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Sooner or later, nonprofits realize that grants are a thing. They’re out there. Their town just got one to build new senior housing. The coffee shop down the street just got one for COVID-19 relief. Heck, their next-door neighbor just got a grant to plant habitats to attract bumblebees to their backyard (which is awesome, by the way).


Surely, your nonprofit addressing complex regional issues is worthy of grant funding.


Let's just appreciate this little guy for a second.

“Where do we begin?”

And so, here begins the most common struggle I hear: “where do we start?” A few Google searches will take you to sketchy websites or plagiarized blogs. Or grant databases requiring a bazillion dollar monthly subscription fee.


The where-to-begin is nuanced, though. Nonprofit folks I talk with have what seems like a strong-fit grant opportunity in their lap, but they don’t know how to begin applying. “What’s an LOI?” “Do we need a Logic Model? “It’s only due next week, we have plenty of time.”


Others have what seems like the perfect application on paper, but they don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t realize the relational cred that drives the fundraising sector, the significant time commitment that managing a grant will take, or, say, the red flags of a bureaucratic funder they’re innocently eager to befriend.


“We keep getting denied.”

I talk about grants rejection further in this blog post. But real quick: when I talk with folks eager to expand their grants programs, many times it’s because they’re sick and tired of getting denied. Why bother spending 15 hours applying for a grant when it will just get rejected again?


And to make matters worse, grant rejects often don’t know why they’re denied. Nonprofit ghosting is an unfortunate reality in philanthropy. We want to put our efforts toward opportunities where there’s a certainty, return on investment, stability. And at the very least, people not being jerks, please and thank you.


Here’s a few other common concerns I hear from organizations pursuing grants:

  • We just need some grants.

  • We don’t have the application materials this grant is requiring.

  • We are doing great work as a nonprofit but just don’t have it written down.

  • We don’t have the time to prepare a proposal.

  • Seems like there aren’t any grants in our region.

  • Approaching funders feels daunting.

  • The last grant writer we worked with screwed us over.

Is this you? You’re not alone.

Imagine voicing these struggles to someone who “gets” you. Imagine having time-saving solutions where you’re no longer wondering whether there’s any grants out there that fit your organization. Imagine having a list of legitimate grant prospects to keep you busy for the year. Imagine having organizational language you’re actually proud of.


When you talk with me, I’ll be listening for your “stuck” points. Then, we’ll get rolling. I’ll work with you on common-sense approaches to your org’s grant success. Why? Because you’re the expert. You’re the one solving addressing issues in your community. You owe it to yourself to stop wasting time and take subversive steps toward organizational success.


Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s nice, but it sounds too good to be true, and we probably can’t afford it.” Unlike other grants consultants, I don’t bill by the hour. I don’t flaunt a click-bait grants success rate. And I never, ever promise grant prospects being funded (which, I suppose, my saying that could actually drive people away…!).


One of my recent clients said,

“Katie followed through with her commitment and built my trust by doing so. Anyone interested in hiring her would get high praise and a strong recommendation from me!”

Shoot me a message, and let’s talk.

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  • Kathryn Greener

What do butterflies and the British monarchy and local electric company grants have in common? My week! Read on for a run-down of what struck me the last few days.


Kate Bowler’s Advent Devotional, “The Season of Almost” blesses the start of my workdays. Her podcast “Everything Happens” and books Everything Happens for a Reason and The Preacher’s Wife reveal the sneaky places the prosperity gospel’s empty assurances of freedom actually limit us from seeing life as both beautiful and hard. Kate is irreverent and kind and responded to one of my comments on Instagram (yay!).


Turns out, sitting in a room full of butterflies is actually quite therapeutic. Props to the museums and aquariums doing everything they can to stay open right now! They bring the beauty we need.


I read this article and participated in its sister webinar on Transformational Capacity Building. There is work to be done in calling out #CrappyFundingPractices and being honest about the kinds of funding that actually transform organizations. Quoting from the article at length:

“Conventional capacity building’s unexamined desire for nonprofits of color to conform to standards of success rooted in white professionalism pushes communities of color toward compliance with unnecessary practices, which can ultimately thwart the innovative potential of these organizations, rather than boosting it. In failing to expand its cultural frame of reference, conventional capacity building has missed an opportunity to radically reexamine how organizations can operate and achieve their mission.”


Received my hot-off-the-press copy of The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. Shout-out to Dr. Boyd Seevers, who let me edit his sections on Old Testament Warfare, Judges, and Joshua a few years ago when I was a student in his Old Testament college course.


I began reading Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Arlie, Berkley-born sociologist, journeys to the deep “red” of the Louisiana Bayou Country to understand what she discovers to be a great paradox of the American right (namely, those whose communities could benefit from government help are the same ones who disdain it). Her interviews are gracious, her portraits complicated and truthful. I was reminded of Deepwater Horizon and Dark Waters as companion movies to this book.


I’m a big fan of small, high-impact grants through local electric companies. It's so fun to work with nonprofit staff on these. The hype around receiving these small potatoes local awards is REAL.


The 2020 Giving In Minnesota Report just became available. Notable findings: 65% of “survey-participating organizations plan to give more to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) led entities,” and 27% of organizations “plan to relax reporting requirements.” This is good news.


Started watching The Crown because it was at the library, of course, and I haven’t been watching any new shows lately. I’m still in Season One, but my goodness. So much expression in hardly any words. Claire Foy was born for this role.



Rich Villodas wrote a helpful piece on the celebrity pastor dilemma in the wake of the Carl Lentz fallout: “The Celebrity Pastor Problem is Every Church’s Struggle.” He says, “One simple way to measure humility as a leader is to tell yourself: ‘Honestly identify the tasks and people you think are beneath you.’” As the wife of a pastor in a small place, I and my husband face daily “beneath us” tasks that continually draw us to gospel clarity.


Here we go again… The SBC, among others, claiming that “critical theory is incompatible with Christianity.” Holy Post Podcast debriefs. Justin Giboney tweets.


To quote from Kate Bowler's Advent devotional, quoting Hamilton Wright Mabie,

"Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love."
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  • Kathryn Greener

Updated: Dec 2, 2020



“Whatever else anything is,

it ought to begin by being personal.”

Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail


“Don’t you just love New York in the fall?” I’ve never been there, but I think I’d love it. Then again, with Covid cases surging and my Christmas tree looking all cute, I think I’ll stay home, light a li'l candle, and re-watch Meg Ryan skip down Manhattan sidewalks in You’ve Got Mail.


Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail is one of my all-time favorites. There’s a scene where Joe (Tom Hanks) stops by her apartment. Tail between his legs, he utters a semblance of an apology for running her bookstore out of business. “It wasn’t personal,” he reassures. Kathleen says, “But it was personal to me. It was personal to a lot of people. And what is so wrong with being personal anyway? … Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”


I was thinking about why grant writing is personal. Far more personal and relational than people give it credit.

How do I know this? Well. When I was first introduced to grant writing, it seemed about as exciting as a rhombus. Remember rhombuses? (Or rombi, apparently.) Those ninth-grade geometry class shapes that were suspiciously perfect but too dull to aspire to anything great? That was my initial impression of grant writing from a half-semester college course. Grant writing was a linear progression. It was about playing by someone else’s rules. It was reading The Only Grant Writing Book You’ll Ever Need and not knowing what I didn’t knowthat successful grant writing isn’t a soulless textbook. It’s relational.


For those of you hoping (more like panicking) to secure grant funding, or are new to grant writing, or wondering why you feel like a wet sock after submitting 10 applications into the great grant abyss, hear me out:


Successful grant writing & stewardship begins in relationships.


This may sound overly cutesy. But let me outline three common “rhombus” mindsets—more like mistakes—in grant writing and where a relational approach is a game-changer for sustainable, successful grant stewardship.


1. “We need to get as many grants as possible right now.”


In a global pandemic that’s drying up revenue streams and entire programming, this is the most common sentence I hear. And for good reason. For tens of thousands of nonprofits in the United States, this isn’t simply a fight for funding, it’s a fight for survival for their organizations and those they serve,” says David Morse, who’s been chief communications officer at various national foundations. Foundations need to quickly mobilize funds, lighten up on reporting requirements, and increase their endowment payout rates.


Yet, I often hear this sentence coming from nonprofit reps who are in no way ready to handle what it takes to manage one grant, let alone whatever “as many as possible” means. Why? There’s an apples-to-apples assumption at play: more grants = more success. At best, this comes from a misunderstanding around how much of their budget should be sustained by grants. At worst, it assumes that grants are merely a transactional process requiring little personal energy.

Try this: “What is our fundraising ‘sweet spot’? What are we ready to handle?”

This question, instead, speaks to a willingness to learn whether grants are even the best means of fundraising to begin with. Giving USA reports that growth in future fundraising revenues lies in individuals, especially in bequests, major donors, or regular donors. In 2019, individual giving accounted for 69% of nonprofit contributions. And it’s no wonder. Grants take time and resources to manage that many nonprofits are simply not ready to manage. And that’s okay. Just because you fit grant eligibility on paper doesn’t mean that it makes sense to receive one.


How to get in this “sweet spot” mentality? Talk with a regional foundation rep, other like-minded agencies, or a grants consultant. I always tell clients to start local. A splashy grant from a national foundation doesn’t mean much when local shops down the street don’t know that you exist. Focus on your reputation within a community. Your HyVee manager. The HR department at the car dealership. A newfound local relationship could be the means for a family to not only be impacted by your mission but become potential lifetime givers who far outweigh the financial gain of a one-time grant.


2. “Could you just write some grants for us?”


Again, this comment assumes a false linear progression that getting grant awards = problems solved. It assumes that there is no relational skin-in-the-game required of nonprofit staff. It also assumes something on the part of the grant writer, aka someone like me. That my job is merely to submit grants on your behalf. Sometimes, I definitely do that. But most of the time, my job looks far more like coaching folks on when to follow-up with donors, who to talk to in their community, or whether applying for a grant is not in their best interests.


Getting people in your corner, regardless of potential grant dollars involved, is far more valuable to your organization’s longevity than a shotgun approach to grant writing.



Try this: “Can you show us where we need to grow to be grant ready?”


The relational dynamic at play here is a willingness to accept feedback. Accepting feedback says, “I am a person, you are a person. I want to grow, and I trust what you think of me.” Be prepared for feedback that requires—you guessed it—living, breathing, relational changes. For example:

  • You need to focus on improving your follow-up with people who already give to your organization.

  • You need to beef up your volunteer engagement before you brag about it in a grant.

  • Your board members need to better understand what your programs actually do.

  • You could benefit from more diverse perspectives at the table who could speak to your program’s effectiveness.

If you’re one of the few nonprofits operating at optimal pace with little room to improve, then all the more, make some friends and share your secret sauce!


3. “How could they reject us?!”


This is where the grants world really does feel personal some days. Rejection happens. It sucks. I’ve heard similar woes: “I can’t believe they rejected us again.” “Last year we got the grant, but this year we didn’t. What happened?” Or in You've Got Mail, Kathleen gets "stood up" on her date to meet chatroom user NY152, or eventually has to close The Shop Around the Corner. There’s a place for dangit, back to the drawing board to be sure.

But the whiny “how could they POSSIBLY reject us?!” is different, and often married to an impersonal assumption: checking all the boxes = getting grant dollars.


Let’s debunk this one. First, yes, following application instructions and being legitimately eligible for grant dollars is a standard prerequisite for your application to be considered, or even make it into the “consider” pile. However, approaching the grants world thinking that this is all you have to do is setting you up for failure. No wonder rejection feels so off-putting.


Try this: “This isn’t what we hoped for, but how can we learn from this?”


Relational grant writing changes the way you see rejection. If you’ve been in contact with a foundation rep through the application process, for example, a rejection letter is an opportunity to follow-up with that rep instead of putting them on your bridges-burned list.


When grant writing starts with a humble posture of learning, suddenly rejection is an opportunity to get more clarity about a funder’s giving priorities. In the long run, these post-rejection conversations could position you well in the eyes of the funder. But more importantly, they cultivate an attitude where your organization is more concerned about building a bridge instead of haphazardly burning one. Suddenly, rejection is both more human personal and less heartbreak-y personal.


Foundation elitism is real.

Sometimes our honest efforts to ask questions or accept feedback or shake hands are met with “privilege, power, and personal conflicts.” Instead of a symbiotic relationship where nonprofits and foundations mutually rely on each other, top-down control makes it obvious who’s in charge. If you’re feeling tiny and unseen, start binge-reading Vu Lee’s blog at nonprofitaf.com. This is one of my go-to resources where I remember that I’m not the only one seeing some shenanigans in the nonprofit sector.


And… if it seems like your nonprofit is more like a 750-word word count than an actual organization of PEOPLE solving complex issues that affect PEOPLE, start taking it personally. We’re people. They're people. It’s personal.




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©2020 by Katie Greener.