What, When, How-- and Why

Every month, a new section of Bo Morton's and my  online class is released. Anywhere from 40 to 120 students log on to learn how to Get Grants.  We’ve been teaching this class  for about a decade, so we do feel that we have a pretty good feel for what the sticking points are. The first one is that most of the students start with defining the need for support from a very singular point of view:  theirs or that of their organization.  And instead of describing the situation that needs to be redressed, explaining what happens because of that situation, and then asking for funding to change that state of affairs, they immediately describe the activities they will perform.

Likewise, objectives, which are the measurable outcomes of the project, are typically viewed from a methods direction.  Rather than thinking that by some particular time some change (say, students will read at a higher grade level, or will occur, they write that in that time frame some specific action, for example, people will attend workshops, will occur.

We also find that many of the students describe the outcomes in fuzzy ways:  “Improved quality of life,” is a favorite.

The fun of teaching is watching (or in the case of online classes, seeing in print) lights going on.  By the end of the course, most of our students understand that the need is not theirs but rather changing a situation.  We also hope that the understand that the situation really needs to fit within the mission of their organization.

It’s also exciting to help them move from activity-centric thinking to outcomes-based approaches.  Activities are important, and there is clearly a place in your proposal to describe how you are going to reach your objectives.  But during the course of your project, you may find that the activity really isn’t accomplishing what you had hoped, and you may find that you tweak what we call “the How” so you can get to the “What” you want to change or improve.

It’s not only in grants, of course, that we need to think about the larger picture of what we are doing or how we describe the importance of our work to others.  As you talk about your organization or cause, try not to focus the how, but discuss the why.  Why is it important that this work is being done?  Why does their support matter?

And always remember to tell them what will change/improve/grow because of their support and what it will mean in the greater scheme of things.

Janet Levine is a consultant, trainer and writer who works with nonprofit and educational organizations helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Learn more about her classes, workshops and services at http://janetlevineconsulting.com.  Sign up for Get Grants at http://www.ed2go.com/courses/ggr