Why Storytelling is Crucial for Nonprofits

In The Storytelling Animal, his examination of the evolutionary origins of fiction, Jonathan Gottschall writes:

“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”

Continue reading “Why Storytelling is Crucial for Nonprofits”


Grant Writing for Newbies, Pt. 5: How to Cite Your Grant Application’s (Many) Sources

In the dozens of grant solicitations I’ve read and responded to, I have never seen the following sentence:

“Cite all sources in MLA/APA/Chicago/AP style.”

Although I’ve never seen an RFA that requests a particular citation style, I have seen many which explicitly state that you must cite all of your sources.

You may ask yourself: “But what if a particular RFA doesn’t say that I have to cite my sources? Is it time to go bananas, throwing all citations to the wind as I roll—carefree—along the highway of zero accountability??”


No, even if the RFA doesn’t tell you to cite your sources, you must absolutely cite every single piece of information in the grant that is not coming directly from your nonprofit.

You may ask yourself: “OK, but the RFA doesn’t tell me what citation style to use! What do I do? I need guidelines!”


I felt exactly the same way at first. I just wanted the application instructions to give me clear guidance, such as: “Explain the need in the community. Cite all sources in APA style with a reference list attached.”

Recently, however, I’ve come to see the lack of clear direction for the citation style as, well, slightly liberating. If I’m writing a 1,000-character needs statement, I can (and should) choose to truncate my citations to save valuable space for all of the narrative I’m going to cram in. I’m not going to include a full APA citation with its long, tedious Digital Object Identifier (DOI). (If you don’t know what a DOI is, just know that it isn’t important for grants.)

Here’s what to do:

audience-auditorium-business-758976.jpgConsider your audience. If you’re writing an application to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), use loose APA style for your citations. The reviewers will be familiar with this style as it is widely used in the fields of human services, psychology, and social work.

When I have control over the format of the grant narrative, such as in a Word Document that will ultimately be converted to a PDF, I use footnotes (taking care to abbreviate as much as possible).

Footnote Examples:

  1. Census Bureau. 2012-16 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.
  2. Felitti, V.J., et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse & household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. Amer. Journ. Prev. Med., 14(4): 245-58.


When I don’t have control over the format, such as in a web form that just lets me copy/paste the final narrative in, I use modified in-text citations. The important thing to remember about these in-text citations is that there will be no Works Cited/References List page. Therefore, you need to include just enough information in the in-text citation to tell the reader where you got the information.

In-Text Examples:

  • Text text text (2012-16 American Community Survey [ACS]). Text text text (2012-16 ACS).
  • Text text (Felitti et al., “Relationship of childhood abuse & household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults”). Text text (Felitti et al.)


Any other ideas for grant citation goodness?

Grant Writing for Newbies, Part 4: Representing Community Need

The Statement of Need is often the first component of the grant application. The prompt will be something like this:

Describe the population the proposed project will serve. Document the extent of community need for the proposed project or service. Cite all sources.

This is your opportunity to tell your story, and make a strong case for the importance of your project to the community you will serve.

Examples of data you might include in the Needs Statement:

  • Demographic information about the target population (e.g., age, sex, ethnicity, income level, educational attainment, housing characteristics, primary industries)
  • Geographic profile of the target community: Is your area of focus isolated from key resources because of its remote, rural location? What are the transportation options available to residents? Is transportation reliable and accessible for low-income residents?
  • Environmental characteristics: Is the target area highly polluted? Are sufficient resources devoted to alleviating pollution? (If not, your project plan should describe how you will address this need.)

Great sources for some of the above data:

What are your favorite sources of data for the Needs Statement?

Grant Writing for Newbies, Part 1: What is Grant Writing?

Q: OK, what is grant writing?

Long before I started working on grants, I would occasionally hear of the nebulous field of “grant writing.” I thought it meant, basically, writing checks to nonprofits. I imagined a “grant writer” from a big foundation writing a check and a contract for a nonprofit and calling that a grant. Naturally, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“Grant writing” is actually a bit of a misnomer (for more information and a snazzy pie chart, see: Most of Grant Writing Is Not Writing: My Process). Perhaps a more accurate term would be “grant application writing” or “grant project development.” Essentially, grant writing is a nonprofit’s process of designing, revising, and proposing a future project to a funder.

Some examples of grant applications include:

  • A project to teach local children to swim (funding would be used to hire a full-time instructor and rent pool space at a gym)
  • A project to spay and neuter local cats (funding would be used to pay a veterinarian)
  • A project to improve literacy rates in Oregon (we’re asking for funding to pay teachers to work with children at local community centers and after-school programs)

It’s important to note that grant applications are definitely not always for new projects. Many nonprofits ask for funding to maintain or expand existing programs that have a track record of success.

Q: Who can apply for grants?

In almost every case, applicants for U.S. grants are required to be 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organizations.

See you in Part 2!

One Word Your Nonprofit Might Be Misspelling

I can’t even begin to list the grant proposals in which I’ve seen some variation of the following sentence:

Continue reading “One Word Your Nonprofit Might Be Misspelling”

Most of Grant Writing Is Not Writing: My Process

The term “grant writing” is a bit of a misnomer, as it makes the process of developing a grant application sound limited to typing up a draft. In reality, crafting a grant proposal is a complex process that involves many steps before real writing takes place.

Here’s my process:

Continue reading “Most of Grant Writing Is Not Writing: My Process”

One Word to Stop Using in Professional Writing

Whether you’re writing a cover letter, grant application, or professional report, “etc.” has no place in formal communication.

Picture some of history’s and popular culture’s most enduring quotes with the addition of “etc.”:

“That’s one small step for man, etc.”



“I’ll get you, my pretty, etc.”


If you’re still tempted to use “etc.” in your writing, imagine replacing it with, “I couldn’t be bothered to complete this.”

The one exception is the case in which you are writing to an audience that you are absolutely sure will understand what you mean, in which case you may choose to shorten a long list with “etc.”