Diary of an Aspiring Grant Writer. Learning to Write a Grant

After over two decades of working as a writer in a variety of capacities, as a journalist, author (novelist), content writer, and editor, I finally decided to explore the world of grant writing. About 14 years ago, as the executive director for a medium-sized faith-based nonprofit, I took a one-day grant writing workshop at the Center for Philanthropy in Indianapolis, and assisted a professional grant writer on our board of directors with researching and locating grants, but have never written a complete grant.

The professional grant writer wrote a number of grants we searched for together and won several of them from $5,000 for preliminary funding to $30,000 to create a strategic plan for our capital campaign. I was left to follow up with the foundation that provided the grant, set up the interviews for the strategic planning company with members and big philanthropists from the city, and make sure we complied with their conditions, but that’s a story for another post.

Working at GrantWatch has renewed my interest in learning to write grants. I’ve been involved with a number of nonprofit organizations over the years and have seen the difference adequate funding can make in providing the programming and services you can offer.

Recently, a dear friend with a calling to start a new program for at-risk youth overseas told me about her idea and sent me her proposal. Tracey Shipley has been helping teens and young adults get and stay sober through involvement in the creative arts, particularly music for a number of years. A powerful force to be reckoned with – a force for good – Shipley is a teen and family counselor, creative arts therapist, and addictions specialist for over twenty years. She’s worked for public institutions and privately with clients with all levels of addiction including heroin addicts and their families.

Several years ago, Tracey founded Sobar Jerusalem, providing a safe musical haven for teens and young adults to gather, listen to music or perform and socialize with no alcohol or drugs, in essence, a “sober bar.” She obtained some municipal funding, put up a crowdfunding campaign, had lots of donors and programs, and kept the program going for a number of years.

Shipley is an inspiring dynamo who got people behind her cause. She put together a board of directors and mission statement, had meetings with potential donors, and got the message out in national media including newspapers and in-depth television coverage. The idea grew and grew, and she found space for the project, put together a band as well as offered open mic opportunities, and got musicians to donate their time and energy to helping young artists perfect their craft and hone their performances.

They began offering other classes and it continued to grow and in one sense thrive – the people who attended and were involved thrived – and stayed away from drugs… but they weren’t able to sustain it long term. They had to scale back and soon Sobar Jerusalem was only open once every month or so, again, rotating from one venue to another with the promise of great entertainment and a great place to get together with friends and meet new people in a sober environment. Parents were thrilled with the idea, but during times when bombings and terror activities became more intense, it just wasn’t people’s priority or in their best interest, to go out at night.

Fast forward another year and Shipley is at it again with a revised project she describes below, that is open to all teens and young adults, which she calls plan B. 

The precursor of a center such as the ‘Sobar’ will be the formation of Jerusalem’s first School of Rock – ‘JSOR’! An exciting innovative project that will involve both teens and young adult musicians as students; teachers and performers.

We will train young singers and musicians already with advanced talents to reach a higher potential. We will prepare them to work with musicians to form bands while showing them how to perform on a stage and draw in their audience.

The teachers and mentors will be young adult musicians and other young professionals in the field who will be trained to work with youth of all backgrounds. These mentors will be encouraged to excite the young participants through their personal stories of music as their natural high.

Once participants are prepared, we will provide them with performance venues. They will be able to invite their friends and audiences of all ages. Similar to the ‘Sobar’ events, the performances will be alcohol and smoke free while maintaining the atmosphere of an exciting concert.

And so, we’re looking for a grant to get it written. In the meantime, we have put up a crowdfunding campaign on YouHelp.

I turned to expert grant writer Libby Hikind, founder and CEO of GrantWatch for guidance. She’s working on creating a Grant Writing Institute, with a course to become a professional grant writer, but I can’t wait. We need to get this venture going now.

Hikind suggested that before we start writing a grant we take these questions into consideration: “Do we have enough lead time to make the deadline? Do we completely meet the grant eligibility? What are the grantors willing to fund? Are you or is anyone in your organization qualified to write the grant? Create a team to work together on it, or find an experienced grant writer through Grant Writer Team.”

So, for Shipley’s project, we used the GrantWatch location settings.  Next, we looked through appropriate categories along the right side of the GrantWatch website: Arts and Culture, Youth/Out-of-School Youth, Capital Funding, and Substance Abuse.

Which should we review first? What’s the closest to our mission or should we do an advanced search that will include more than one of those topics? We will be skimming through and if there are too many, we’ll narrow down the search. If not, we’ll go ahead from there.

We read through all the offerings and found two grants to apply for. We read the descriptions on the site of how to apply and get started.

Between the crowdfunding campaign and grant applications available, I am hoping to help Sobar Jerusalem and JSOR, get the funding they need.

About the Author: Riki Horowitz has spent years in the nonprofit world with a number of different organizations.