grants, nonprofit development, writing

How to Write a Grant Evaluation Plan in Three Simple Steps

Even if the prospective funder does not explicitly ask for one, you need an evaluation plan. Whether big or small, every project and every nonprofit organization needs to show that a clear plan exists to measure the effectiveness of its programs.

To write a good evaluation plan:

  1. Name specific things that will be measured. Examples could include student confidence levels, knowledge regarding computer science, or time spent with a certain resource.
  2. Describe how those things will be measured. In other words, name the data collection tools that will be used to measure what you defined in number 1. Common tools include tracker charts, surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
  3. Explain how the data will be used. This is the most important part. Once you have the data, what will you do with it? Why?

The degree of detail to which these concepts will be delineated will be driven by the requirements of the funder. For example, National Science Foundation proposals require in-depth evaluation plans that are often several pages long. Conversely, smaller foundations often ask how you will measure results, which can be answered with the above three questions within a paragraph.

As the competition for available grants continues to increase, a solid evaluation plan will go a long way in setting you apart from the competition and building trust with the potential funder.

grants, nonprofit development, startup nonprofits, writing

Grant Application Submission Checklist

Before you write a word, it is important to understand the items typically required as part of the grant application submission process. Use this simple checklist to start gathering the materials that will likely be requested. Start early to be sure you are not rushed at the last minute. 


  • Fully edited, proofread, and finalized version of the proposal narrative
  • Current annual operating budget and, if appropriate, the program budget
    • budgets should reflect BOTH revenue and expenses for the organization/program
  • Letter(s) of support
    • ensure they are signed!
  • 501(c)(3) tax determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service
  • Most recent financial statements (audited preferred)
  • Copy of the most recent Form 990 filed with the IRS
  • List and brief biography of current Board of Directors
  • List and brief biography of key staff
  • List and descriptions of relevant partners and existing funders
  • Other pertinent supplemental documents (brochures, newsletters, etc.) if requested/relevant

Submitting an online grant application? Read this. And be sure to double check everything before submitting!

Click here to download this checklist as a PDF, free! 

nonprofit development, startup nonprofits, writing

Nonprofit Press Release Tips and Tricks

A press release is “an official statement issued to newspapers giving information on a particular matter” (Google). Through press releases, you have the opportunity to raise awareness of your nonprofit, communicate the value and impacts of your work, and build public trust. Nonprofits can submit press releases to announce:

  1. fundraising events
  2. new partnerships
  3. successful programs, events, campaigns, etc.
  4. public engagement opportunities (ex: volunteering)
  5. events and services offered

Aim to submit press releases quarterly to maintain your public face and remain fresh. Like newsletters and email marketing, you must find the happy medium. Too many and people ignore you and become resentful, too few and you are forgotten!

To begin, define the purpose of your press release. What do you want people to do after reading it? Visit your website? Purchase tickets to a fundraiser? Your writing should guide readers toward the desired goal throughout the release.

Your press release should fit within one page (around 500 words), and should present a clear and compelling message framed within the context of a story. Editors and reporters are looking for human value – be sure to deliver. Here is a great example of a nonprofit press release.

Once written, you are ready to send out your press release! I have found the most success in copy and pasting the text directly into the email body. Like all of us, editors and reporters are a busy bunch and typically will not take the extra step of opening an attachment. Save them the hassle and copy your press release directly into the email body.

Need an expert-crafted press release but don’t have time to do it yourself? We can help!

nonprofit development, startup nonprofits, writing

How to write a vivid grant proposal

Stop using clichés in your writing!

You’ve been hearing it since elementary school, yet many of us still fall into the trap (cliché!) of using cliches in our writing. But your cranky english teacher was right. If you want to write a compelling grant proposal, you need to find fresh ways to make your points and convey your message.

It is simple human nature to respond to the new and novel and ignore the old and bland. Scientists believe the reason is actually programmed into our genes as a primitive survival trait. Whenever something new entered the environment, our ancient ancestors needed to quickly investigate to determine potential risk. That is why advertisers are always touting their “new” product or offer – it makes us pay attention!

Similarly, sentences free of clichés, fluffiness, and superfluous (I almost said over-the-top there!) adjectives garner the attention of the proposal reviewer. In today’s highly competitive world of grants, reviewers are looking for pretty much any opportunity to toss your application to the ‘no’ pile. Keeping your writing vivid and fresh is one of the best things you can do to avoid this common fate. Tired clichés and lifeless text bore people. And a bored person is not going to be inspired enough to give you money!

Have you been using clichés in your grant proposals? Check out this big list of common clichés – if you find them in your proposal, your writing needs a refresher! For more simple tips to write better, right now click here.

grant research, nonprofit development, startup nonprofits

990s: the secret weapon of grant research

What are 990s?

As a nonprofit, you are likely familiar with 990 forms. A 990 is a form filed to the IRS by a tax-exempt organization, typically on an annual and/or quarterly basis. The 990 form lists organization income, expenses, and basic information. As you dive into the world of grant research, be sure to put 990s review on your list. Here’s why….

How can 990s help with grant research?

As I have discussed in previous posts, it is critical to find the right fits when it comes to potential funding requests. Fortunately many funders these days have well-developed websites which aid prospective grant applicants in learning more about the funders focus areas, priorities, and requirements. If the funder looks like a good preliminary fit based on the information from their website, the next step is to see if they have given to organizations similar to yours. Enter the 990!


How 990s can help in grant research

The best way to know if you have found a great funding match is if everything on their website seems well aligned with what you are doing, AND they have given to programs/organizations that are similar in size, scope, and focus as yours. This is precisely the information that can be found of funders’ 990s.

Step 1: Find the 990 forms the prospective funder. I like the Foundation Center 990 Finder. It is free and simple to use. Just type in the name and state of the funder you want to research, and it will pull up the organization’s 990s from the past several years.

Step 2: Once you have the 990s pulled up for a specific funder, go through at least three years of their returns to answer the following questions:

  • what is their average award amount?
  • are they giving to organizations in a similar field as yours (ex: education, health, etc.)?
  • are they giving to organizations similar in size to yours? (may require some googling of the grantees listed)
  • do they seem to care about the same things that you care about?
  • what type of awards are they giving? (operating expenses, program support, equipment, etc.)

If all of the questions above are yes, then congratulations, you have found an excellent funding fit! You can be relatively sure that they will be interested in what you are doing, and have done as much as possible to make sure that you are choosing a funder that is well-aligned with your organization. From here, apply! Be sure to review their website carefully and follow the application directions precisely for each organization.




federal grants, grants

10 things you need to know about federal government grants

Federal grants are defined as awards given and/or sponsored by the US government. Examples of federal funding agencies include the National Science Foundation (NSF), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Here are 10 things you need to know about federal government grants:

  1. Federal grants are the big leagues. If this is your first grant application, federal grants are likely not your best first step.
  2. Federal grants are highly competitive. Typically less than 15% of applicants are awarded funds.
  3. Federal grants are often the most valuable. It is not uncommon for grants to be upwards of $250,000 or more. Many startups see these lofty award amounts (listed on the solicitation pages) and dream big! But with much money comes much responsibility 🙂
  4. Often federal grants are awarded to larger, well-established organizations, especially those with high award amounts.
  5. An increasingly popular trend is partnerships. Groups of nonprofit and for-profit organizations are gathering together towards federal proposals. This is a smart move. Funders like the reputation and proven track record of the larger organization, coupled with the innovation and creativity of smaller, scappier organizations.
  6. Use to quickly and (relatively) easily find available federal grants from every agency, all in one place. Watch my video to see how easy it is.
  7. Federal grants come with many strings attached. If successful, be prepared to devote significant time (and money) towards reporting, research, and evaluation measures required by the grant.
  8. Read the opportunity solicitation at least three times before you write a single word. The first time is to get a general idea of what the opportunity is, and what they are looking for. The second time is to look for how you fit in, and  the third time is to understand the main components and requirements.
  9. After reading through (usually 50+ pages), create an outline to ensure you address all the requirements.
  10. If a contact person is listed, don’t be afraid to ask questions! I have found these individuals to be very helpful and responsive in providing clarification and assisting with navigation. Just keep in mind that they cannot tell you anything that they have not told everyone else. Look for names and/or emails within the program solicitation. They are not always the easiest to find. For example, NSF calls these people ‘cognizant program officers’.


Good luck in your federal grant endeavors! If you need any help along the way, please get in touch at


grants, nonprofit development, startup nonprofits, writing

Top 3 Do’s and Don’ts of grant writing

People ask me all the time, “What is the secret to grant writing?”

The truth is, there is no secret! The difference between winning and losing proposals are pretty simple, and here are the top three:

Winning proposals…

1.Answer all the questions!: Writing a successful grant application is actually more of an exercise in careful reading rather than writing, as the number one reason grant applications are not funded is for failure to answer all of the questions adequately and appropriately.

2. Use data: Don’t just say you do something, or prove it! Use data rather than fluffy language to convey the impacts and successes of your program, as well as justify the need.

3. Follow the rules: If the grant guidelines say to use 12-point font Times New Roman, use 12-point font Times New Roman. If only PDFs are allowed, submit PDFs. If their maximum award amount is $10,000, don’t request more than $12,000. This really comes back to number one above – read carefully to ensure you have done everything the funder says, exactly as they want it. And be sure to also follow the rules of proper writing, grammar, and citations. NO typos!

While seemingly simple, following these three rules will help ensure that your grant application does not go directly to the ‘no’ pile. From there, funders will have the opportunity to read about your innovative ideas, and see how valuable your work is!


grants, nonprofit development

Submitting an online grant application? Read this first

Submitting an online grant application-


It is Thursday night at 11:50pm. You are furiously uploading all the required documents into a funder’s online grant system to submit by 11:59pm – the deadline. Suddenly your cat jumps up on the desktop to come sit in your lap, but turns off your computer with his paw on the way up. You frantically turn the computer back on, begging it – “Come on, please still be there, please still be there!”


Only the first part of a 15 part application was autosaved. It is now 11:56pm. There is no way you will be able to upload everything in the next three minutes. You give up and go to bed, possibly shedding a tear along the way. Over 20 hours of work in the past month – for nothing! Your only consolation is that there will be another opportunity to submit this application…next year.

The truth is that this is not an uncommon story. Not only is it more stressful to be submitting a grant application close to the deadline, there are more reasons to avoid this common pitfall:


Oftentimes funders print out grant applications submitted online so each Board member gets a copy. Online grant systems often print a cover page, and the very first item on this cover page is typically a timestamp. So say your cat did not jump up and you were able to submit by 11:58pm. The very first thing funders will see is that you submitted one minute before the deadline. If you can’t get your act together enough to submit early, can you really be trusted with a $1 million grant, as you were requesting? Not to say that submitting close to the deadline would completely count you out, but in today’s extremely competitive grant cycles, there is absolutely no room for anything less than perfection. Funders are inundated with grant applications, and they need something to thin the crowd. Seeing that you submitted very close to the deadline would be an easy way to go directly to the no pile before they even read a word.


When there are lots of people (procrastinators!) on a website at one time, especially when it comes to grant application systems, those systems sometimes fail. Don’t take the chance – get in the system when it is calm to avoid any issues. I always recommend that clients submit at least two days before the deadline.


Sometimes it takes doing it to realize if something is not going to work. For example, in one grant application system they required PDF documents only, when I had created Word docs. Luckily I had plenty of time to convert all the files and upload them, as there were still a few days to go. But had it been 11:50pm on the deadline date, I would not have had time for this simple fix. I have also heard of browser incompatibilities, difficulties copy/pasting into the application boxes, and the list goes on. By getting in there early, you will be able to address any incompatibilities well before the deadline.


You never produce your best work when you are rushed. You make typos, don’t answer the question fully, repeat yourself, and other major grant writing no no’s. By planning to finish your grant writing and application a week before the deadline, you save time to come back to it in a day or two with fresh eyes to ensure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Again, there is no room for error, so your narrative and all associated documents must be perfect.


While it is true that some people cannot complete work unless a hard deadline is looming, massive amounts of stress, anxiety, and eventual heartache can easily be avoided with some simple planning when it comes to grant deadlines. As they say, those who fail to plan can plan to fail! Stay tuned for my next post where I will explain how to make a simple plan and never miss a grant deadline again!

grants, nonprofit development, startup nonprofits

Can a grant pay for salaries?

Can a grant pay for salaries?

It is a question I get a lot, and like most things in the world of grants, the answer is….

it depends.

Here are some scenarios of when it is possible to fund employee salaries with grants, and when getting a grant to pay for salaries is simply not realistic:

You could PERHAPS get a grant to pay for an employee salary if…

  • You have been invited to submit a proposal by the funder. This means they know you, are familiar with your work, and want to support you.
  • The RFP (request for proposals) or grant opportunity description says the funds can be used for salaries.
  • The grant offers ‘operational support’. This is the gold standard of grants, as is it can be used at your discretion to support organizational needs, including staff member salaries.
  • You have at least five years of existence as a registered 501(c)3 organization
  • You have consistently delivered well-established programs with measurable, positive impacts on your constituents. The salary would help you do something bigger, better, or keep it going strong.
  • You have existing income streams to support the other costs of your organization. Funders do NOT want to support your organization, particularly when it comes to personnel.

You likely WILL NOT get a grant to pay for an employee salary if…

  • You are a start-up organization (especially within your first three years).
  • The grant is intended for program support (although sometimes salaries can be included as part of the overall program).
  • You have no data to prove that your program works and imparts positive impacts on those whom you serve.
  • You rely heavily on grants (over 30% of your operating budget).

While there are no hard rules, these are my general observations of what I have seen when it comes to successful requests for salaries….and unsuccessful requests.

Do not make a salary request your first grant request

It is my recommendation not to request funds to support salary expenses at all within the start-up period (the first five years). If you are a new organization just starting out, request funds to support a specific program, and ensure nearly 100% of the funds go directly to programmatic costs. Do as much as you can with volunteers and your Board of Directors for the first five years, then when you have proven results and a successful program, consider a salary request.



grant research, grants and opportunities, startup nonprofits, STEM education

Get a grant in 5 easy steps

While perpetually busy, summer is a time when educators and busy nonprofit directors can find time to step back for a moment and reflect upon the year thus far. We are half way through 2017 – how is the year going? Are you programs or curriculum well defined? Do you have a clear focus on what you want to do? Do you have a plan? If you answered yes to these questions, add applying for a grant to your summer to do list! Here is how to get a grant in five easy steps:

Step 1:

Clearly identify what you are doing. You should be able to articulate what your mission is, who your target audience is, what makes you/your idea/your program stand out from the crowd, and what makes you well-qualified.

Step 2:

Define what you want to do. You should be able to articulate all aspects of your idea, new program, etc. What is it exactly? How many will you serve? What will your process be? What are the desired outcomes? What materials, time, space, etc. will you need? How will results be measured?

Step 3:

Research for grants that match. This is potentially the most challenging (and time consuming) step. It is not necessarily difficult, but is often a matter of weeding through many poor fits to find a few of the best matches. Use a grant research database to simplify the process. To find the best matches, look for organizations in your town, county, and state whose mission most closely aligns with yours. Click here to download a free e-book containing the best grant research tips, tricks, and free databases to get started.

Step 4:

Prioritize. When you do get a good research list together with several viable prospects, prioritize your list. Start with grants that have approaching deadlines, those that require the least expense of time (LOIs rather than proposals), or ones where you and/or your school may already have connections.

Step 5:

Apply! Write your LOIs and proposals in exact accordance with the funder’s stated expectations. Include what they say, in the order they say it – and NO typos! 🙂 There is no ‘special trick’ to grant writing. The key in writing an effective grant application or letter of intent (LOI) is to present a compelling case, backed by concrete evidence.


And that’s it! Five simple steps to getting a grant! While the process itself is not overly challenging, it can take quite a bit of time. Set a goal to do one step a week – breaking the process down into small steps makes it more manageable, and ensures the process will be done by the end of the summer! Now get out there and get a grant!