Quick Tip for Grantwriters

What happens if you DIE tomorrow?

Die Tomorrow


Few of us want to die anytime soon.  But things happen.  We have wills and trusts to protect family members.  BUT…

What are you doing to keep your agency going if the unthinkable happens to you?  Will you leave your agency in the lurch?

My most important tip of the day:

Keep you files backed up in a shared folder.

Your own computer and/or laptop won’t be accessible if it’s password protected, so you’ve got to protect your agency by keeping your files backed up in a way that someone else can continue your work without missing any deadlines (so to speak).

This is serious.  If you care at all about your organization, and your cause, then you’ll back up to a shared file host today.

Do You Need a Scary Identity Crisis to Improve?

How the Cattleman's Realization Applies to You


Do you have a strong self identity as a grantwriter?  That may be getting in the way of you becoming a GREAT grantwriter.  Seem impossible?  Read on.

In this post, you’ll find out what ‘The Cattleman’s Realization” is, and how applies to you.


I was watching a documentary about the effects of a decade-long drought in Texas.  There’s only so much water to go around, and how it gets used and shared is complicated.

The documentary spent a few minutes detailing the plight of one Texas cattleman.  He ranched on land owned by his family for generations and had always wanted to carry on the tradition.  But the drought was making that option less and less viable.  The traditional ways of ranching weren’t working in an environment with less water.

He had to re-think the situation and find ways of dealing with the new reality.

So he began to look at why his business and his cattle weren’t doing well.  The chain of events he came up with went something like this.

The cattle weren’t doing well because they didn’t have enough to eat. Grass wasn’t plentiful enough.

He bought hay to solve that problem, but the business wasn’t doing well because he couldn’t buy enough hay at a reasonable price for the cattle to thrive.

Why didn’t the land he owned provide enough forage anymore?  It used to!

Turns out there were lots of reasons.  Sure, there wasn’t enough rain but there were other issues that were making the problem much worse.

For example, a certain type of cypress tree had taken over along the river bank that went through his ranch.  This cypress sucked up two to three times more water than what had been there before and the cattle couldn’t eat it, unlike the grass that used to grow there.

Further away from the river, grass was sparser as well because mesquite was using up lots of water, with its deep taproot and large network of other roots just under the ground.  Grass, with its shallow root system, couldn’t compete to get water.  It was also being “overshadowed” by mesquite—being killed as life-giving sun was being blocked.

The cattleman thought long and hard about what to do.  In the end, he realized that, in order to salvage his cattle business, and his livelihood, he had to change his self-identity.

No longer would he be a cattleman (at least not first and foremost).  No, instead he realized that in order for the livestock to do well, and his business to do well, and in order to save his family’s past and legacy for the future, he needed to be something different than “a cattleman”.

From then on, he was in the business of “raising grass”.

He realized what the core to the cattle business was and it didn’t have everything to do with cattle. Without grass, something that used to be taken for granted, nothing else would work.  Rain would be extremely helpful, of course, but he could do quite a lot to save his ranch by changing his focus from cattle to grass and taking action on his own.

Here’s the lesson for grantwriters.

We ARE going to face hard times.  What we do during those hard times may need to something unexpected.  We may need to stop “being” grantwriters.

Many nonprofits are experiencing difficulties right now.  Lots of reasons contribute to this—just like many reasons affected the cattleman’s livelihood in raising livestock.

Consider these questions:  What is sucking your “ranch” dry?  Where are your “cypress trees” and “mesquite” that are killing your “grass”?

Here’s that awesome idea I want you to consider:  Stop thinking of yourself as a grantwriter.

Maybe your current identity isn’t what’s needed right now.  In an era of diminished resources, instead of being a “grantwriter”, you need to think of yourself as a “marketer”, or an “advocate” for program ideas.

Where shifts in your identity or thinking do you need to make?

How would this shift your focus, even as you continue to write grants, even while continuing to work in your current position?  What else might you do, or what might you do in addition?

A marketer would paint a picture of a problem intense enough to evoke strong reader emotions in a grant’s needs statement

A marketer would be championing the value of particular interventions, including information into the section on “planned program”.

A marketer would emphasize how well an organization has solved problems in the past—a part of the capabilities and capacity section of most grant proposals.

An advocate knows that resources are in many places, including the government and political systems.  If there’s not enough “rain” in the form of grants, an advocate would be clearing the ranch of mesquite and cypress trees to increase water supplies.

An advocate puts the best case forward and constantly gathers evidence to bolster the case.  (Does your organization have strong evaluations in place?)

Advocates develop relationships with “rain-makers” even when rain isn’t needed immediately.

We can still “raise cattle” even as we “grow grass”—if we’re wise enough to see how they interconnect, and how you can’t do one, without doing the other.

Do me a favor—if this sparks some ideas in you, causes you to have an insight into how you can address a problem in your life by thinking about your identity in a different way, could you let me know?

You can do that by commenting below.  Also, please share this, as it might be just the insight someone needs to see today.  This idea doesn’t apply ONLY to grantwriters!

Let’s start some identify crises by understanding the value of a cattleman’s realization.

Grantwriting 2 Minutes at a Time: Excellence

A video series for grantwriters and nonprofit managers

Click on the video below.  Be sure to share this video to your social channels!

11+ Skills for Grantwriters that May Surprise You

Current Grantwriters Share Their Thoughts

01 Grantwriting is a skill

Current grantwriters love to help new grantwriters.  They are willing to share their thoughts and ideas about all things grantwriting.  Active grantwriters have been sharing with me their answers to questions about many different topics.  I want to share what I’ve learned from them.   This post looks at “What skills do grantwriters need?”

Grantwriters shared the most important skills they think that grantwriters need to be successful.  Here are a few of the surprising results!

  • Humility, insatiable curiosity, and absolute dedication to improving your community.
  • You have to be okay with delayed gratification, because you may write a grant and may not hear from them for six months.
  • You also have to be okay with someone telling you, “No,” You have to learn you won’t get them all.
  • You also learn how to target your grants better so that a lot of the work is already done by the time you’re writing the grant.
  • I’m continually learning things, because the climate changes; you know we’ve had changes and the economy affects grants a lot. Politics affects grants a lot; policy and that sort of thing. You’re constantly learning.
  • An ability to design a program and to look at it from start to completion is a skill. I think one of the skill sets is to be intimately involved with the programming part of the organization so you can write from a place of knowledge.
  • A clear understanding of evaluative tools, evidence based evaluation and outcomes.
  • Some financial knowledge.
  • A really good mastery of community need, because when you’re submitting grants, you’re going to have to know the community from which you are submitting the grant. Local data, as well as national data …
  • You always kind of want to give a really good story.

What’s interesting to me is that the “most important skills” that are described by these grantwriters are not the things that most people think of before they become grantwriters.  These skills are not just the ones you find in textbooks.  What makes for a successful grantwriting career includes not only what you learn in a class or workshop, but also includes character traits like perseverance, willingness to fail and  to keep learning, relationship-building, and strong desire to serve others.

Without the basics, you won’t write successful grants.  But without the correct attitude, you won’t write successful grants for long.

What Keeps Nonprofit Leaders Up at Night?

Job Issues are the Culprit!




It’s a simple question, really.  What keeps nonprofit leaders and workers up at night?  Is there anything that can be done to help them sleep better?

I recently asked this question in an anonymous 3-question survey.  I received an interesting set of responses.

Job Issues

Half of respondents said that what kept them up at night were things that I categorized as “job issues“–things that are just part and parcel of what their work in the nonprofit world is.

Here are some actual quotes so you know what I mean:

One Director of Development stated:  “not having enough time and resources to do what needs doing”.

A freelance grantwriter responded:  “Not having enough work to ensure a steady income.”  This person also added “not hitting the target in terms of what the funder wants to see”.

Others indicated similar answers:  “Deadlines.” “Stress of completing work on time when they are all a priority.”

Financial Issues

The second set of responses relate directly to organizational finances. This topic was voiced by one-fourth of the respondents.  Here are quotes from them:

“Finances,  in a word.” (Program Director)

“Being able to raise enough money for our organization” (Grantwriter)

“Developing stable money for operations” (Executive Director)

“Crazy a** government leaders who find it easier to be mean…and not fund programs that in the long term save millions in taxpayer funds…” (Program Director). (OK, so this is slightly paraphrased!  This respondent had some STRONG insights.)

Quality of Administrators and Other Workers

The final theme that comes out of the survey answers is that some of the respondents (25%) were concerned about the quality of their co-workers.  Here’s what they said:

“Administration unqualified to lead.” (Consultant)

“Top-heavy management and their not understanding what the front line staff is doing; They ask for near impossible tasks to be performed.” (Program Manager)

“The unprofessionalism of many of today’s workers.” (Support Staff)

“Poor management/professionalism of the management.” (Community Outreach Specialist)

So What Now?

These three themes don’t come from a statistically significant or randomly selected sample of nonprofit workers, but they do echo earlier work I’ve done on the topic.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how to help people such as these respondents be able to sleep better.

One way is to help people understand how to write better proposals to more appropriate funders.

I’ve developed training materials to help grantwriters become better at their work, so that’s a start.

Using the principles that I teach in my online training materials, a colleague and I were just awarded a $200,000 grant from a foundation!  And the application was only 3 pages long!

These materials are not quite ready to release, but if you’re interested in being informed as soon as they are ready, please sign up on a special mailing list at