. We operate 27 different programs in 15 counties, working with over 60 collaborative partners.”
  • The point of Question 7 is to ensure that you are not operating in a vacuum.Limit: 400 words
  • The IRS lists 3,453 tax-exempt nonprofits in San Antonio alone. Don’t assume your agency is the only one doing what you’re doing.
  • I’m going to show you three FREE ways to find out what similar organizations are in your area. In Publication 78, you can search by agency name or by zip code.
  • In this example, I searched for nonprofits in San Antonio with the word “Shelter” in their names. I could also have used my organization’s zip code if I was just interested in my neighborhood.
  • In this example, I searched for Day Care providers in San Antonio. GuideStar found 47 nonprofit agencies. This does not include for-profit day cares.
  • In this example, I put my work address into the map, then clicked “Search Nearby.” I searched for “Day Care.” Google found several day care providers near my office.
  • This bullet point is optional, too.
  • Here are some great resources you should use to help develop your funding strategies.The most current information will be from Funder Websites and their 990s.
  • You can obtain a Form 990 for a foundation from GuideStar, for free.
  • Checking for board cross-relationships is useful when it’s a Texas foundation; maybe one of your board members went to high school with one of their board members.
  • Don’t let your creativity lead you to ignore the rules. Foundations get frustrated when applicants ignore their guidelines. Some of the more competitive foundations have staff people whose job is to check to see if you used the wrong font size or smaller margins than allowed. A lot of proposals are eliminated during this “technical review.” Forgetting signatures or attachments can also make your proposal non-responsive.
  • Misplaced modifiers may sound like a minor detail, but they can change themeaning of a statement in unintended ways. For example: “Eight new choirrobes are currently needed, due to the addition of several new members and tothe deterioration of some older ones.”Don’t think that using bureaucratic jargon makes your proposal soundmore “official.” Actually, it just makes it annoying and pretentious. Simpleis better. Consider this memo sent to President Franklin Roosevelt duringWorld War II:“Such preparations shall be made as will completely obscure all federal buildingsoccupied by the federal government during an air raid for any period of timefrom visibility by reason of internal or external illumination. This will, of course,require that in building areas in which production must continue during a blackout,construction be provided, that internal illumination continue. Other areas,whether or not occupied by personnel, may be obscured by terminating the illumination.”Here is Roosevelt’s translation:“In buildings where work will continue, put something across the windows. Inbuildings where work can be stopped during an air raid, turn out the lights.”
  • NOTE: In the Common Grant Application, we do not yet have a common budget format. Each funder will specify their own. Some will provide a form. Budget should flow from activities, which flow from objectives, which flow from goals, which flow from needs. A common beginner’s mistake is to include an item in the budget that was not part of the narrative. Example: You are asking for funds for a senior exercise program, but your narrative doesn’t mention that it involves water aerobics. The grant budget includes flotation noodles and swimming pool rental. If you don’t know how you will spend your money, you should probably return to the program development phase.
  • Other tips: Put your organization’s name on the budget form. Apparently, this is a common omission.Also, you should indicate which income is pending and which is firm, or committed.
  • If you don’t ask for everything you’ll really need, the program could run a deficit, or fail to meet its goals.
  • Example: A clinic with volunteer doctors or dentists – this can be a large and substantial in-kind donation of time.
  • Common Grant Application Overview

    2. 2. COMMON GRANT APPLICATION Introduced in Fall 2012 Currently, 10 funders in the San Antonio/ Hill Country area are using (or plan to use) this application. We expect more. Funders will use the same wording for the narrative questions.
    3. 3. HOW WILL FUNDERS USE THE QUESTIONS? All funders will use same wording and word limits You may see different formatting requirements (font sizes, margins) Some may use an online application with form fields; some may use a paper form There may be some supplemental questions in addition to these (funders’ discretion) Some funders may opt not to ask all these questions (just some of them)
    4. 4. WORKSHOP STRUCTURE Part 1: The specific narrative questions (and strategies for effective responses): 90 minutes Part 2: Tips from the San Antonio Funders’ Group on effective grant-seeking: 90 minutes
    6. 6. GENERAL APPROACH TO NARRATIVE Q’SFor all questions: Shorter is better Answer just the question being asked
    7. 7. Q1. PROBLEM OR NEED STATEMENT Describe the problem or need your program/project will address.
    8. 8. Q1. PROBLEM OR NEED STATEMENT This is the motive for the program, and the basis on which you build the proposal. Start with broader issues and work toward more specific (local) ones.
    9. 9. Q1. PROBLEM OR NEED STATEMENTSAMPLE ANSWER General Issue: Without affordable daycare, low-income families are trapped in a cycle of poverty. Because a parent (typically the mother) must stay home with the children, she cannot pursue an education, job training, or look for work that will cover child care expenses. Specific Issue: 40% of families in our community with preschool aged children live below the federal poverty level and cannot afford any of the commercial daycare programs here ($xx per day). Our program currently serves half of all the low-income children in town. There is not sufficient capacity among other providers to meet all low-income need.
    10. 10. Q1. PROBLEM OR NEED STATEMENTAvoid Circular Thinking Do not describe your program in the needs statement. Example: The needs statement for a breast cancer screening program would be where you give statistics about breast cancer incidence and mortality rates in your community. It’s not where you describe your screening program.
    11. 11. Q1. PROBLEM OR NEED STATEMENTWrite in terms of client needs Never write a grant proposal about your agency’s needs; write in terms of how the project will help the clients. In the daycare example, the WRONG way to write a needs statement would be: “Our daycare needs funds to help it expand.” In the grant world, agencies don’t have needs; their clients have needs.
    12. 12. Q1. PROBLEM OR NEED STATEMENTSample Answer General Issue: Without affordable daycare, low-income families are trapped in a cycle of poverty. Because a parent (typically the mother) must stay home with the children, she cannot pursue an education, job training, or look for work that will cover child care expenses. Specific Issue: 40% of families in our community with preschool aged children live below the federal poverty level and cannot afford any of the commercial daycare programs here ($xx per day). Our program currently serves half of all the low-income children in town. There is not sufficient capacity among other providers to meet all low-income need.
    13. 13. Q1. PROBLEM OR NEED STATEMENTDON’T USE STALE DATA  2010 Census data now available  Use reputable sources  Compare local data to state and national when appropriate
    14. 14. Q1. PROBLEM OR NEED STATEMENTRESOURCE: AMERICAN FACT-FINDER Free Compare your service area to state and national averages
    15. 15. Q1. PROBLEM OR NEED STATEMENTRESOURCE: GOOGLE SCHOLAR For doing literature reviews, a handy free place to start your research
    17. 17. Q1. PROBLEM OR NEED STATEMENT Any other favorite data sources you would like to share with the group?
    18. 18. Q1. PROBLEM OR NEED STATEMENT:IN-CLASS WRITING EXERCISE Write a needs statement for a program you have in mind. Start with the general issue, then move to the specific case in your service area. You can make up imaginary statistics for the purpose of the exercise (obviously not for a real proposal).
    19. 19. Q2. PEOPLE TO BE SERVED Describe the people to be served by this program/project (with information such as age, gender, ethnicity, geographic area(s), income and/or poverty level). Please be sure to mention any demographics or other conditions that are important to this funder (for example, if this funder specializes in a particular population, health condition, etc., be sure to address that).
    20. 20. Q2. PEOPLE TO BE SERVEDRELATED TO NEED STATEMENT, BUT DIFFERENT Need statement (Q1) describes the situation and why it matters Description of people to be served (Q2) gives a profile of who you expect to serve
    21. 21. Q3. PROGRAM/PROJECT DESCRIPTIONa. Describe the program/project for which funding is being requested and its primary purpose. Briefly describe how the funds will be used (including program/project activities).b. If this is an ongoing program/project: What have been past indicators of success? What have been challenges to achieving success? Any recent enhancements? Answerc. If this is a new program/project (new to your agency): What is the basis for expecting that the program/project will succeed? B or C (Anecdotal information? Evidence-based practices? Literature review? Other?)d. Do you plan to collaborate with any other organizations on this program/project? If so, which ones and how? (If more than four agencies, state the number of agencies you collaborate with, and include an attachment listing their names.)e. How does this program/project fit with your organization’s mission? (If you believe it’s obvious, skip this question, but Answer this is your chance to make the case if you need to do so.) only iff. We assume most nonprofits will sustain/continue their they are programs/projects by seeking additional grants. Any plans to sustain this program/project other than grants? relevant
    22. 22. Q3. PROGRAM/PROJECT DESCRIPTIONA. DESCRIBE THE PROGRAM/PROJECT FOR WHICH FUNDING IS BEINGREQUESTED AND ITS PRIMARY PURPOSE. BRIEFLY DESCRIBE HOW THEFUNDS WILL BE USED (INCLUDING PROGRAM/PROJECT ACTIVITIES).Now we know what the problem is, what are you goingto do about it? How will you spend the funder’s money? Give a brief summary of your budget narrative. Example: “We will spend the majority of the grant on salaries for additional staff and the rest will be used for supplies.” Describe your activities. Example: If you were operating a program to address DWI deaths, you might describe the education program you will put into effect in the public schools with the grant funds.
    23. 23. Q3. PROGRAM/PROJECT DESCRIPTIONB. IF THIS IS AN ONGOING PROGRAM/PROJECT: WHAT HAVE BEEN PASTINDICATORS OF SUCCESS?WHAT HAVE BEEN CHALLENGES TO ACHIEVINGSUCCESS? ANY RECENT ENHANCEMENTS? Funders want to know: How’s it going? What’s new? Past indicators of success might be client outcomes (statistics), anecdotes, or client testimonials. Challenges might be things you’ve learned about how to improve the program (especially if you can state that you are making changes accordingly). Recent enhancements – if it’s a program that’s been around a while and you recently improved it, that’s important information.
    24. 24. Q3. PROGRAM/PROJECT DESCRIPTIONC. IF THIS IS A NEW PROGRAM/PROJECT (NEW TO YOUR AGENCY): WHAT ISTHE BASIS FOR EXPECTING THAT THE PROGRAM/PROJECT WILL SUCCEED?(ANECDOTAL INFORMATION? EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICES? LITERATUREREVIEW? OTHER?) Explain why you think this will work. Funders want to spend their money on programs that succeed in helping people. If it’s evidence-based, mention the key studies that support it. Your approach does not have to be evidence- based, especially if it’s a safety-net program.
    25. 25. Q3. PROGRAM/PROJECT DESCRIPTIOND. DO YOU PLAN TO COLLABORATE WITH ANY OTHER ORGANIZATIONS ONTHIS PROGRAM/PROJECT? IF SO, WHICH ONES AND HOW? (IF MORE THANFOUR AGENCIES, STATE THE NUMBER OF AGENCIES YOU COLLABORATEWITH, AND INCLUDE AN ATTACHMENT LISTING THEIR NAMES.) If you will have partners to make this program more effective, please explain their role. Will any grant funds be used to pay those partners? Or will they provide the services in-kind? This question does not imply that you are required to collaborate with other agencies. This is your opportunity to showcase that feature if you are collaborating.
    26. 26. Q3. PROGRAM/PROJECT DESCRIPTIONE. HOW DOES THIS PROGRAM/PROJECT FIT WITH YOUR ORGANIZATION’SMISSION? (IF YOU BELIEVE IT’S OBVIOUS, SKIP THIS QUESTION, BUT THIS ISYOUR CHANCE TO MAKE THE CASE IF YOU NEED TO DO SO.) Funders want to make sure you’re not “chasing dollars” and stretching your agency out of its main focus just to get a grant. This is a chance for you to ask yourself whether this program or project will advance your mission. If it’s really obvious, no need to answer.
    27. 27. Q3. PROGRAM/PROJECT DESCRIPTIONF. WE ASSUME MOST NONPROFITS WILL SUSTAIN/CONTINUE THEIRPROGRAMS/PROJECTS BY SEEKING ADDITIONAL GRANTS. ANY PLANS TOSUSTAIN THIS PROGRAM/PROJECT OTHER THAN GRANTS? Funders understand that most nonprofits depend a lot on grants, so that’s not the issue. Will you raise money from individual donors for this project? Will the project generate any revenues? (Ticket sales, medical co-payments, etc.) Any innovative ideas to help make this program pay for itself or be more cost-effective?
    28. 28. BOTTOM-LINE MESSAGE FOR Q3 You are trying to convince funders that your program or project is a sound investment. All the responses to the various Q3 bullet points should contribute in some way to this message.
    29. 29. Q4. PROGRAM/PROJECT EVALUATIONa. What change will occur in clients’ lives as a result of this program/project, and how will you know that this has happened? (Identify the measurement tools you will use – qualitative or quantitative.) If your program/project does not produce lasting change in clients’ lives, discuss other ways you will know the program/project is making a difference.b. If the funder requires specific types or numbers of goals, objectives, metrics, etc., address those here. If you don’t have enough room, give a brief summary of what you will measure here, and attach a separate sheet with more detail.
    30. 30. Q4. PROGRAM/PROJECT EVALUATIONA. WHAT CHANGE WILL OCCUR IN CLIENTS’ LIVES AS A RESULT OF THISPROGRAM/PROJECT, AND HOW WILL YOU KNOW THAT THIS HAS HAPPENED? The key question is: How will people’s lives improve? Should be related to the problem or need statement. If your program/project does not produce lasting change in clients’ lives, discuss other ways the program/project is making a difference. Identify the measurement tools you will use – qualitative or quantitative.
    31. 31. Q4. PROGRAM/PROJECT EVALUATIONA. WHAT CHANGE WILL OCCUR IN CLIENTS’ LIVES AS A RESULT OF THIS PROGRAM/PROJECT, ANDHOW WILL YOU KNOW THAT THIS HAS HAPPENED?Program Goals and Objectives Evaluation plans that focus on changes in the client’s condition include outcome goals. Helpful to use “SMART” goals How will your program improve lives or save lives?Sample Outcome Goal:Decrease the DWI deaths in my county 10%, from100 to 90, between January 1, 2013 and December31, 2014, as measured by public records.
    32. 32. Q4. PROGRAM/PROJECT EVALUATIONB. IF THE FUNDER REQUIRES SPECIFIC TYPES OR NUMBERS OFGOALS, OBJECTIVES, METRICS, ETC., ADDRESS THOSE HERE. Funders will supply any specific requirements they have. Some will just want you to answer bullet point A. Health care funders may have different measurement requirements than funders interested in the arts or animal welfare. If you don’t have enough room, give a brief summary of what you will measure here, and attach a separate sheet with more detail.
    33. 33. Q5. FIT WITH FUNDER MISSION How is this program/project related to the priorities of the funder to whom you are submitting this request? (Here’s your chance to make your case, just in case it’s not obvious to the funder.)
    34. 34. Q5. FIT WITH FUNDER MISSION Use your own judgment on whether to answer this. Example: If the funder’s stated focus is helping children with disabilities, and your project is hosting the Special Olympics, no need to explain. Sometimes it’s more of a stretch but you can still make your case. If it’s too much of a stretch, this funder may not be a fit for you.
    35. 35. Q6. ORGANIZATION DESCRIPTION/BACKGROUND Please describe your organization. Some suggested items to include: number of staff; number of volunteers (other than board members); clients served annually by entire organization; date established or founded; a list of your core services; impact or major accomplishments; a brief statement of your organization’s vision for the next five years. Include the information you believe is most important to help the funder understand what makes your organization special.
    36. 36. Q6. PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR ORGANIZATION Funders are not interested in a great deal of history or detail – just an overview. “Less is more.” You do not need to list every item in the suggested list of topics. If you consider your agency too complex to explain in detail in this space, give a brief summary. If you make heavy use of volunteers to operate your programs, be sure to highlight this. What makes your agency special?
    37. 37. Q7. RELATIONSHIP TO THE FIELDa. What other nonprofit organizations in your area provide similar services? How are your services or approach different from theirs?b. Does your organization coordinate services with other agencies, either formally (through a Memorandum of Understanding) or informally? (Not just on the proposed program/project.)
    38. 38. Q7. RELATIONSHIP TO THE FIELDA. WHAT OTHER NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS IN YOUR AREA PROVIDE SIMILARSERVICES? HOW ARE YOUR SERVICES OR APPROACH DIFFERENT FROM THEIRS? It is rare that you are the “only” agency doing similar work. Be sure to check to see who else is out there. Do you compete or collaborate? Both? “Different” is not necessarily a judgment – it could be that you meet different needs or serve different geographic areas.
    42. 42. GUIDESTAR
    44. 44. Q7. RELATIONSHIP TO THE FIELDB. DOES YOUR ORGANIZATION COORDINATE SERVICES WITH OTHERAGENCIES, EITHER FORMALLY (THROUGH A MEMORANDUM OFUNDERSTANDING) OR INFORMALLY? (NOT JUST ON THE PROPOSEDPROGRAM/PROJECT.) In Question 3, we asked you about collaborative relationships for the proposed program. Now we want to know about your agency’s other collaborations, if any. Maybe you collaborate a lot, just not on the particular project for which you are requesting funds. Response not required if you don’t collaborate
    45. 45. QUESTIONS SO FAR?
    46. 46. GENERAL TIPS FOR GRANT-SEEKING1. Fit with funders’ interests (pitch the right project to the right funder) – start with their guidelines2. Follow directions3. Write clearly and simply4. Prepare your grant budget early in the process
    47. 47. TIP 1. FIT WITH FUNDERS’ INTERESTS  Obtain funders’ guidelines – always visit their Web sites  Call if written information not available  Seek a good fit with funders’ interests  Ask for the right amount for the funder (see their 990)
    48. 48. FUNDING STRATEGY Foundation Directory Online ( – by subscription Texas Nonprofits Funder Database ( – Inexpensive subscription; has a lot of small family foundations listed Guidestar ( - you can subscribe for free or upgrade for more features. Read the Form 990 for each foundation. Center for Nonprofit Support Resource Center (in new location). For more information, Funder Websites
    49. 49. SECRETS OF THE 990 You can see who they have made grants to, for what purpose, and how much. Image at right is the statement of grants made (not always #23)
    50. 50. SECRETS OF THE 990 The 990 lists board members and officers. The sample to the right is for the Meadows Foundation. When reviewing board lists: Do you know any of these people? Do your board members know them?
    52. 52. TIP 3. CLEAR WRITING Write clearly and simply Be careful with punctuation and grammar Spell out acronyms Careful with spell check Seek a “fresh pair of eyes” on your work
    54. 54. TIP 4. PREPARE YOUR GRANT BUDGET It helps to prepare the budget early on. Make sure that your budget matches your narrative. No surprises! If you know how you’re going to spend your money, you probably know exactly what you’re going to do.
    55. 55. MORE ABOUT THE GRANT BUDGET The budget should balance. First,determine all expenses. Then, figure out where the money will come from to pay for the program.
    56. 56. MORE ABOUT THE GRANT BUDGET Be thorough and realistic. Be specific and show your calculations. Don’t “round up.” Don’tunderestimate – a “cheap” budget is less appealing than a realistic one.
    57. 57. MORE BUDGET TIPSInclude in-kind donations  Foundations will see that they’re not the only ones being asked to help support the program.  Volunteer time counts. To learn the hourly value of volunteer time, visit the Independent Sector Web site at: me.html
    58. 58. MORE BUDGET TIPS List in-kind resources in the income and expense sections. For example, if you anticipate $2,179 worth of volunteer labor, that’s income, but it’s also an expense because you would have to pay for that labor without volunteers.