Category Archives: Grant Geek Diva Blog Articles

Quick Tips for Grant Writing: Tip 1 – Focus!

I’ve decided to create a series of posts that share tips for grant writing that I’ve learned over my pretty long career in grant writing.  I’ll share one tip per post and go into some detail about the particular tip.

I was inspired to do this because I receive many questions about grant writing and they tend to be similar in some ways and very different in other ways.  At first I often think “how the heck would I know?” Then I realize “oh my gosh I have been doing this for a long time.” Sometimes I’m amazed when I stop and realize I’ve been writing grants for more than 25 years.  Yikes I guess I’m getting old!  I never meant to become a grant writer – I kind of fell into it and a few years later realized I might be able to have my own business with it and the rest is history.  It’s definitely been a big blessing in countless ways but there are times it has been challenging too.  Living under constant deadlines is very stressful – it just is.  But being able to help lots of organizations and people is a wonderful way to spend one’s time and I’m super grateful for that.

In thinking about the kinds of questions I get from people about grants most often, one of them has to do with getting overwhelmed.  What is the basis of that? To me, it is how to focus.  It’s a great question because there are so many grants that one could apply for it can be overwhelming.  The truth is there is no perfect answer to this question but there are some pitfalls to watch out for.

My first tip for how to focus:

  1. Find possible funders who support what you are already doing or plan to do. 

This might also be called don’t be a victim of “Shiny Object Syndrome”.

I cannot tell you how many times over the past decades I have watched an organization try (and usually fail) to create a new project just so they can apply for a pathetic $5,000 from some foundation that is giving out funds and they just have to apply.  This is not a good strategy for successful grant writing.  Writing a grant is a lot of work and most of the grants you apply for you will not get. It can be especially disappointing if you spend hours of time crafting a new idea, writing your grant proposal, making it perfect and sending it off to the funder and then you get the news that you aren’t funded.  It is even more painful when one of the reasons that the funder gives you for not funding you is that they aren’t clear how this new program fits into your overall operations or mission.  You’ve been busted!  

Although it may take more focus, discipline and time at the beginning, it is much more effective to get clear about what you want to do and look for potential funders that match your goals.  Once you get really clear about what you are doing and everyone working with you really gets it on a visceral level, you’ll find that it almost takes on a life of its own.  When you happen to come across a funder with a pot of money, your discernment skills will be much sharper because you will have put your attention on fleshing out your idea and it will be much clearer in your mind.  When you review the funder priorities you will realize more quickly that this funder does or doesn’t support what you do.  Surprisingly, you may find that more funders you come across actually do fund the kinds of things you are doing. Thus, you will have a much higher likelihood of success because what you already do is in alignment with the funder.  In terms of production, you may already have grant materials written that you can tweak to meet the funder guidelines or at least you will be able to write about your project more fluently because it is really what you are doing or want to do and you have a better understanding of it.

I completely understand that it can be really difficult to avoid the trap of applying for every grant you see that looks even close but trust me it is not the best use of your time. It is a balance and it is not always possible to know which funders are the best fit, but in general if you review a funder’s guidelines and start thinking about changing what you do to fit them, it’s probably not a good fit.

Remember, the Grant Geek Diva always says “You don’t have to get it perfect, but you do have to get it rolling!”


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May 9, 2018 · 3:49 pm

Grant Writing 101 – Learn the Nuts and Bolts of Grant Writing.

PrintJoin me – the Grant Geek Diva, for a one-day workshop to learn about key concepts in grant writing.  In this workshop you will learn the basics about how to write successful grant proposals and how to find potential funders for your work.  As a result of your participation, you can expect to learn how the private funding world works, where to find potential funders for your project and tips for writing a quality grant proposal.  The interactive workshop will include hands-on exercises to help you learn about research and grant writing.

When: Saturday June 13, 2015; 10AM – 4PM   Please Register by June 6th

Where:  UCERM Empowerment Center, 324 Blue Hill Ave., Dorchester, MA 02125; (Grove Hall on corner of Blue Hill Ave. & Lawrence Ave.)

To register, click here – fee is $75 for a 6-hour workshop.  Very inexpensive as my usual consulting fee is $150 per hour.

I am Founder and President of The Grant Connection.  I have raised more than $30 million in grant funding over the past 21 years for my clients, with a 90% government grant success rate.  I hold a Master of Science Degree in Maternal and Child Health from the Harvard University School of Public Health and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Boston University.

Full Workshop Description at:

Hope to see you there! You can also email for more info.

And remember, the Grant Geek Diva always says “You don’t have to get it perfect, but you do have to get it rolling!”

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Filed under Grant Geek Diva Blog Articles – Equity Investment – Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Program

The Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program, part of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), was created in 1958 to fill the gap between the availability of venture capital and the needs of small businesses in start-up and growth situations. SBICs exist to supply equity capital, long­term loans and management assistance to qualifying small businesses.The privately owned and operated SBICs use their own capital and funds borrowed from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide financing to small businesses in the form of equity securities and long­term loans. SBICs are profit­seeking organizations that select small businesses to be financed within rules and regulations set by SBA. Specialized SBICs (SSBIC) are a particular type of SBIC that provide assistance solely to small businesses owned by socially or economically disadvantaged persons.

SBICs invest in a broad range of industries. Some SBICs seek out small businesses with new products or services because of the strong growth potential of such firms. Some SBICs specialize in the field in which their management has special competency. Most SBICs, however, consider a wide variety of investment opportunities.

General Program Requirements

To obtain SBIC financing, you should first identify and investigate existing SBICs that may be interested in financing your company. Use the SBIC directory as a first step in learning as much as possible about SBICs in your state, or in other areas important to your company’s needs. In choosing an SBIC, consider the types of investments it makes, how much money is available for investment and how much might be available in the future. You should also consider whether the SBIC can offer you management services appropriate to your needs. Only companies defined by SBA as “small” are eligible for SBIC financing.

Loan Terms

This program provides equity investment as opposed to debt financing. The difference is that debt involves a loan that needs to be repaid on certain terms. An equity investment involves an Investment company that buy a piece of your business. They become co-owners in the business. These type of investments are negotiated by the investor and the company and therefore do not have standard terms like a debt financing (loan) program. More information about preparing for the investment is located at:

Application Process

To find information about active SBICs, please visit the National Association of Small Business Investment Companies (NASBIC) website at:

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Filed under Government Resources and Information, Grant Geek Diva Blog Articles

How to Properly Display the American Flag from

ImageWith Memorial Day weekend here, a lot of us will be displaying our Flag to honor those who gave their lives for our country.  There can be confusion and questions about how to properly wear and display the American flag, especially around the summer holidays when many people want to display a flag.

Here is what the law says about using the American flag properly (PDF):

  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water or merchandise.
  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.
  • The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying or delivering anything.
  • The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
  • The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides or back of a vehicle or of a railroad train or a boat.

Read more rules and regulations that govern flag display (PDF).

Happy Memorial Day and THANKS to all those who gave their lives for our freedom!!

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Filed under Government Resources and Information, Grant Geek Diva Blog Articles

Grants Are Not Transactions

For the last few years I’ve worked with several real estate investors to help them get grants.  Throughout this process, I’ve sometimes found it frustrating working with real estate investors because I didn’t understand why they found grants so complicated.  Recently I was talking with a colleague Kevin, who has a lot of experience in the real estate world and he said to me “Real estate investors look at everything as a transaction.”  I got it! It made perfect sense to me.  Most real estate investors  look at everything as a transaction or a deal, which makes sense because that’s what real estate investors do – they do deals.

The complicating factor, however, is that grants are not transactions. Grants are designed to make an impact on a problem, not make a deal work.   They are based on a process of steps, and are not based on making money and they can take some time to get.  Since real estate investors live in a deal-oriented, competitive world I can see how they could be frustrated by the grant process.  For one thing, grants are never guaranteed.  Secondly, it can take several months to get a grant so if you are working on a project where you need quick funding, grants are probably not the best way to go.

Let me explain it a little more specifically.  A funder who gives away a grant gives it away so that it will solve a problem.  This problem could be any kind of problem – a health problem, a social problem, an environmental problem, a housing problem, etc.  In and of itself a grant isn’t about making money; it’s about having an impact on a problem.  The funder invites people to apply for this funding by submitting a proposal as to why their potential solution to the problem is the best one.  Then the funder reviews the proposals received and chooses the ones that they believe are most likely to solve the problem.  Thus, there is no guarantee that a proposal submitted for funding will be approved.  It’s a process of steps.

Having said that, I believe there are many potential applications of grants for real estate projects for those real estate investors who are truly committed to working on projects that benefit communities and those who focus on long-range planning and holding onto their vision and are willing to think outside the traditional real estate box.  My nonprofit organization, Homes That Change Lives, since 2011, has purchased more than 100 bank-owned properties that have been resold to low and moderate income home owners. This program was managed by, guess who, a real estate investor!  He saw the potential and stuck with it and it worked!

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One Person’s Entitlement is Another Person’s Safety Net

Well, I can’t actually take credit for the title of this post. The credit goes to my sister Ashley Duncan who said this during a great conversation we were having the other day.


But, it got me thinking she is onto something.  It seems to me so much of the time we get caught up in the details of things that we forget about the context.  And, in reality, context is everything.  There are so few absolutes.  For example, we all know the 1st amendment guarantees free speech, but you can still get in trouble if you yell fire in a crowded theater when there really isn’t a fire.  And when I was in public health school many years ago I took a law class called “Public Health Law and Human Rights”, where we studied legal cases about the balance between individual rights and the public good.  For example, if someone was infected with a communicable disease that would put others at risk of catching it by being around them, that person could be forcibly quarantined.  As much as people like to argue for individual rights with no limits, there are practical things that make it complicated because we are part of a broader society whether we like it or not.  I guess that all-too-common saying – “It’s Not All About You!” is true.

I keep hearing all these people argue about government spending and entitlements and complaining about all the money that is being spent on things like welfare and food stamps, so I decided to do some research.  What I found was very interesting.  For one thing, yes, the USDA did fork out more than $20 million in excess financial assistance last yearbut OOPS, it didn’t go to food stamps, it went to farm subsidies for crop insurance.  There were no overpayments for nutrition assistance (AKA foodstamps). ( Excess payments averaged $209,000 excess per payout.  I know, I know.  It’s not nearly as bad as the welfare mom who spends $20 on a steak instead of buying 5 packages of Oscar Mayer bologna with that $20.  She’s so irresponsible.

Of course, anyone who knows anything about “entitlement programs” knows that welfare and food stamps are very small outlays when compared with Social Security and Medicare, which is a form of socialized insurance.  Is Medicare an entitlement or a safety net?  Well, it is definitely an entitlement, based on the definition.  But, most reasonable people would also say it’s a safety net for the millions who rely on it.    All these responsible people are so concerned about the outrageous amount of money that the government will have to spend if the United States offers universal health care.  Well, here’s an interesting fact.  While many criticize “socialized medicine”, if you look at the numbers globally, the US has the highest per capita health care costs of most industrialized nations, even those with universal health care (see chart below).  What?  You mean providing a “safety net” might actually be a more efficient use of funding than keeping low-to-moderate income people from having insurance?  What people often don’t think about is that even without universal health care taxpayers are still footing the bill for the trips to the emergency room that uninsured people make to get health care because they don’t have any other way to get it.  That’s an expensive safety net, isn’t it?

File:Total health expenditure per capita, US Dollars PPP.png

If you want some more information about the potential for saving money by offering universal health care, take a look at this interesting site that documents several studies in several states that have been conducted over the past 20 years, showing lots of ways we can save money while offering health care to everyone.  Maybe safety nets are not such a bad investment after all?

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Filed under Government Resources and Information, Grant Geek Diva Blog Articles, Opinions, Politics, Etc.

Where Did All the Neighborhoods Go?

A few nights ago I was hosting karaoke at a VFW post.  I always love hosting at social clubs like VFWs because the people are always down-to-earth and welcoming.  I was talking to one of the wives of one of the members and she was telling me how she grew up a few houses away from the post and she had lived in the neighborhood her entire life – in fact, she still lives there.  She was remembering when she was growing up and when she first got married and had her children how neighbors were, well “neighborly”.  People talked to each other and helped each other out and created and maintained a sense of community.  She was expressing her sadness that over the past 10 years the neighborhood had lost its feeling of neighborhood because the new people who were moving in would build large fences around their very small lots leaving the neighborhood feeling more  like prison than a neighborhood.

I could understand where she was coming from.  I grew up in the country in Southern Illinois where everyone knew their neighbors and everyone helped each other. If someone needed help…you just helped them – no questions asked.  Now I live in a city myself, and while I’m fortunate to have good neighbors, I do understand that feeling of being alone and like a number.  Everyone keeps to themselves too much.  My personal opinion is that the societal focus on big corporations and technology has a lot to do with this.  Don’t get me wrong. Technology is great and some things we can do so much easier now because big corporations put tons of money into helping to make daily life easier. But all this progress has come at a cost.  Everything goes so fast and so many people are so caught up in the “rat race” that we often forget to say hello to the person next door to us or to even remember that we are part of a larger community.

As a grant writer, this concept of neighborhoods, I believe, is quite relevant.  As government funding continues to decrease and even private foundations are giving less due to the difficult economy, people on the neighborhood level are going to have to work together to improve their communities if they want to make meaningful change.  There are hundreds of amazing projects that have been started by one or two concerned neighborhood residents and have really helped communities, whether it’s starting a community garden, a neighborhood safety watch, a program to visit senior  citizens to make sure they are OK, or even social events for residents to get acquainted.  I believe the need and opportunity for neighborhood development that starts at the neighborhood level will continue to grow and there will be more opportunities for grant funds to support these kinds of efforts.

One good example of someone who is helping to promote and support projects that were started on the neighborhood level is the National Institute for Civic Enterprise, also known as the NICE Network.  This project was started by Debra Berg, after she spent eight years researching going around the country and identifying people who were doing cool things to help their communities.  Her quest resulted in a book called “The Power of One”.  Learn more about her work at

If you have any stories of cool neighborhood development projects started by motivated residents, please feel free to post them here.

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Filed under Grant Geek Diva Blog Articles