When we looked further into how Brendan Leonard established himself in the outside writing community, it appeared one of the defining jobs for him was working with a nonprofit called Big City Mountaineers. Focusing on taking inner city and under-served youth on outdoor excursions, this nonprofit provides jobs in guiding, writing, and communications while providing access to the outdoors for those who may never experience it otherwise.
In San Diego we have a similar program called Outdoor Outreach. The development staff maintains programming and increases the capacity for positive change mostly through writing grants. This important skill improves our outdoor community by providing 15-50% of nonprofit funding for outdoor organizations around the globe. The effects of this writing includes a bigger capacity of programs which increase environmental awareness, inclusion and unification of people from different backgrounds of commonly dividing characteristics, land stewardship, and in addition, personal fulfillment.
Why Grant Writing Matters:
Grant writing makes programming possible. Although the competitive and rhetorical pressures proposal writing can intimidate many nonprofit professionals, it is a necessary step in sustaining and developing programs which can make our planet a better place. Here are few examples of leading environmental nonprofits, which all rely on some degree of grant writing:
- Union of Concerned Scientists
- Environmental Working Group
- National Resources Defense Counsel
- Environmental Defense Fund
- The Sierra Club Foundation
- Access Fund
- American Alpine Club
- National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)
- Outdoor Outreach
Outdoor Outreach’s development director provided us with a few proposals used for their Adventure Club and Military Initiative:
For centuries, individuals, corporations, and now more than ever, our government have been fighting over open land rights.
It is well-documented that many under-served communities have a limited connection to their local ecosystems and natural resources, many of whom lack the knowledge of how to safely access these areas. Consequently, nearly all of the project participants are new to the outdoors. OO tailors their programming to support the needs of the communities they serve and break down the barriers that traditionally limit connections to parks and open-space areas, including parents that have limited time and finances, poor public transportation to parks and beaches, and perceptions that outdoor areas are “not for people like me”.
Many youth participants reflect on how OO changed their perception of the environment and their role in taking care of it. Deon, a project graduate, shared that “issues like pollution degrading our oceans didn’t really interest me until I actually understood what was worth protecting.” In their proposal to the Keen Effect they claim, “The clubs offer participants ongoing opportunities to develop a strong connection to the outdoors that inspires them to understand the value of our environment and take actions to protect it.” Efforts to protect future generations access to wilderness would not exist without time spent in wilderness, especially if those who could make a huge difference in their socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, etc. communities never see themselves as part of nature.
The increasing efforts to include youth in the environmental movement through recreation and stewardship activities has been widely successful in revealing how valuable time in nature feeds our mental, physical and spiritual well-being. The context however, surrounding psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, shows that if one’s physiological, safety, and sense of community needs are not met first, esteem and self-actualization are much more difficult to reach. Programs such as these provide food, water, warmth, etc., a safe learning environment within a community of like minded peers from similar backgrounds. Therefore, these youth may have increased self-esteem and a better sense of their role in their communities, as well as society as a whole.
When first getting involved in development writing for a nonprofit organization, consider creating a boilerplate proposal. This will familiarize a grant writer with their organization and better prepare them for answering the targeted questions that may be asked of them on any given proposal.
Typical sections of a boilerplate proposal may include:
- Cover Letter
- Executive Summary
- Need Statement
- Goals and Objectives
These proposals are often collaborative efforts between executive director and the development personnel, written similarly to a term paper. Using a simple format, and paying close attention to detail in proposal directions they often include claims, support, and warrants, with specific care in addressing the audience to make sure values and goals align with those of grantmaker.
Following the specific requirements of content and formatting is often the line between review and not. Since countless proposals get submitted, often times overlooking a formatting error may inhibit a proposal from even being looked over by a board member. More importantly however, is the content and presentation of a clear need in the community, SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely), and an inclusion of both quantitative and qualitative evidence of success.
Typography and organization is usually quite similar throughout proposals and each sections should provide a window into the organization’s overall mission and specific programs.
- Clearly identify the community need for the program/funding
- Research of potential funders on databases (ex. the Foundation Directory Online) using keywords such as “Adult and child mentoring”; “Child welfare”; “Community and economic development”; “Education”; “Environmental Stewardship”; “Exercise”; “Environment”; “Outdoor Education”; “Parks”; “Sports and Recreation”; “Sustainable development”; “Youth Development”; “Youth Services.”
- Manage and organize deadlines for each proposals
- Follow specific guidelines set by foundations (formatting, word count, desired content)
- Using rhetorical strategies, by considering the context, scene reading, concision, and using pathos, ethos, and logos to match Outdoor Outreach’s values with those of the foundation
- Link target audience and project together, including quantitative and qualitative evidence of the program’s success and sustainability
- Illustrate SMART goals and objectives which tie back into the needs statement
- Simplify operational budget and include budget notes
- Careful proofreading and editing, making sure all data points are clear and measurable and tie back into community need and mission statement
- Maintain relationships with foundation by reaching out to organization’s contact with questions about the proposal or their feedback
- Try again next year– sometimes it takes three or four submissions before the organization knows you’re serious, and sustainable
Ways of addressing the rhetorical situation:
A nonprofit which takes inner-city youth outdoors relies on the use of both quantitative and qualitative support. Grantmakers often seek organizations who clearly state a community need but also include anecdotal and statistical evidence of their program’s success. Throughout a proposal there must be narrative, where emotional rhetoric may be used, as well as sections where only numbers and logic-based language should be used, such as budget and budget notes. In a methods section both are used.
Qualitative: “Adventure Club programming will increase not only each participant’s understanding and perception of the value of the outdoors, but also those of their families, friends and communities. Consequently, the project’s ripple effect will positively impact thousands more individuals living in the communities we serve. Laura Guerrero, an AC graduate and OO assistant instructor, recently explained to members of California’s Parks Forward Commission that her OO experience inspired her to “encourage my family and friends to go outside and experience nature. I believe that by engaging one person, you can engage an entire community and create a culture of the outdoors”
Quantitative: “In 2013, youth participants reported the following: 97% reported an increase in their participation in positive activities; 83% reported an increase in their environmental stewardship; 100% reported an improvement in their interpersonal relationships; 100% reported an increase in their ability to work with others; and, 100% reported an increase in their ability to set and achieve goals. Additionally, 76% of our program participants reported an increase in their awareness of opportunities as a result of our programs. For the past four years 100% of Adventure Club seniors graduated from high school and went on to college or university. This is impressive because our program participants attend schools with some of the lowest graduation rates in the county.”
Due to the competitive nature of proposal writing, development writers must be concise and careful with their word choice, making sure their proposal content reflects the organization as whole, often connecting goals and objectives back with the overall mission. Using occasional bullet points and numbered lists may make it easier for board review panels to review the content.
After some practice, grant writing becomes less of a natural disaster and more like a puzzle. As you carefully put together the pieces of a proposal, you may begin to see the overall picture. This picture, often reveals our world just a little better than it was before.