E-029 Grant Writing Success Tips with Diane H. Leonard and Lucy Morgan

### Quick Episode Summary Grant Talks Podcast [#029]

*Intro ***.42***

* Fire Away Questions with Diane H. Leonard, GPC and Lucy Morgan CPA***2:35***

* Grant Writing in NOT a Solo Sport ***5:29***

* The Benefits of Agile and Lean for Nonprofit Grant Writing***7:41***

* Overcoming Challenges to Write Successful Grants***11:03***

* The Federal Grant Writing Process-5 Elements to Consider***13:40***

* Successful Grant Writing-How to Avoid Common Mistakes***16:42***

* Three Recommended Resources for Grant Writers***22:02***

* Changing Expectations for Grant Professionals***24:22***

* Lessons Learned-How to Navigate Changing Expectations for Grants ***29:12***

* Successful Grant Writing - 2 Eternal Truths ***31:20***

* The Last Word with Diane H. Leonard and Lucy M. Morgan ***35.31***

*Outro Audio GrantTalks Podcast with Lucy M. Morgan CPA ***37:39***

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Introducing Diane H. Leonard, GPC from DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services

Intro: 00:04

Welcome to the Grant Talks podcast with Lucy Morgan. Lucy is the CEO and director of MyFedTrainer.com, a leading provider of grant management training and templates for federal grant recipients. This show is for grant professionals looking to gain confidence managing their grants. In an age of increasing complexity, you'll hear from leading professionals on the best practices surrounding grants, what's involved in successfully managing the grants lifecycle and how to make sure your grants are managed correctly. Now here's your host Lucy Morgan.

Lucy Morgan: 00:42

Welcome everyone to this conversation with Diane Leonard, GPC and GPA approved trainer. Diane founded DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services in 2006. Diane and her team have secured more than $80 million in competitive grant funds to date.

While Diane's background and entrance into the fields of nonprofits and philanthropy was as the program officer of the Michigan Women's Foundation, a great deal of her work and success for her team's clients has been with government grant funding.

Diane's passion and love for grants drive her to make grants less stressful for her teams' clients and those she teaches about grant seeking best practices. And I'm Lucy Morgan, the host for this session of the "Grant Talks" podcast, sponsored by MyFedTrainer.

Welcome, Diane.

Diane Leonard: 00:01:34

Great to be here. Thank you.

Lucy Morgan: 01:35

I am so excited for this podcast. We got to talk a while back about a number of different topics. I'm so happy to have you back in this virtual setting of the "Grant Talks" podcast.

For those of you who've listened to some of our other episodes, you probably know I've been working in the grant management side of the house for many years, but I am thrilled to get that little peek behind the curtain into the world of grant writing with you.

And the last months have really presented a lot of challenges for federal grant recipients. Yet, the opportunities to help our communities with federal funding through things like the CARES Act have never been greater.

I went out this morning, and I looked on usaspending.gov to see what is obligated in federal grants for the current fiscal year. It was almost a trillion dollars. That's the most that federal grants have ever been.

Fire Away Questions with Diane H. Leonard, GPC and Lucy Morgan CPA:

Lucy Morgan: 02:35

So, I want to thank you for coming and talking to our audience about how we help our communities through the federal grant process as well.

Now I have a few fire-away questions for you before we get started. So, are you ready?

Diane Leonard: 02:47

Little nervous, but absolutely.

Lucy Morgan: 02:49

Okay. Well, we'll try and make this as low stress as possible. First of all, DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing has been around for about 15 years. How did you get started in grant writing, and what kind of impact has that had on your life?

Diane Leonard: 03:08

Well, it's always one of those winding stories. So, you're right. As a business, we turn 15 in just a few weeks from the time of this recording, but I've been in philanthropy my entire career. Well, and if I now give that number, I guess you're going to put two and two together for my age, but I first learned about grants back when I was an undergrad at Cornell University.

And it was because I was awarded a fellowship, a Cornell Tradition Fellowship, which meant I got a small little book stipend every year. But I had the privilege of designing an internship in any nonprofit, anywhere in the world that I wanted or could come up with. So, I thought, "You know, I'm curious about what this means to be a grantmaker."

And so, I wrote a letter. Well, actually, I typed a letter and sent it in snail mail to the executive director at the time of the Michigan Women's Foundation and said, "Hey, I can come work for you for the summer as an intern for free. What do you think?" And Peg Tallet, who is still a mentor today, was like, "Absolutely. Come on out."

My start in grant writing was actually on the grantmaking side, but, of course, as soon as you start to try and learn what grants are and how you might decide and work with the board and the committee to make these tough decisions, you have to understand the pressures and the forms and the protocols that the grant seekers are facing.

So, having that be my entrance into the grant world, I think, really set the stage, not only for thinking about the strength of writing but really for the importance of grant relationships and how much that impacts final decisions.

Clearly, I drank that grant Kool-Aid from day one, and I can't imagine doing anything else and having seen the stress in that perspective of what grantees, potential grantees were facing. But also, the stress of what Grantmakers felt in making those tough decisions, that's part of where that tagline for "Don't let grant stress you out," that's where that came from.

Lucy Morgan: 05:08

As I train on grant management, I'm always amazed at how many people start their grant journey by writing a successful grant. And they never anticipated being a grant manager, and their boss says, "Good job. Now you get to manage it." And they're like, "Arrgh." So, I really appreciate hearing that story from all those different perspectives because it really is about relationships.

Grant Writing is NOT a Solo Sport

Lucy Morgan: 05:29

Now, as we're talking about relationships, I know I've heard you say this before that grant writing is not a solo sport. And I know that you've built a grant writing team, you know, that has many consultants working with you when, too often, a lot of the grant writers I run into treat it as a solo endeavor. It's just them.

So, what advice would you have for someone who's just getting started with the idea of writing a federal grant and the importance of relationships?

Diane Leonard: 06:02

Sure. So, the reason I talk about grant writing not being a solo sport is that too often in my career, I have heard the phrase, "Can't you just write it?" And that implies that the grant professional, the grant writer, has all the knowledge and all the skills to put together the most highly competitive grant. And grant professionals are indeed amazing. But I don't think anyone is that good to be able to do that on their own.

And so, the grant professional is usually the first person to recognize, "Oh, if I want to get more of these, if I want to be more successful, I need others around me. So, it really becomes about more of the way in which you articulate the role of your colleagues in successful grants.

Whether it's that you are a freelancer or a consultant and maybe you're looking for support from other editors and consultants to help you support more clients, or whether you're internal in an organization and you've been charged with writing federal grants, how do you communicate to others that you need budget support, you need logic model input, in particular, you need fresh eyes to read what's been written to make sure that no assumptions were made, there's no industry jargon. I mean, there are countless examples of how having others involved will make your application stronger.

And so, I actually like to call that group-the group that has a stake in seeing grants for you to be successful; I think that's your grant team. So, it goes with the idea of the sports analogy. So, we have a team that should be focused, even if they're not doing all the writing, that's going to help make you competitive.

The Benefits of Agile and Lean for Nonprofit Grant Writing

Lucy Morgan: 07:41

Very good. And you mentioned how you got your start in college. My background was originally in the for-profit world, and I actually spent much of my career working in manufacturing. No one in manufacturing thinks that you're going to do this by yourself when you have these big initiatives and things like that.

And I think that's one of the things that really attracted me to DH Leonard is when I heard that you were a product owner by Scrum, Inc, and you were working in the agile, bringing the agile and lean concepts from what I was familiar with the manufacturing world into the world of nonprofits and how those concepts could help governments and could help nonprofits and all those.

And I know that you're a Scrum master in addition to being a grant professional certified (GPC). And I'm really curious again because we have such a diverse audience in the world of grants. What do you think some of these disciplines around Scrum and things like that have taught you about being a successful grant writer?

Diane Leonard: 08:49

That's such a great question because, to me, in the grant conversation, we often talk about grant readiness, which really comes down to organizational capacity and organizational behavior. And a grant professional or grant writer often has to wear the hat of a project manager. But Gantt charts, waterfall project management has been proven time and time again not to be the most effective way to manage a project in the for-profit space. And it turns out there are case studies that show exactly the same thing. They're not the most effective way for a team to manage their work in a nonprofit space, either.

As I learned about what the Scrum framework was and the agile mindset to me, I was like, "Oh, these go together with grants like, sort of, peanut butter and jelly," we'll say. And so, adding this particular mindset and the framework, not only to the way our team works but to the way that we support our clients and the way we train and support the nonprofit community. It helps to really solidify that grant team idea that we're cross-functional, that we work together. That we focus more on our interactions together and what someone else has to say versus maybe, "Well, this is what it says." Let's actually talk about it and make sure we have a common understanding.

So much of the work overlaps and helps support a sustainable pace in a grant-seeking environment. It focuses on constantly improving, inspecting, and adapting both our work, so our grant applications, and the way we work together in our grant teams. So, to me, it's a natural fit and really goes actually towards the competency that we as grant professional certified (GPC) individuals focus on with elevating the field, bringing new practices to grant professionals.

That's another reason that I really think that those help grant teams to be successful and that so many other grant professionals have since started their agile journey and learned about the framework. You can go through some of the credential courses.

Lucy Morgan: 00:10:48

And I think we're all are faced with managing expectations. It sounds like this is also a communication tool to help manage expectations both internally within the team and then with external stakeholders as well.

Diane Leonard: 11:01


Overcoming Challenges to Write Successful Grants

Lucy Morgan: 11:03

So, what do you think some of the biggest challenges for writing successful grants, especially federal grants, because I think that can be a little intimidating for folks?

Diane Leonard: 11:11

Oh, how about a lot intimidating, not just a little? Sometimes it still intimidates even me. You open the NOFO (Notice of Funding Opportunity), and you're like, "There are 127 pages here telling me what I need to do. I hope I don't miss anything." It's a lot of pressure because your organization depends on this theoretical money, but the competition is so high.

I think one of the biggest challenges is that you can put your heart and soul into a piece of writing, and it might not be successful. It doesn't come down only to how well-written your piece is. It's about how you connect the dots to the goal of the funder. Each funder has their own for the program and the reason they release the funding.

It also comes down to how well you can engage this reviewer, the grantmaker, the peer reviewer, who's learning about your work for the first time? How can you take something that is so incredibly complex? And trust me, everything every nonprofit is doing is incredibly complex, especially to someone who is learning about you for the first time. So, how can you make that easy to digest or easier to digest? It's not discounting their intelligence. It's that they're reading a stack of proposals. And so, how do you stand out?

So, to me, I think the biggest challenge in any grant, and in particular, with federal grants, is that the competition is so high, no one wants a rejection letter. I safely can make that assumption. You don't put all that time in to get a rejection letter. So, how do you have your work well-received, well-understood by someone learning about you for the first time so that they are excited so that they can score you well or advocate on your behalf?

Lucy Morgan: 12:57

And I tell folks in grant writing our grant management boot camp all the time, make it easy for your funder to give you money, not hard. And I see this again; I'm not a grant writer, but I see this where sometimes people come from the standpoint of this is very complicated. So, let's explain it in the most complicated way possible.

Instead, have a strategy and understand how to simplify because, just like you said, the reviewers are going through stacks. They don't want it to be hard. They want it to be easy to say, "Okay, this is going to be the best outcome for our federal dollars." So, I really appreciate you bringing that up of we really have to simplify and that it's hard to speak simply about complex topics.

The Federal Grant Writing Process-5 Elements to Consider

Lucy Morgan: 13:40

Well, walk us through what a typical grant writing process looks like and really how the federal grant process might be a little different if someone's been working maybe in the foundation space or, maybe in corporate or something like that.

Diane Leonard: 14:00

Sure. So, I described the typical grant writing process in terms of a life cycle. And so, I like to talk about it in terms of a cycle because it's iterative. We start back over with a grantmaker after maybe we've made it through. And so, when we talk about the life cycle, there are five elements to it.

And first, we think about grant readiness. So, are we eligible? Could we be competitive? And I'm simplifying these, but just for the sake of the example, and then we get to our second element in the cycle where we're talking about grant research. So, who might be your funder? The third is grant relationships. So, trying to talk to them, have conversations, confirm eligibility or competitiveness before we apply because the fourth element of the grant writing life cycle is writing. You're really far along in some homework before you ever sit down to write. Of course, writing probably takes the most time overall, but it's the fourth.

And then because you do it also well, oh, then we are in MyFedTrainer.com's world. We are talking about grant management, we're talking about grant reporting, and you want to do that in a wonderful, amazing way so that it's, as to Lucy's point, it's easy to get funding again. We want to make it easy for the grantmaker to want to say yes to the renewal, extension of the contract, etc.

That is the typical grant writing process and the life cycle. It doesn't look any different from foundations to corporate, to family foundations, to federal—all the same. However, when we think about the tools we use, when we think about maybe actually in the relationship space, there's an advantage in federal grants because we know there are paid staff that's managing that funding, whereas, in some foundations, there might not be paid staff managing the work, you might not know who on staff is going to be there to answer a phone call at a corporate foundation. It's just some more unknowns in that space.

So, it might be an advantage in federal grants, but the writing part, let's be honest. This is where it's still. It occupies the fourth space in the life cycle, but it's a lot larger. It's like Sumo size compared to something tinier, even the most complex foundation grants. And there certainly are some usually pale in comparison to what is on average about 100 people hours to complete a federal grant.

So, it's more than just forms. They're longer narratives. They're more attachments. They're memorandums of understanding with partners. There's just that fourth element of the life cycle that is incredibly significant compared to what it usually is on the foundation side. So, I'd say that's probably the biggest difference to recognize.

Successful Grant Writing-How to Avoid Common Mistakes


Lucy Morgan: 16:42

It really sounds like you have developed a process that sets the stage for success. When I listened to you talk through some of those aspects of it, I think of the difference between, say, pitching a tent and building a mansion. And if you were to approach building that mansion with, you're just going to pop up some poles and put some stakes in the ground; you're not going to be probably very successful in building that very complex project.

Having the expertise of someone who's been there and has a long history of knowing what things need to be in place, I think, is just going to be so helpful to our audience. I really appreciate it. I just have to like, "Woo-hoo" I'm so excited to hear the whole grant writing side of it.

And so, you know, in talking about some of the things that someone who has not done a lot of federal grants might not know what you don't know, what you don't know, in your experience, what are some of the common mistakes or I call them speed bumps that are often encountered by grant writers as they make that leap into the world of federal grants?

Diane Leonard: 17:48

Oh, yes. And I'm thinking of visualizing like speed bumps on the road, and usually, they're singular, right, and your car will go over a little bump and the back tires bump. And instead, I'm thinking, sort of, more like the chatter style where there's multiple in a row because they really want your car to slow down.

The answer is there are a few, many in fact, that could really derail an organization and make it so that federal grants stress them out because, despite best intentions, they might be spending that average 100 hours of time as a team to be rejected.

And let's be real. Rejection at the federal level, it's intense. I think when NIH last published their percent awarded, it was around 13%. That's a lot to stomach as you're spending that time knowing that you are much more likely to be rejected than funded.

And that's not the case in all federal programs. There's one that comes to mind that was a Bureau of Justice program. And I think one of the years that they have different funding available and an opioid funding stream, and one year it was like maybe 40% or 50% got funded, the next year it was like 95% because they had so much more money that almost everything had funded. And then the next year they had less money. So, their competitive percentage changed again.

You see all sorts of things in terms of what the competitive edge looks like. And I bring that up as we talk about speed bumps because I think a common mistake, something that would slow down or derail a team, is they forget or don't understand the level of competition.

And so, unlike in foundation funding where you might see an opportunity pop up in your email and, "Oh, it's open," and it's due in 30 days, and you might be like, "Hmm, I think we could do it." That is incredibly difficult at the federal level. Sure, it can happen. Something pops up in grants.gov; it shows up in your email. It's due in 27 days. Could your team do it? Sometimes and sometimes competitively, but I would say that's probably the exception, not the rule. Those are extremely practiced professionals that can get through a federal grant quickly with their grant team support in their organization.

So, it's part of why we'd love to talk about forecasts. So, I think a common mistake is not paying attention to the forecasts of what might be obligated, what might be posted in grant.gov, what programs are in the assistance listings that are expected to open that we could plan for so that once it does open, hey, at least we've got a start.

I think that's probably if I was to actually bucket all those mistakes and speed bumps, it's the fact that if we're discounting or not paying enough attention to the competitiveness, what that means is we're not spending enough time planning before it opens.

And so, we might be wearing our rose-colored glasses when we look at the new opportunities like, "Oh, we could get it done," but how will we...do you have to stay at work? How many hours do you have to work on the weekend? Do you need to drink too much coffee or Mountain Dew? That's probably not sustainable, and it's probably going to stress everyone out.

Then if it ends in a rejection, no one's going to want to talk about federal grants with you ever again. So, there you go. Like I said, more than just, you know, one-speed bump, but I think we got a whole chatter bump thing go in there.

Lucy Morgan: 21:13

Yes. And that's so critical because when we think of it, I'm sure most of us can relate to that occasional speed bump or even those chatter strips. I think one of the goals that both of us have is that we don't want it to move into what do they call those strips they lay out on the road that make all your tires go flat instantly. We don't want that.

And sometimes, we see people set themselves up for that type of experience with federal grants. Just the last holiday season, I had someone reach out to me, and they had suddenly decided that they were going to apply for federal grants on about; I think it was the 23rd of December, and the grant application had to be done by the end of the year. It's not even two weeks away, and I thought, "Yes, that's not being realistic in your expectations."

Three Recommended Resources for Grant Writers

Lucy Morgan: 22:02

Well, let's, kind of, shift gears here and let's talk about some tools that are helpful to people as well. I know one of the books... I'm not going to say I keep this on my nightstand, but it's definitely in my bookcase is Dr. Beverly Browning's grant writing Bible called "Grant Writing for Dummies." Are there some other resources that you would like to recommend for folks who want to write successful grants, particularly federal grants?

Diane Leonard: 22:28

Absolutely. In fact, here, let's take a moment. Let's reach into the bookshelf. We've got two that are up here. And so, as I look back, the first one might surprise you because it's not just about federal grants. So, the book "Prepare for the GPC Exam" that was written by a group of grant professionals and published by Charity Channel is about prepping to be a GPC. So, preparing to be a grant professional certified and that lays out the competencies and best practices of our work. And is it a great resource, whether you're thinking about, "What should I understand about qualitative versus quantitative data as I'm writing one of my federal grants," or "what might I need to understand about grant management so that I can write well about our standards we're going to encounter once we're funded because we'll make the assumption, we're going to get the money? And so, that book, Danny Blitch led that writing team, but that is a fantastic book to have on hand.

And then the other one that as I look back on the bookshelf that's right, there is a book "Writing to Win Federal Grants" and also a companion workbook. They were co-authored by Cheryl Kester and Karen Cassidy and also published by Charity Channel. Both of these books are also available on Amazon, but "Writing Federal Grants to Win." So, Cheryl Kester and then Karen Cassidy as the co-authors, those are two great books to have on hand.

And definitely, you're right. So, maybe not on the nightstand because I reached for things like that when I'm teaching or answering coaching questions. I reached for those all the time. So, I need them right here on my desk, but those are some of my go-to resources that I recommend for folks.

Lucy Morgan: 24:11

And we'll put a link to both of those resources on the Grant Talks' blog site as well so that if folks want to go check those out, they can link into those as well.

Changing Expectations for Grant Professionals

Lucy Morgan: 24:22

You know, we're, kind of, I want to make sure that we come full circle because we've talked a lot about life cycles and things that are in grant life cycles. We started this conversation talking about how you got into grant writing and, you know, things are different. A lot of times in grant management to boot camp, I talk about, I used to have these giant windshields glasses on my face, you know, back in the 1980s, which was the last time there was a major rewrite of the grant regulations.

Do you have some insights into how the profession is changing and how the expectations for grant writers are evolving?

Diane Leonard: 25:01

Yes. It's a loaded question in some ways. So, certainly, it's changed a lot in my time in the field, and I think we're still headed for more change, I think some great change.

One of the biggest changes and, of course, I'm aging myself here is that back in the day when I was the program officer at Michigan Women's Foundation after my internship ended, I was working with our software provider. We were piloting online applications. That feels like eons ago at this point. And at the time, it was all about the efficiency of what would happen by not mailing applications, right? We used to require hard copies submissions, and you'd get stacks of proposals and paper and distribute them.

So, what's changed? Online applications have totally changed our world because we have to think in character counts; we have to think in tiny little soundbites sometimes. And that's true in some federal portals as well, which don't always have expansive narrative space, but there's also the huge advantage.

We're not spending our time at Kinko's or the FedEx store or waiting in line at the post office to make sure it gets timestamped, right? So, things are indeed more efficient for both sides, and it gives us a different sense of control about whether our work gets there or not. Of course, some stress, tech always brings stress. That's probably the biggest non-debated change within the field.

But also, the field has been professionalized. Having the grant professional certified (GPC) having that skill, that credential, that certification available has really changed the way that grant writers are looked at. And it is part of why I bounce between the term grant writer and grant professional, and grant professional is used by many because it acknowledges that our work is about the whole life cycle than it is about more than that fourth life cycle item of writing. So, I like to bounce between the two to help those that are in grant writing to recognize how many other skills they bring to the table and need to bring to the table for their work to be competitive. So, I think that that recognition of the field and the way that it's been professionalized has certainly been a big change in terms of what's evolved.

And the third thing, and this is still, sort of, to be determined for what it's going to look like, but I think it is exciting that the conversations are happening, but there are individuals in the field like Vu Le of NonprofitAF.com who have been speaking loudly wherever anyone will listen about the inequity in the field of grantmakers versus grant seekers. What does that look like for foundations? The relationship pressure is definitely a different, stronger pressure there than at federal and state grants, but I think that that conversation of equity and access, it does also play out in government grants because it takes a lot of capacity, it takes a lot of skill in order to be successful with federal grants. And is that a level playing field for all organizations, or is there some bias? Are there some issues there in terms of equity?

So, those conversations, the fact that they're happening, I think, is leading to some change now and hopefully lead to some greater change in the field overall in the future. So, that's what I'm seeing, but I'm sure more would be added by other colleagues as well.

Lucy Morgan: 28:32

The one thing, and I agree with everything that you've said, that I also want to highlight is I think the velocity of those changes is accelerating. We saw a long period of time where change was really incremental but at a much slower pace. And now we see the rapidity, you know, just how fast things are shifting and how fast expectations are changing before you might even have a chance to process them as an organization, you need to be taking action.

So, that goes right along with what you're saying about the need to view yourself as more than a grant writer, but a grant professional as well. So, thank you for highlighting that.

Lessons Learned-How to Navigate Changing Expectations for Grants

Lucy Morgan: 29:12

As we're wrapping this up, I wanted just to talk briefly if there's maybe one or two lessons that you might offer another grant recipient or want to be grant recipient who's really tackling some of these changing expectations?

Diane Leonard: 29:28

Oh, where to begin? So, I think, you know, really remembering what I said earlier about the grant teams and that it's not a solo sport is probably one of the important things for any grant writer or grant seeker grant seeking organization to remember that this is not the responsibility solely on one person's shoulders. Yes, someone will take the lead, but it takes the team in order for these applications, these monstrous applications at the federal level, to be successful. And certainly, they can have a significant impact on your organization, but let's keep in mind that we want to ensure if we're going to spend this time, all this effort going after the funds that what we're doing is supporting our mission and not potentially sending us astray towards a mission drift or putting us in a position where, you know, there are a lot of funds, it's a lot of money, it's really exciting, but is it really something that's sustainable for our organization?

So, I think we want to be honest about what grants can do for our organization versus what maybe they can't do. And that way, as the team tackles these big opportunities, we're excited not only to do the work together but to get the money and take on what really honestly becomes the bigger burden, right?

Implementing is much harder work than the writing. As hard as the writing is, that implementation, managing well through all the guidance you give, Lucy. I mean, that is really going to be the burden. So, you want to make sure that grants aren't going to stress your team out now while you're applying or in the future, once you get funded.

Lucy Morgan: 31:07

And I think that's some great advice because we're certainly all feeling that pressure and that stress that now is the time to up our game, especially just with everything that's been going on in the world.

Successful Grant Writing - 2 Eternal Truths

Lucy Morgan: 31:20

Well, I'm going to put you on the spot a little bit here, Diane, and see, you know, do you have some eternal truths about successful grant writing that you can offer someone and maybe they're feeling a little discouraged because maybe they've had that dreaded rejection letter and, you know, there's part of the organization just says, "You know, no, federal grants are too hard. We're never going to get them." They get that mindset that they're never going to break into that space. Is there some truth, you know, some touchstone that they can hold on to that you'd like to share with them?

Diane Leonard: 31:55

So, I have two that come to mind, and they're pretty tactical in terms of things that I find to be continuously true. Acronyms frustrate reviewers. I know, I said it. There's the truth bomb. Acronyms and they're rampant in grant applications, in particular in federal grant applications, but acronyms frustrate reviewers. They're learning about your complex work for the first time, they're reading a stack of proposals, and they make it difficult for your reviewers to read smoothly, and understand, and digest your information.

So, if you're looking at your work and you're trying to figure out what I can do to improve it? Is it really easy for my reviewers to digest? The first thing I would tackle is looking at whether or not you're using acronyms or not. And if you are, I would stop. Even if you're doing the best practice of like, "Well, let me define what it is first, and then use it for the next 50 pages," it's hard for me to remember as a reviewer on page 12 what you said on page 1. Don't do that to your reviewers. So, I'd say that's one truth.

And then I think the other is to remember that just like with, I mean, this is whether we're talking foundation or state, or federal, but if you think that your organization, if it's going to be like the exception to being funded like, "I know that last year when this federal funding program was open, it looks like they funded all healthcare systems, but we're a community-based organization, and technically, I see that we're eligible, but wow. Like, we'd be the exception this year if they funded us." That's a difficult position to be in.

You don't want to be approaching an application knowing upfront that you're going to be the exception unless your relationship-building conversations have been so strong that you feel very confident about approaching this application position as the exception. Being an outlier, being unique in that way, looking so different than all the previous grantees, that's an awfully difficult position when you're in such a competitive environment. It doesn't mean it never happens. There's always that sideline story, that asterisk story, but I'd say as another, like, eternal truth. Are you an outlier or not? And be careful unless your relationship-building told you it was a good idea.

Lucy Morgan: 34:10

And like the best truths, these two give me a completely different perspective than what I thought you would say. So, I want to thank you for that. It just gave me a completely different way to look at things. It's okay to be very precise in our writing, and you explain that acronym the first time, but just putting myself in the other person's shoes, in the reviewer's shoes of thinking on page 50 that I'm going to remember what all those are and to take the energy to have to flip back to the page 2 when you introduce that acronym, that's priceless. So, I want to thank you for that as well.

And definitely, especially in the world of federal grants, I just want to reinforce that you don't want to be the unusual thing. You know, I've got my unicorn mug out here, and I'm always talking about unicorns in grant management training and how they're unique, but to get that grant, you want to really fit within the parameters that the funder is looking to fund and not have be too big of a stretch for them. They have so much going on. They really don't have the energy for a lot of weird, you know, outliers like that. So, those are awesome truths.

The Last Word with Diane H. Leonard and Lucy M. Morgan

Lucy Morgan: 35:22

Okay. Well, I want to give you the last word. Is there something that I should have asked in our conversation that I did not?

Diane Leonard: 35:30

Oh, how much time do we have left? You know, I think I want to return to the tagline, "Don't let grants stress you out." Grants are a lot of pressure because of the pressure from your organization to get those resources, to meet your mission, to keep staff on staff so that you can deliver the amazing programs and services to your community that they need.

So, I think the advice that I would give is, you know what, accept that that pressure is there. It's a lot, but find colleagues like you that you can network with, that you can share stories and good stories, bad stories, rejection stories, that you can share and network with to help support you because usually, there's only one grant writer or a grant professional in an organization. That's very common. Sometimes they're not even full-time or part-time, doing other things, but find others. Whether you're in the Grant Professionals Association or it's your local association of fundraising professionals' chapter, don't take this journey on alone.

Beyond training and formal support, build a network. Find grant friends, people that also think, "Grants are really cool," and might say, "I heart grants." That will help build your skills and your resilience in the field by having that network.

Lucy Morgan: 36:53

Thank you very much for that insight. I'm going to put some links [to professional organizations] on the article that accompanies this podcast as well for folks who are looking for some ways to connect with other grant professionals.

If someone wants to find out more about you and DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, what's the easiest way for them to get in touch with you?

Diane Leonard: 37:12

Yes. If they had straight to our website, dhleonardconsulting.com, Leonard is L-E-O-N-A-R-D, that's where they'll find our free downloads, our blogs, links to training, all the good stuff is right there.

Lucy Morgan: 37:26

All right. Thank you. And thanks so much for participating in the "Grant Talks" podcast. Listeners, you can find all the episodes at granttalks.com and thank you very much for tuning in.


To learn more about how MyFedTrainer.com makes grant management more manageable, visit MyFedTrainer.com. That's MyFedTrainere.com. You'll find all the Grant Talks episodes at GrantTalks.com. That's GrantTalks.com.

More About Diane Leonard:

Diane H. Leonard, GPC, STSI, is a Grant Professional Certified (GPC) and Approved Trainer of the Grant Professionals Association. Diane is also a Scrum Trainer, Scrum Master, and Scrum Product Owner by Scrum inc.

Diane began her career as a Program Officer, a full-time staff member of a state-wide grantmaking organization, and she continues to serve as a reviewer for a variety of grantmaking organizations. Since 2006, when she formed DH Leonard Consulting, Diane and her team have secured more than $80 million dollars in competitive grant awards for the clients of DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services. She is an active member of the Grant Professionals Association.

When not working with her team on grant applications for clients, Diane can be found in the 1000 Islands, out for a run, or drinking a strong cup of coffee.

More About Lucy Morgan:

Lucy M. Morgan is a CPA, MBA, GPA approved trainer, speaker, and author of 3 books including “Decoding Grant Management-The Ultimate Success Guide to the Federal Grant Regulations in 2 CFR Part 200.” As a leading authority on federal grant management for nonprofits, institutions of higher education and state, local and tribal governments she has written over 250 articles on grant management topics featured in LinkedIn, various publications and on the MyFedTrainer.com blog.

She is a sought-after presenter at national conferences sponsored by organizations such as the Grant Professional Association (GPA), National Grant Management Association (NGMA) and American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

Lucy is also a highly regarded trainer whose techniques and teaching style come from real-world experience. Having faced many of the same challenges her audiences have endured, Lucy understands that what looks good on paper may not always work in the real world. Because she has been there, she provides people of all professional backgrounds with practical tools to advance their careers and make a bigger difference in the world. She can be reached at [email protected].

>>Hear more about Lucy's story in Episode #004

More Resources for Grant Professionals

Thanks for checking out the Grant Talks podcast!

In this episode of Grant Talks, we talked about a subject that you may want to know more about:

  • Federal grant writing

So...as promised, I want to share some resources that may help you on YOUR grant journey.

Do you write grants?

Or know grant writers?

Now I admit it…

I'm NOT a grant writer, but I do love getting into the mind of Uncle Sam. 

That's why I put together 7 tips that grant writers need to know about grant management with federal grants

(Things have changed with the Uniform guidance, aka 2 CFR Part 200, and if you aren't staying up on the trends, you could get left behind in the funding race.) 

Discover 7 tips for federal grant writers that signal to federal agencies that you are ready for "prime-time" grant management with your grant application.  


This simple mini-guide walks you through 7 key areas of focus in the federal grant world so that you make it easy for funders to say "YES" to your next application.

It's an easy summary for those new to federal grants or grant writers wanting to "up their game."

Here's a sample:

  • Best practices for federal Grant Writers
  • 3 ways you can show funders you are focused on program objectives
  • How to address the new risk assessment requirement for funders and grant recipients in your application
  • How to weave outcome-based objectives and SMART goals into your grant to meet the federal goal of standardization and more…

These resources are FREE for you, and I hope that you will find them valuable on your grant journey.

Click here to download and share

P.S. If you want to hear more about the NEW Grant Writing Boot Camp program with Diane H. Leonard, GPC at MyFedTrainer.com, click here to get all the details.  



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