This is the second post in the “A Conversation With” series, where I interview talented people about their areas of expertise focused on nonprofits.
This month, I interviewed Lynn Arsenault of LMA Grant Consulting LLC. We discussed the first step of grant writing, the 3 elements of a great proposal, proven tactics for smaller budgets, and actions you can take today. I hope you enjoy her insights!
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your current role as a freelance grant writer.
After spending the last several years leading the grant writing for an educational nonprofit in Boston, I recently decided to go into business for myself as a freelance grant writer. I launched my grant consulting business, LMA Grant Consulting LLC, this June. A bit about myself — I have a BA in Elementary Education and MBA in Nonprofit Leadership. Prior to my work as a grant writer, I was a 4th grade writing teacher in Houston, Texas and also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Vanuatu from 2012-2014.
With a professional background in both nonprofit development and teaching, I offer grant services to a wide range of nonprofits and education organizations. Services include proposal writing, revisions and feedback, funding research, and grant writing training. Additionally, if there are development or grant-related services that a client is interested in that do not fall under these categories, I offer customized services as well. I enjoy getting to know potential clients before we begin working together by offering a free 30-minute consultation over the phone.
What are some common nonprofit grant writing misconceptions?
One misconception that nonprofits often have is that they need to alter their program to meet the funding interests of a potential donor. This is not a successful strategy. Rather than bending over backwards to change a program to what you think a donor wants, instead, seek out funders whose interests already align with your mission.
What do you suggest to your clients as the first step in their grant writing journey?
Clearly define the specific need for funding. What is the project or program you’re looking to fund? Make sure you can clearly explain the program/project and the need for it in the community. While writing a grant proposal itself may be a lengthy process, you should be able to give a short, 30 second “elevator pitch,” to anyone who asks that summarizes what your program/project is and why it is so important.
What makes a great proposal?
Clarity — When writing a grant proposal, write with the assumption that the reader has never heard of your organization nor the work that you do. Always have someone else read through your proposal before submitting it. In addition to checking for spelling and grammar errors, ask them if they understood the proposal. If the proof-reader isn’t familiar with the project, even better.
Storytelling — capture the stories of your constituents. Donors want to know their contribution makes a real difference. The best way to “pull at the heartstrings” is to share a real story about the impact your program has had. While data is helpful (and necessary!), sharing a constituent’s backstory on how your program has impacted them along with a photo can be the deciding factor that wins over a donor.
Alignment of interests — make sure you research the interests of the donor. Identify their mission and buzz words, review their 990 form to see who else they have funded, and find the areas where your interests connect.
What are some specific roadblocks you watch out for with your clients?
I like to remind folks to be open-minded about grant possibilities. While we all want the attention of the biggest, most competitive donors out there — seeking out these donors may not be the practical way to go, especially for a smaller, local nonprofit. There are many local foundations and corporations that may be interested in supporting your nonprofit’s work.
What are 3 specific action steps everyone can take today to strengthen their grant writing process?
Network — meeting a donor in-person is the one of the best ways to build a relationship that leads to funding. Find donor round-table events (you can find these virtually too!), panel discussions, and other networking opportunities. Research the donors that will be in attendance in advance and identify which ones to connect with during the program. Find a way to introduce yourself to the donor. Have your elevator pitch well rehearsed and ready to go. Last but certainly not least, follow up! Make sure to get the donor’s email address and send them a quick thank you note for chatting with you.
Identify connections — oftentimes, board members already have personal connections with trustees of grant programs. Talk with your board to learn who is in their networks. Having a connection with someone who is familiar with your organization and can vouch for it can be the foot in the door you’re looking for.
Research — while Google can only take you so far, there are many great donor databases available that can help you find potential funders that may be harder to find. You can narrow your search by geographic region, funding interests, whether or not specific donors accept unsolicited requests, and more. Some donor databases are free while others are offered at a charge. (Or, you can work with a grant consultant who uses a wide variety of donor databases to do the research for you!)
What are some of your favorite books, podcasts, or blogs in small business marketing?
Some of my favorite professional blogs and newsletters to follow are:
- The Nonprofit Leadership Lab: Joan Garry is a true guru of nonprofits. As someone who not only works with nonprofits but is also a board chair of a nonprofit, I appreciate all the angles and advice Joan Garry brings to the table.
- Penney Leadership: Carole Ann Penney’s newsletters always have a way of helping me navigate and understand my own professional career path.
- Inside Philanthropy: Not only do they offer a grantfinder resource, but Inside Philanthropy also provides weekly news and insights on fundraising trends. Great resource for staying in-the-know.
Where can people connect with you online?
You can visit my website for more information about my services and I’m on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I’m also available via email at lynn@LMAgrantconsulting.com.
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