How To Align Your Fundraising and Grant Writing Strategy
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Fireside Chat Transcript
Absolutely. I just want to thank everybody for joining us today. Welcome to the fireside chat with Mallory Erickson and Meredith Noble: Aligning your Fundraising and Grant Writing Strategies. As you guys know—if you’re in the Learn Grant Writing community— Meredith is the CEO and co-founder of Learn Grant Writing and Mallory Erickson is the creator of the Power Partners Formula. So as we’re here— and we definitely have a lot of other things to do— let’s just take a really quick second to get centered. Close your eyes and take a deep breath just to become very present in the moment. We’ll do that one more time just to calm down.
Perfect. So we already kind of prompted you guys to share with us what candle scent you showed up with today. But if you would, write in the chat box what brought you in today so that we can learn a little bit more about what you’re up to. And with that, we’ll go ahead and dive in. Will both of you share a little bit of your story? What brought you to this seat today? Mallory, we can start with you.
Sure. Well, thank you for having me and it is so nice to meet all of you. My name is Mallory Erickson. I have spent my career in the nonprofit sector. I, like many fundraisers, became an accidental fundraiser when I got promoted into a managing director role and actually spent most of my career really hating fundraising (which is hilarious now as a fundraising consultant). But what really shifted my experience was actually starting to step out of kind of the typical trainings that I was finding inside the nonprofit sector. I went through an executive coach certification program, I started to be trained in behavior change and design thinking, and it was actually the fusion of those different kind of methodologies and teaching that really fundamentally changed the way that I fundraised. This ultimately led me to create my program, which is called the Power Partners Formula, which is all about how to truly identify win-win relationships. So now I work with folks one-on-one and inside my course and absolutely love fundraising. I was really able to sort of approach the practice from a completely different lens and with a completely different skill set. So really excited to talk today about how those strategies align with grant writing. So thanks.
Excellent. Meredith, on to you.
Speaker 3 (00:02:33):
Awesome. Great. So I started grant writing by accident— basically was freelancing— that led to a full-time job. Did that for five years for a large consulting firm where we— where I— won $42 million in grants. Burned out, pledged to never write another grant again. Similar story with Mallory— who would’ve thought we’d be here? That led to starting a sexy startup that failed. I call it three month MBA and what do you know? I didn’t want to get a job again, so I started grant writing and consulting, and that was such a wild and fun journey. And I kept getting asked for coffee to teach grant writing, but no amount of coffee— full pot or not— am I going to give you everything you needed to know about grant writing. So that eventually led to— well, maybe I could teach it online. And so that’s kind of what led us to where we are today— which is, you know— found a new method for reaching people and that’s through the Grant Writing Unicorn Collective.
So there’s some key differences and key similarities. How do grant writing and fundraising fit together?
Speaker 3 (00:03:41):
Katie, just so you know, that was like a weird background sound. So I don’t know if you have two mics going or something— but just so you know. Okay. But I think, yeah— so the question— did you catch up Mallory? The key differences and similarities that are between fundraising and grant writing and how they fit together?
Do you want to start Meredith? Or do you want me to?
Okay. Well, I mean, I think, you know— I’m not going to obviously capture everything in here as well. And I shared with my list too— you guys have a great article that sort of starts our blog that kind of starts at the ground zero around the difference between fundraising and grant writing. You know, when I think about the key similarities, I think about relationship building, I think about storytelling, I think about representing the perspective of either the reader or the person you’re in conversation with in that meeting— whether or not you’re fundraising, right? The ultimate goal of writing a grant and other forms of fundraising is all the same in terms of winning revenue for your organization or for the organization that you work for. And I think all of those things— whether it’s through grant or through fundraising— happened because of really good alignment that you’ve identified ahead of time, really transformative stories that you’re telling, and ways that you’re actually like connecting that alignment and those stories altogether by kind of adopting the perspective of the person who’s on the other side of that table or reading the grant on the other side. So those are what I would say for similarities. What do you think in terms of similarities maybe before we talk about the differences?
Yeah. I mean— I resonate with what you said for similarities. I guess I could jump into differences. I think the biggest difference that’s most glaring to me is that fundraising is more— my Sparkles just does not want to stay put you guys, so we’ll go right here. I think the biggest difference would be that I think of grant writing as sort of more project oriented. You have an application that’s due, it has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and then it’s in. And it has these sort of big— bigger peaks and valleys. Whereas fundraising feels like it’s more consistency wins the game and a lot of routine activities that are really important to do and stay on top of, particularly in relationship management. And so I think one of the biggest differences would just be, what’s your personality type? Like Mallory— I know you’ve said you won’t touch grant writing with a 10 foot stick. Right? And I feel the same way about fundraising, because they are in a way, a different side of the brain. I guess that kind of leads to another question I know Katie has about like— well, what if you’re both?
Yeah. So Mallory, let’s say there’s a small nonprofit. The fundraiser and the grant writer is the same person. How do you wear both of those hats well?
Yeah. Well, I think what Meredith just sort of hit on in terms of the differences around the workflow piece is a really important thing to sort of recognize and note. And you know something I talk a lot about inside Power Partners and just in general, is that this idea of bucketing time. And when I talk about like bucketing time, I don’t just mean— like sometimes I’ll have a client say, well, I did bucket my time, Mallory. I spent those four hours on fundraising. But inside those four hours, they were doing outreach to new prospects, they were working on a grant, they had one meeting. And then they’re sort of calling that their fundraising bucket. And I think what’s really kind of dangerous about doing that is— and then when you don’t feel productive, right? You’re like, I have that fundraising bucket of time, but it didn’t feel productive. And part of the reason it didn’t feel productive is because the workflows are really different— like Meredith was talking about— in terms of the grant writing. The activation of your brain is really different between those different types of activities and your energy is really different between those different types of activities. Right? So having to shift between being like externally focused and talking to someone face-to-face and then going down to write a grant— there’s a lot of shifting that’s still happening there. So when I talk about bucketing time, I really talk about bucketing activity tight and actually like funding— I’m trying to think of a simplified way of saying this. I really recommend that folks focus on one type of program at a time, with one type of funder at a time, with one type of activity at a time. So let me explain what that means. So I’m still in kind of like small shop mode, right? So you are the person inside the organization doing all of the things. You would be focused if you have a three hour block just on either working on that very specific grant, that’s for a very specific program. And let’s say you finish it an hour early and you still have an hour left of that time block. Then I would focus on outreach to foundations related to that program that you want to win funding for. Because what’s happening then during that time is the whole three hours are focused on funding around that one project. That whole three hours are around funding from foundations. Your brain gets to stay there too, right? And you’re in like writing mode for that whole time. So that’s how you kind of decrease all of the shifts, and context switching pitfalls, basically.
It’s like an excellent way to stay current.
Yeah. I love the way that Mallory put that. When I was even at the engineering consulting firm, I found that because we could see each other’s calendars, people would put a meeting on my calendar every day of the week. And there is no possible way that you can get into a writing zone when you’re fragmented with these meetings and follow-ups, right? So I got to the point where I was actually blocking out— I think it was two, if not three days of the week, like fully blocked out. So if you look at my calendar— I’m busy every week, Tuesday through Thursday. You can meet with me on Monday and Friday— you know, it was something like that. And actually I’ve found that to remain as a really helpful way of thinking about this. So if I were juggling both fundraising and grant writing, there would be grant writing day— or two— and fundraising day. Not to say that grant writing loose ends can’t get grouped in with fundraising, but they are very different activities. I like your point, Mallory, on energy. When you’re writing, you are in a kind of withdrawn, quiet, reserved, contemplative place. When you are outward facing, like you were doing jumping jacks before you get on that phone call, right? Two totally different mindsets.
Meredith, when those two hats are different— when they’re two different people in those roles— do you have any advice or strategies for how they would work well together? There’s an example here that we’re thinking about around how grant writers often get blamed for not winning.
I’ll let Mallory cover that one. Yeah. So I guess this is the piece I can say about how they could play together really, really well. Grant writers are more successful when they have in the bag, the applicants committed to funds. And that needs to be at least 20%. The best place to get that first commitment are from your most loyal followers— those that your fundraising professionals have the relationship with. They’re the ones that are more likely to be first in because they already trust and believe you. So by working together, have your fundraising side of the house help lock in that 20%, then you can go use that as leverage to free up an additional 80% in grant funding or whatnot, right? So if you work together and you time it well, fundraiser gets out in front, gets your local commitment locked in. And then the grant writer gets to work putting that to action. And that is a power play when those two are really well synched.
Meredith, can I just ask you a quick question and then I’ll answer that other piece. Do you mean like that— just to like break it down— do you mean that the fundraiser goes and like secures a verbal commitment from a foundation and then the grant writer does the backend? Or are you saying like if the project is $100,000, the fundraiser goes and secures $20,000 and then the grant writer finds where the next $80,000 is going to come from?
Good clarification. So when I was thinking of the fundraiser raising $20,000, I was thinking through not foundations so much— I put that in the grant writers responsibility. I always thinking of the philanthropist or the smaller donation members, right? So getting that funding that’s not tied to a specific outcome. And yes, it doesn’t have to be fully like in the bank because grant writing does take awhile to secure that funding. So even if it is a verbal commitment, but they have it on paper— I mean, frankly that’s even better leverage because you can say we have $20,000 secured if we’re able to double this with grant funding. Otherwise that commitment goes away. So it kind of becomes a— does that make sense?
Yes, totally. I wasn’t sure if the percentages were related to like one grant or like the project, so that really clarified it for me. And then also, maybe takes me to what Katie was alluding to before. Which is— you know— something and I’m speaking to this, like as the fundraiser, right? So I just want to say, I also really empathize with grant writers. And I’ve heard this a lot from grant writers that they feel like when they don’t win a grant, kind of the blame around that falls on them. And like 100%, like this is a team sport, you know? Like there is no like cold applying to grants for an organization that you are not running that is not influenced by all of the other pieces involved in that grant. And so like one thing I would sort of recommend for grant writers— especially those outside of the institutions— is like advocate for what you need. You know, I think one of the mistakes I’ve seen grant writers make sometimes is they just like— they’re following the directions of the executive director and they’re not kind of like raising red flags around certain things. And then the grant isn’t one and the executive director kind of feels like misled. And you might’ve known the whole time that like, this didn’t look good for this reason or this reason. And so communication and transparency is just so critical. And I’m sure like Alex and Meredith are teaching this every step of the way, but just from the fundraisers perspective, I just sort of wanted to add that. And then for you fundraisers, you should be meeting with all of these foundations before grants are submitted. Even if they say, you know— and, and that’s how you get past the invitation only thing too, right? It’s like through these meetings. Power Partners— my formula is really focused on like alignment. And like when you can identify the right win-win alignment and have meetings with folks around shared goals, shared initiatives, what’s the win-win? Like those foundations— they are trying to achieve very specific, tangible things. If your organization— your work— helps them achieve that, you need to talk to them through the lens of their goals and where those things align with what you’re doing as an organization. And just ask to jump on a quick call to discuss strategic partnership opportunities, run a few different ideas by them, see where the hot zones are. All of that should inform the grant writing, right? When these things are siloed, I think we’re, you know, we’re hurting ourselves in multiple ways. And so I want to encourage the grant writers to like push back around what you need to really write the most compelling grant possible and fundraisers to really work to set grant writers up for success as much as possible, I think ahead of time.
Oops, mute.The struggle can be real. Okay.
But that is actually like such a relief of crushing— like a weight lifted off of our shoulders as grant writers. Thank you for explaining that. Meredith, is there anything that you have to add?
No, I love that it was great advice. Awesome.
So a lot of people come to the nonprofit space wanting to help their community and have a meaningful career. If someone were debating about whether to go the fundraising route or the grant writing route, what advice would you give them and how do you determine which field might be better suited for them? So Meredith will you start there?
Okay. Well, who wants to be a unicorn? Just kidding. I’m not pitting us against Mallory’s unicorns. She brought her daughters— look all decked in flannels. So yeah, choosing between the two— what it comes down to is your personality, figuring out what plays to your strengths, what plays to like lighting your soul. And you might find that you are attracted to both. And so you might do very well in a smaller organization where you can play both hats. I do think that the grant writer in some capacity will always kind of flirt with some of the fundraiser’s activities, particularly in that relationship building role with the funder. If we drew a Venn diagram, you have overlap, no matter how you look at it. Like I probably started at the top of the hour with, I think grant writing is best for those that like project work— they want to dig in super, super deep and then they want to take a week off. So if you’re the type of person that is okay with working really hard, and then having some rest and being okay about that rest and not feeling guilty, grant writing is a great role for you. And then fun. And then I guess the other piece is I like becoming dangerously knowledgeable about a lot of topics. So you can be a very fun person at a dinner table because the beauty of grant writing— especially if you’re doing it in a freelancer consulting capacity— is you get to work on a lot of projects and you have to learn enough to be dangerous because you have to write about it. Right? And if you don’t understand it clearly enough to write about it, your reviewer will not either. So I think that’s also a very fun element of grant writing, but it does come down to your personality type and what plays to your strengths? Do you love writing? Mallory, What else would you add?
Yeah, yeah. So I would just say, I think that— I like how you sort of talk about that Meredith. Like, do you like kind of the project work and more of the independent work and writing and all of those things. And then the other thing I would just say is that— you know, a lot of people, I mean, for my whole life, since I’ve been fundraising— when I would say I’m a fundraiser, I would hear like, oh my gosh, like I could never do that. There’s a lot of stigma around fundraising and a lot of that we internalize and it leads to fears of fundraising. So like some of you guys might be sitting here right now being like, well, I am a really extroverted person, I do really like building relationships— but oh, asking for money, like that sounds so scary. And what I would encourage you to embrace is that like, there actually is a way to fundraise differently that feels really aligned and embodied and good. You know, I think as a fundraiser, when people have said things to me like that— like, oh, I can’t believe you’re a fundraiser— I’m like, do you know how lucky I am? I get to walk around every day and meet with people about something I believe so deeply in. And I get to invite them to be involved in making change in something that we both want to see changed. What a privilege! Like I get to talk about something I love all day long and invite other people to be a part of that thing, too. And watch them feel pride. You know, like one of my fundamental kind of like belief shifts that I work with folks on inside Power Partners is this idea that great fundraising is not an ask — it’s an offer. That it’s about opportunity and partnership and connection and vulnerability. That that’s really like true real fundraising— that’s what it is. And I just got an email like last week from an ED. When we started working together, like hated fundraising. Literally had never made a one-on-one ask before. She was like, terrified. I put her through the formula, she did not want to do it. We had this donor who had given $5,000 before, but there was this really clear opportunity that aligned with him that was $87,000 to invest in building this health center. He ended up doing it. We coached her through the whole process, he gave the money, they built the health center, all the things. He wrote her last week, and like the sentence in the email was like, I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I’m proud of— the health center, tops them all. Thank you so much for presenting this opportunity. And she just wrote me to be like, you were right— like, it is an opportunity. And I’m like, oh my God, a year out— I was like, you know, coaching her around this. But like, I feel such privilege as a fundraiser and supporting fundraisers to be giving these really meaningful opportunities that are giving this really incredible impact that I just believe— the money movement into the nonprofit sector is how we’re going to see the change we all want to see. And so I would tap into like, what is your personality? What is your energy? And if fear is coming— if you’re like, I think I’m a fundraiser, but it’s fear— you can get over that. You can get over that. And that is not a reason. Cause I watch too many organizations— especially the small shops where they’re the grant writer and the fundraiser— I watch too many of those organizations spend too much time grant writing when they need to be building relationships with other funders, because they’re scared of the other activity. And the grant writing feels safer and it feels like less rejection. And so I just want to call that out because that is really what keeps a lot of organizations stuck and you can do the other stuff.
Speaker 3 (00:22:19):
Oh yeah. Mic drop! Right. Golly, Mallory just totally mic dropped. Oh, it’s so true. I mean, we often hear people say like, well, we applied for 50 grants last year. I’m like, whoa, 50, what was your win rate? Well, we got two. I’m like that is a bad use of time. Same, same. Our method is all about you have got to still confirm it’s a good opportunity, to make sure there’s the competitiveness is at least reasonable, that you’ve been invited to apply. There’s a, win-win on both sides of this equation so that instead of writing 50, write 5, but you win them all. So it does come down to kind of slowing your roll. And I think grant writing can feel like it’s a real accomplishment because when you were done and you submitted it, like it’s a tangible thing— you’re done with it. That feels good, I get that. In Mallory’s work— doesn’t feel as tangible. It can take a longer time to get that email from someone that says, thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this. So I think that’s one of the other challenges is that we want tangible proof of our hard work. But I think the beauty of if we can overcome our own mental barriers on that, we get to the tangible proof way faster anyway.
Absolutely. So it sounds like you both kind of addressed some blocks that fundraisers have and grant writers have. And a lot of them are, you know, mind frame and mental. So thank you for highlighting that for us in the group today. Super grateful to know that those can all be overcome. So a core part of both of these careers really is building relationships. How do you suggest building relationships with funders, Mallory?
I think we get a lot from our grant writers because we are putting them that role of you need to still go— especially when you’re seeing something that says invite only, right. How do you overcome those roadblocks? So it’s a question we get a lot and we’re really eager for your answer on that Mallory.
Okay, cool. Let me take a sip of water. Totally. Since I’m just recovering from my last soap box, but I’ll keep this one shorter. You know, inside Power Partners and in the webinar that I’ll give folks the link to, I talk about this idea of asset mapping and funder matching. And so one of the things that I encourage all organizations— grant, writers— to do is think about the assets of the organization beyond just the program itself. So assets look like things like thought leaders on the board of directors, or the number of people on your email list, or your social media following, or your sort of reputation in addressing a certain issue area, right? Who the founder is sometimes or the, or the ED. Those are assets that different types of funders are interested in either having access to or partnering with or leveraging. And one of the pieces— one of the things that’s so powerful about asset mapping is that it does two things. One is that it helps you really see what your offer is, right? That piece around switching, from ask to offer. That’s a huge mindset shift that needs to happen before relationship is built. Because if that doesn’t happen first— if you aren’t showing up to the table with that offer— then ultimately we are trying to build relationships from a very scarcity based mindset where we feel like we’re like begging for something or we’re hounding people. Or we’re like asking someone to give us something that they don’t really want to give, but like we just got to talk them into it anyways. And like, that is not, that is not relationship building energy, right? Like that is not— nobody wants to build a relationship with that energy. But people do really want to build a relationship with the energy of offering, and connection, and win-win. So the first step in actually effective relationship building is to understand like what you’re really bringing to the table and getting excited about it and inspired by it. The second piece is to make sure that those things that you’ve identified are aligned with what that funder is looking for. Right. Making sure there’s real alignment there, and alignment can be within methodology of programs or mission or values or ultimately big vision of what you’re shifting in a community, all of those things. Right? And then the outreach to get in front of those folks is all about leveraging that alignment. So let me give you just a quick example. A lot of what I see when people write, you know, foundations about setting up a meeting is that the whole email is about the organization and the program and the funding. And they’re asking for a meeting to talk about their program, right? Those foundations are getting hundreds of emails that look exactly like that a day. What I teach, is that once you understand— I do something called funder lenses where I want to help people see through the glasses of the foundations that they’re applying for. Right? So just like for a moment like you’re wearing blue glasses, your foundations are wearing green glasses, but we write our emails with our blue glasses on. And what I actually want you to do is put green glasses on when you’re writing that email. So the email would sound something like this: Hey, so-and-so foundation. I just saw the other day that you invested in blank program. That is so inspiring because it’s really clear to us that you care about X, Y, and Z. We are so inspired by your commitment to blank. We want to achieve that too. Over here at blank organization, we’re working towards the shared goal of X. Would you be open to a quick conversation to talk about how we might partner together to achieve blank? Right? So it’s like 75% of that email was about them, right? 75% of that email was about them and what their goal is. And that’s how you’ve put on their lenses. Think about the difference on the receiving end from a foundation when they get an email that makes them feel seen, that makes them feel understood, and makes them feel like working with you is actually going to help them achieve their goals. Right. It’s so different. It’s so different. So that’s like kind of the base level of relationship building like that. Those are my recommendations for like getting that first meeting. And then in the meeting, I’m all about like authenticity, transparency, openness partnership, and going into those meetings imperfect, without everything figured out and really leveraging them as a thought partner to figure out what is the right match up for you. When we go in with our rigid program areas, and there’s only this one way for them to fit in or fund this thing, it doesn’t really leave open a lot of opportunity to find that win-win
That was so solid. Oops, screen share, got to mute it. Oh man. That was amazing. Does anyone have any questions about that? Because I found that was really, really helpful. Yeah. I’ve got a question for you Mallory. So lately, when I’ve been kind of reaching out— cause we’ve been trying to forge partnerships as well, or when I was writing the book— I was trying to connect with funders so that they could give me their perspective. I tried a new technique where I actually just filmed a quick 60 second Loom video with their website up and with a couple other key things. And so it was still framing around: this is what I see you’re doing, this is what caught my eye, why I think it would be great to connect, do you have a couple minutes? Are you seeing people doing that? Is that maybe not a good move for your first email? Like what is your opinion on that? Because I’ve seen it work really, really well for us. But sometimes— you know— it never gets played.
It’s a really good question. I mean, I think from a base level— let me think about the right way to say this. I never want to make a recommendation that creates a barrier for someone, right? So like if video feels like, oh my God, I didn’t shower today, or I don’t like the way that I look, or whatever my house is a mess, or any of the things. I try not to create situations where— because when fear comes up, we can talk ourselves out of everything. We can talk ourselves out of everything. So when I’m like structuring activities for fundraisers, I really try to make them as kind of like full proof in their execution as possible. Right? That there aren’t going to be a number of barriers— any barriers, kind of in the way. But I think it’s a great idea. And I feel like if anyone on this call really resonates with that and they’re like, yeah, I do want to flip on my camera and do that thing. Yes. Like bring your authentic voice, bring your authentic personality to it. Try it, see if it works. The other thing is, all of this is about testing. You know, like something— I mean, I give a ton of templates for outreach inside Power Partners. But I’m like, test them all, see what works for you, see what resonates. All of this— grant writing, fundraising— it’s all a numbers game. But I think if you have fun with those videos, then you should absolutely try it. The reality is: you’re going to need multiple points of outreach. So you can always try it as your second outreach, too. To be like, hey, I made this quick video. Right? So just play with it and have fun with it, but don’t use it as a barrier to action.
Absolutely. Totally agree. Great— great contribution and idea. I agree. You never know exactly what someone’s preferred method of communication is. So some of the only ways you find out is by trying those different methods, seeing what works for them, what their style aligns to.
Yeah. As I’m sitting here listening to you speak Mallory, I have some questions from your webinar. You discuss some myths. Will you kind of expand on that here a little bit so that we can dive in?
Yeah, sure. So yeah, in my webinar, I talk about three myths in fundraising that are absolutely not true. One is about that— and I’ll explain this in a second— but one is that cold outreach doesn’t work. That is false. Two is that it takes 12-18 months to cultivate, you know, 5 6, 7 figure gifts— also false. And then the third one that I talk about is that in order to raise more money, you need to do more events and campaigns and all of those things. Right? Which is also very false. So in my webinar, I go into detail about all of them, but I’ll sort of explain quickly about the cold outreach piece and the timeline piece really quickly. So basically based on what I talked about before— about how you identify the assets of your organization, align against the funder’s goals and vision and mission and all of those things. When you’re doing those things, you don’t need warm outreach. Okay. Warm outreach is an old school strategy around fundraising that used to be universally recommended to basically skip the know, like, trust loop. Okay. It was like— it was like basically your fast pass— pass know, like, trust. But what I saw with— what I have seen throughout my career with warm intros, like, okay, have your board members open their Rolodex and who are all the people who have money— is that sometimes those people will respond to the first email back and then never again. Write the intro email and then you’ll never be able to get in touch with them again. Or maybe they’ll make a quick gift and then nothing else ever again— you’ll never be able to get in touch with them again. They are not Power Partners. They have not been identified based on alignment and assets. That is the key. Now, if you align those things and then you have a warm intro— awesome. Use it. Totally! But you don’t need it because when you’re talking to someone through their lenses and when you’re talking to someone about presenting opportunities, it does not matter if it’s warm or if it’s cold, because people are actually interested in the alignment. Okay. So that’s so— and because when you talk to them in that email that I like spewed off the cuff of my mouth— was like the know, like, trust is there. Because actually true know, like, trust goes way deeper. And isn’t just about the funder knowing, and liking and trusting you. It’s about you truly seeing them— showing that, you know, like, and trust them. And when you are writing an email that way, you are building know, like, trust in a much more— in a much deeper way by building it on both sides. Right? So you don’t need that little— that little like cheat code of warm intros that don’t actually work. And you know— why we have such a low donor retention rate— are part of it. So that’s the first one. The other myth that I’ll just best really quickly is around timeline. So the other thing is that whole old school mentality around warm intros. And, you know, having all these meetings with a potential donor where you’re not talking about money and you’re just hearing about like— you’re just trying to gauge what they care about, what they give to. And you’re looking for all these like subliminal messages, right. And maybe this applies less to grant writing because if you’re meeting with the foundation, like you’re talking about money. But I’ve actually still heard so many people like say things like they had a meeting with the foundation and didn’t talk about numbers. I’m like, what do you mean? The whole thing is about money, but we have these beliefs about being— we’re so afraid to be too transactional. Right? How many of you guys have heard of— you can throw it in the comments— like, you know, be relationship-oriented, not transactional. We don’t want to be transactional. So we have totally made up a story about the word transaction. Not all transactions are bad and negative. Buying a house? An awesome transaction. Right. So fun. Philanthropy can also be an awesome transaction, but we have to talk about money. And so what I really recommend the thing— the reason why relationships take forever is because we’re not being transparent. Right? And it doesn’t mean you’re not genuinely getting to know the person, but you’re saying, hey, look, I know you care about this. I know you care about this. And you’re probably still wondering if we’re the right organization to do the thing. Right. Cause you don’t know us that well yet. And I would love for you to get to know us better. And I would love to answer any questions you have. But yes, like I want to meet and I want to build this relationship because I think we can do something amazing together. And I think we can achieve our shared goal around blank together. And just that piece— that transparency, the open conversation, the dialogue— it just creates a much faster timeline, which is not just the point. The point is to be real humans and have real relationships. But also like that’s what happens when it’s opened up in that way.
So, so, so useful. I think it kind of addresses two of the things that are, if you will, our miss that we try to bust. So this is super helpful. It would be okay, Katie, if I shared those?
Okay. Number one that I see is that people believe you have to volunteer before you can get paid as a grant writer. Because you don’t have experience, because you haven’t already won a million dollars. How will anyone ever open the door for you? Then you see a job opportunity— even if it’s an entry-level position— and it says, grant writing experience required. Ultimate chicken and egg dilemma. How are you supposed to get the experience if y’all won’t give me a chance to do it. Right? Really common dilemma. And if someone— we love volunteering, right? We’re active community givers— that’s why we’re here. But if you’re choosing to volunteer from a place of, I’m not worth getting paid for my knowledge and expertise, that’s where we have a problem with it. Because there are a lot of organizations that need help and you can deliver that at a discounted, but yet fair price, as a new grant writer. Most people that are on this call— this is not your first job out of college with no experience under your belt. You bring a lot of expertise to the table and a lot of value to whatever organization you choose to align with. So for that reason, it’s sort of— it really mirrors Mallory’s partnership concept, which is, it’s not about grovelling. Please give me an opportunity so I can learn how to write grants for you. It’s saying, hey, I will bring my best A game to the table and help you because I know you need this extra capacity. Let’s go get some grant funding together, figure out the right grants that we should be focusing on. So that’s one of the biggest myths that we like to bust— is that notion that you have to volunteer before you can get into it. Then the other thing, I guess we’ve been running— oh, go ahead. Did you have something you want to add?
I was going to say, you can have two, right?
Yeah. I mean, I think the next piece I wanted to talk about is, well then how do you get experience? That’s kind of the question that’s left hanging. And I know we’ve got a lot of people here that are in our programs, so they’re already deploying it. The method we found that works so beautifully is having informational interviews with organizations that your heart aligns to. And you’re not going into those conversations trying to get a job, trying to get a paid opportunity— no way. You’re going in to listen 90% of the time. The other 10% is asking questions and genuinely hearing, what are they doing? Do I think this is a well-run organization? What direction are they going? Because things can look good on the outside. A website can look wonderful. And then the inside is a hot mess, right? So it’s your chance to also get to know each other and to really listen. And no one ever comes into those conversations to just listen. Everyone wants to be heard by the other person. So you’re already standing out. And what’s interesting about when you just listen and ask good questions, is you uncover— is there a need for me to help this organization or not? And do I feel inspired to help this organization? One way that we think about this is kind of the up, down test. Did I leave that and I am amped? Like I have energy because that was such a fun phone call or meeting. And then taking it one step further. If you did choose to put a proposal together for them— because you were invited to, it was a win-win— does it pass the five-year test? Could you see yourself working with this organization for five years? And it’s not that you have to work with them for five years, but there’s a— that really changes your decision making process. If it goes from, well, I’ll just do this if I can get the experience and I’ll be done with it in three months, and then I’m out. I have regretted it every time I’ve done that. Every time I thought it could be quickly over with this client— I’ll just take the paid opportunity. Those are the ones that last, the longest. So the five-year test really helps qualify: is this a relationship that I could see really growing? And it’s a long-term, you know, especially if you are on the outside and not in ins— you know, actually, on their own payroll. Like you really want to build that relationship because there’s so much invested in on both sides to build your knowledge base up. So I think those are the two top things that I wanted to address, which is just— you don’t have to volunteer to gain experience and leveraging informational interviews is a really powerful way to build connection and see if there’s a genuine opportunity.
Thank you, Meredith. That’s very, very helpful. Informational interviews sound like they just solve for the pain point of the organization. And then you decide whether or not that is, you know, partnering well with what it is that you’re trying to accomplish rather than going in. It ties really well— I think too, with Mallory’s, you know what you have to offer mind frame. So to tie all of this together, everything that we’re kind of discussing— what is one key ingredient, taking everything we covered today, about how to align your fundraising strategy and your grant writing strategy. Mallory, will you go first?
Oh my gosh, I had this beforehand and now I feel like there are so many things that my brain is buzzing around. You know, this isn’t something that I feel like I spent a long time talking about, but I will kind of summarize it— because I think Meredith you just hit on this, too. Like in all of these, one of the primary skills to align things— whether it’s with you with a funder, or an organization like a foundation, or you like with an organizational partner, if you’re an outside grant writer— is to go into conversations with genuine curiosity, right? Like we often talk about like deep listening and that’s important, but even like further back in your brain is to bring real curiosity. Real curiosity to like, is this a win-win? Is there a win-win partnership here? I think there is, but I only have my perspective. I’ve tried to get their perspective, but is there a real win-win opportunity here? Is there really an opportunity for me to work with this organization as a grant writer? What would that look like? When we tap into curiosity, we tap into some of our best energy and we show up genuine in our connection with whatever that meeting is for. So that’s not a summary, but kind of a big take home point.
Love that. Cool. Yeah, I’d say my one ingredient would be plan ahead together, as a fundraiser and as a grant writer— before launching into any actions for the year— think about what relationships are we prioritizing, what are we trying to raise funding for? How much do we need? What is going to be the timing of organization? A, B, C, and D. How are we going to put them together and put that on paper? We call it the funding strategy. I’m sure Mallory, you have a version of putting this on paper. Maybe those two need to blend and be one power document, right? But the idea of slow down enough to really focus on something you can do so exceedingly well, and then you move together through the year implementing that plan.
You guys have dropped so many value bombs. I’ve learned so much being on this call. It’s amazing. And what’s so evident is that this work lights you both up on fire— like literally candles, you know.
It’s really on fire.
Before we open up to questions though, if people want to learn more or develop their skills, how can they do that?
You want me to go first?
Sure. Yeah. Do you want to?
Sure. Yeah. So you can find me— I’ll put my website, malloryerickson.com down in the chat in a moment. And then I’ll also put a link to my webinar where I talk through those three myths and I go through funder mapping release specifically. I sort of go through my whole blueprint. And then at the end, I talk about Power Partners. And if that’s a good fit for you or maybe somebody else you work for at a different organization that you think might help you kind of align and maybe help them get in front of the foundations before you’re asked to apply to all of them. So I will put that below as well. And yeah. And then I’m on Instagram, @mallory_erickson_coach. That’s kind of the one social media platform I like hang out on— providing tips and tricks and stuff like that.
Woo-hoo! Also for those of you that are in the program— don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we dropped in the bonus training section a bomb training from Mallory. And it is all about that asset mapping and it is gold. So be sure to go watch that if you haven’t yet— and with a pen and paper, so you can actually really do that activity. I thought that was so useful. I’d never heard of that before. So that was super helpful. So our focus is on helping those that are looking for a career change, learn how to actually get paid as a grant writer, and build that life that you love. I think Alex summed it up pretty well earlier, where I think we’re more about the lifestyle than just the career. We’re thinking about your whole life journey and how you align those. So whether you’re trying to land any job, you’re trying to level up in your organization, or you just want to launch your own business— whether that’s as a kind of retirement side hustle or full-time gig, whatever— the path to getting there is the same in the beginning, and that’s what we specialize in. So like Mallory, we’ve got year-round program with coaching, cool community group, and the course— which actually our next coaching call is in 45 minutes. And people sent a lot of really good narratives, and letter of inquiries, and outreach to funders up for review. So it’s going to be pretty on fire,— all the stuff we’ll be touching. I need Mallory— we need you to just like drop into our coaching call and continue to help guide us. You have such good advice.
I’m happy to come on sometime.
Heck yeah, that’d be super fun.
We should talk about that.
So with that— does anybody on the call have any questions?
Yeah, we can totally open it up. It’s Q and A.
I do have a question.
Alex is coming over with a question.
Alright. Okay. So this is a great question. I am a grant writer based internationally. Do you feel like these tips relate on an international level? And I want to add some context— so she’s based in Africa, but she has clients globally and she’s often up against grants where they’re competing with all of Africa or even globally. So, if you have any advice for…
Yeah, acceptance rate is— we have that, that rule of thumb of like try to get grants. You have a 20% chance of winning and those are really low for some of these massively competitive federal grants. So I I’ll tackle the first question, which was: is this methodology still relevant? And I would say, not all yes, but like, heck yes. Right. Because relationship built— we’re all humans and that relationship building is the same. I think it becomes even all the more important for you specifically, because we’re maybe spoiled rotten, if we’re in the U S and we have a lot of options. We can be a little sloppy and we don’t spend as much time building that relationship and we fire out applications. Right? And so I think for you, it becomes even all the more important that you go deep, not wide, so that you’re building like the really right— As Mallory would say, the Power Partner relationships. And not going for volume, but really going for depth in the quality of those relationships, but using the exact same methodology that we both talk about. Mallory, what would you add?
Yeah.I mean, I think it just is that. I mean, the relationship building piece is the same with anything, right. Like I think the framework that we talked about is really the same with anything. And then, you know, I also think that asking questions and trying to build relationships— I know not all grant funders will have that conversation with you, like when you’re not awarded something. But I think whenever you can try to learn more when you didn’t win something and why, and to sort of tap into like, was there a misunderstanding around alignment or was it just that there were too many applicants? Like I often recommend that my clients do that and they’re like, we got so many applicants. I’m like, write them, ask them, like, is that really it? Or is there like an alignment issue that kind of wasn’t addressed in the application?
Yeah. Great one. Jeremiah, I want to answer your question. And then, Sida— did she ask that question earlier about…? Do you want to go ahead and ask your question and then I’ll get Jeremiah’s?
Hi everyone. So thank you very much for the great presentation. I’m Sida, I’m from Azerbaijan, also one of the grant writers. I have a quick question to you guys. Could you share the example of CV that a good grant writer could share as an independent consultant to be evolved from? You know, that’s something that is not easy in particular in my area of the world. We don’t have this kind of specialty grant writer, but I do have a lot of grants— and I don’t know, should I include them as a list in my CV, or how the CV or the grant writers should look like? So people will trust them and have these funding agents. I mean, the companies, the NGOs, like non-governmental organization to kind of hire this kind of person. And also like, you know, the organization— not like university. That’s cause in university, most of the time when we win the grants, we just get our salaries and that’s all. So that’s different. So I would talk about independent organizations to grant application. And my second— actually, I had a lot of questions, but I know that everyone could have a person. Let me just have the second question. The second question is: for example, when now I’m building the proposal for the United States grants, how can I find the expert? I mean, you all guys are experts in grants, so maybe I can ask you in how we can merge our effort to build joint proposal, because there are different direction of the grants— like from community development, to scientific research. I can’t have some people in one area, but I couldn’t have in another area. And can I, for example, ask you to help me with building the grants proposal together, or find the right person, or find the right organization. I mean, I’ll definitely pay. Yeah. Thank you very much. Sorry for the questions.
No, yeah, great questions. There are such good questions. So I’ll just answer the— I think I’ll answer them both really quickly, Mallory, if that’s cool. Then we can— we’ll hit yet hit Jeremiah’s. So in terms of, yeah, how to present a resume, we’ve actually been getting that a lot within internally, in the program. And we’re adding that actually to the next product update we’ll be doing in June on giving some more examples about that. But within our community group, we have a lot of conversation around it, we should absolutely add it. We could, you know, look at like aggregating those into a PDF and sharing them, but it’s not something that we’ve like spent a lot of time developing custom. But it’s certainly— a lot of different ways you can do it. And you should certainly highlight grant writing on your resume. Second question is, no, we don’t do any consulting anymore. But the ideas of that partnership in the end is really about project planning in the first place. And so I think that all ties back to what Mallory’s teaching. It’s the same methodology of building those relationships and doing that before you even begin to start applying to the grant funding. So Jeremiah, I want to ask just— real quick to answer your question— is it better to focus on grants first or fundraising first? So, I’d say first, work together to come up with your plan about what you’re going to be pursuing. But I believe in— Mallory, you can tell me your perspective— I believe it is better for the fundraisers to lead the charge in locking down your first bit of funding, because most grants want to see your own commitment to the program or others committing to it first before they will get on board. So I’d say, you know, your fundraisers getting out ahead of it, but your grant writer is synched right next to them and you’re working in tandem. Mallory do you have anything you want to add to that?
Yeah, I’ll just say that— I mean, I feel like the question I get the most and probably was like my incentive for finally creating Power Partners was like, what’s our lowest hanging fruit? Right? Like, that’s kind of what everyone wants to know. And so the thing is, that depending on what your organization— like, if your organization is brand new and you don’t have data, like any impact data, then likely from a grant funding perspective, your primary kind of sources are going to be from foundations who invest in like pilot level or very early nonprofits. And those are going to— like, you have to have that meeting first because really who they’re investing in is you as the leader. So for all new nonprofits, I just want to say that they are investing in you and your vision and their belief in you as the leader to bring— to realize that vision. For brand new nonprofits, that’s what’s happening. So there is no funding without you. Right? So kind of like cold applying to grants as a very early stage nonprofit is very unlikely to get any— I’ve never heard of it— really gaining any traction. And then, I think when you think about what are the assets that our organization has, you will be able to— like, the goal is for you to identify like, okay, those assets align really well with the goals of these foundations. Or they align really well with individuals in our community who want to see X, or they align really well with companies in our community who are trying to do X and then that lowest hanging fruit is like, what are the assets that you currently have? And how— and I talk about this in the webinar too— like where do you see the most alignment? And that’s where I usually recommend you start.
Yeah, beautiful. So Lori has a really good question. I think Mallory, you should hit it. And then we’re probably at the bottom of the hour. So she often ends up finding herself being the grant writer and the fundraiser committee for a non-profit of which she’s a board member. And sometimes this committee is just her. And so she feels very overwhelmed — as an understatement— and it leaves her in kind of a standstill spinning her wheels because she’s got all of this pressure on her shoulders alone. So can you give some advice on how you would tackle that challenge?
Oh, gosh. Leave me with the big one. Well, first of all, I just want to say, like I so see you and have just seen this so much, and I know how kind of isolating and frustrating it can be. So something I talk a lot about in my webinar is this idea of picking one bridge. So once you’ve identified kind of your lowest hanging fruit, like where does your organization— you know, just take that step back, like, think about through the assets of the organization and what type of funder that probably aligns the most closely with. And then I recommend starting with one bridge, right? Which is bucketing your time, focusing your outreach on one type of funder and one program area. And really like— part of that requires kind of saying no, and like not giving in to all the noise around you. Right? I think one of the things that we believe in the nonprofit sector, like deeply, is that we have to be hustling and moving in a million directions to actually bring in funding. And actually when we focus, the funding comes in with more ease. And the thing that I hear from a lot of people is that it actually can trigger some like guilt, like, oh, it shouldn’t be that easy. I didn’t work hard enough for that money. Right? There are all these deep beliefs that we hold inside this sector. And so part of it is like bringing some awareness to that, shutting out some of the noise, and really just see what happens if you give yourself a few hour time block to focus on one type of funder with one project and see kind of like how that might create some expansion. And kind of like leaving the overwhelm behind, at least for those hours. And then I would do it again, and then I do it again, and then I’d do it again.
Yeah. Two other things I would add to that. I agree. Focus is so key. If you think about it every day, you get six kicks. If we have six soccer balls lined up, we could go kick each of them one time. The next day, kick it one time. Or we could kick one ball and it’d go forward 6, 12, 18, 24. I mean, look at how far that one ball can go by the time you’ve moved all your other balls forward three kicks. So if we think about that every day, I get six kicks today. How am I going to use them? That helps me whenever I feel like I’m scattering a little bit too much. Also last thing I was gonna say is have a “no” celebration list. So things you say “no” to, or not yet— write them down and be very proud of them. Have them next to your desk and be amped about the no’s.
Nice Mallory, did you have one more thing?
I was just going to say like inside Power Partners, we do something called the “no” challenge where we actually celebrate every single “no” we get in fundraising and you should absolutely be doing that. Okay. Habit change comes from momentum and positive reinforcement and it is all a numbers game. So celebrate those no’s and you are going to watch your momentum roll when it comes to fundraising.
Now we’re at the top of the hour. Thank you so much, everyone who is on the call, and especially— so much thanks goes to Mallory and Meredith for sharing all of your amazing, authentic wisdom with us. We’re so grateful. For everybody else, if you would just take a minute or two after the call to really reflect on what you learned today and feel free to share it in the chat box before you go. Or feel free to write to email@example.com and share some of your experience with us. We’d love to know how this landed with you all.