How to Be Innovative When Writing Proposals

Question: I’m working on a proposal related to drug and substance abuse that will benefit women, youth, and girls. I need innovative methods to add to what I already have. Where can I find this information?

That’s a great question! Grant proposals always challenge us to do our very best in terms of program delivery and to articulate the most innovative aspects of our work in writing. While the requirements of funders can sometimes seem oppressive, they do seem to get us focused on improving what we offer to our communities.

Proposals should reflect the best of what your organization has done in the past as well as what you hope to do and achieve in the future. In terms of the future, there are several questions you should ask yourself to inform your thinking:

1. What has worked well in the past that we should continue to do or expand? Because you have experience working with the community, you already have a good sense of what has worked well. Identify these activities and continue to refine them. This is what distinguishes your organization from all of the others, making you more competitive as you apply for funding.

2. What have we done in the past that can be improved? As an experienced organization, you probably also have a lot of knowledge about what doesn’t work, or what could be done differently. Take time to identify, reflect upon, and discuss these areas so that they can be improved.

3. What needs does my community have that are not being met? As a nonprofit, you have an obligation to have first-hand knowledge of community needs and to address those needs as effectively as possible. This means you need to be present in the opportunity, ask questions, conduct formal assessments every so often, and listen to the people you are serving and your partners on an ongoing basis.

4. What feedback has the community given us about what we are doing well or not so well? Whether or not you have asked, I am sure that some of the people you are serving have given you positive or negative feedback – or even suggestions for improvement. Develop a system to keep track of this feedback and review it periodically to improve your programs.

5. What trends are impacting the field? Your presence in the community will help you understand not only what the people being served think and feel about what you are offering, but the whole of what is going on in their lives and in their community. Be aware of any type of change or activity in your community that might impact the people you are serving or your ability to provide service to people.

6. What innovative practices could be replicated by my organization to better meet the needs of my community? I believe this might be at the heart of your question! There are a lot of ways you can research innovative practice not just when writing proposals but throughout the year. Some sources of information include professional associations, trade journals, networking groups, and government resources. Stay in touch with your colleagues to know what they are doing. Make some calls to public officials or even funders to ask them what ideas they can share from other communities. Attend conferences, read, and imagine what could be possible!

Keep in mind that what is innovative and works in one community may not necessarily be effective in your community. As you come across ideas, share them with your coworkers and/or the people you serve to see if it might work. Keep in mind that you are serving complete people, even though your program may only impact a part of their lives. All of those other parts of their lives will impact their needs and what will work well as you interact with them. This also means that you should focus not just on addressing problems, but on preventing them while also creating a more positive environment.

7. What does my organization and program have the capacity to deliver? My philosophy is always to underpromise and overdeliver (hopefully you have noticed!). I often see nonprofit organizations promising the world in a proposal when there is no possible way that they could actually do what is being proposed. Only propose to do what is possible given the time, money, facilities, and other resources available to the organization. But never stop dreaming big; always be thinking about what additional things your organization could be doing if more funding became available.

To answer these questions, your organization needs to assess needs and capacity to address those needs on an ongoing basis – not just when it is time to write proposals. That way, you will be prepared to take action when you become aware of unexpected opportunities for funding or partnership.

Your Questions Answered! How Can I Establish Myself as a Trusted and Respected Leader?

Q: How can I establish myself as a trusted and respected leader?

As leaders, we have the opportunity to have a positive influence on other people, our organizations, our communities, and beyond. Establishing yourself as a trusted and respected leader will lead to even more opportunities to do good in the world. But this is easier said than done. Here are a few suggestions for you:

  1. Be honest, even when it hurts. Be open and truthful, and others will know that they can trust you.
  2. Do what you say you will do. Always follow through on your promises. There is nothing more disappointing than being promised something and then being forgotten. Demonstrate that you care by only making promises that you can keep and by following up on all of your commitments, no matter how minor they may seem to you. Life happens; if you aren’t able to do something or to do it as quickly as you had hoped, let the other person know.
  3. Be consistent. Other people will trust and respect you they know what to expect from you. This creates feelings of safety and comfort that support healthy relationships. But don’t be afraid to change your mind or your way of talking about or doing something if it is a reflection of your own personal growth. Let people know that it is natural to change and evolve over time.
  4. Be present. To be trusted and respected, you need to be seen. Make the time to interact with other people and use this opportunity to demonstrate your leadership ideals through your personal example. Being present doesn’t just mean being in the room; it also means being aware and engaged.
  5. Check impressions. You want to be trusted and respected, but how do you really know whether or not other people trust and respect you? The truth is that you don’t. And if some people trust and respect you, others may not. Be aware of how other people respond to you. If you think you are not being clearly understood, ask others how you are being perceived. Reflect and check in on a regular basis to make sure your inner and outer worlds are integrated.
  6. Find a mentor. Mentors can help you get established by opening doors that would otherwise remain inaccessible (or, in some cases, that you might not even know about!). In addition, a mentor can be your sounding board to explore your ideas and insecurities. Make sure you choose your mentor wisely and clearly outline your expectations for the mentor’s involvement in your life.

Your Questions Answered! How Can I Help my Students Develop Good Character?

Q: How can I help my students develop good character?

As adults, we have a great opportunity to influence the children around us. We do this through our example, including our choices and actions (children are always watching and learning!) as well as through our words. There are a lot of character development programs especially designed for educators to influence children’s esteem and virtue. But if we don’t embody those values, we are sending mixed messages that will lead to confusion and even resentment. So as an adult, and particularly as a leader, we must always be aware of the example we are setting for our children.

As much as we want our influence to impact the children around us, whether they are our own children, our neighbors, or our students, we can’t control how others will respond to us. What we say and do will resonate with some people, and it will turn other people off. That’s human nature; we are all different and some people are more open to learning that others. We can never control other people, nor should we want to. Attempting to control others’ thoughts and behaviors will lead them to shut down; by doing this, they will not be open to learning from us. So we need to share our ideas, and be a great example to others, without the expectation that everyone will buy in to what we want them to believe or do. And when other people reject our ideas, we need to show them respect and continue to share who we are with an open heart and mind.

There are many influences on children including their school, family, community, and the media. Each source of influence has a different motivation. Some are most concerned with the well-being of children while others are not. Our children are exposed to a lot of things that we might find harmful, or detrimental to the values we are trying to imbue. We can try to change some of these practices, but it takes collective effort over time. Join with others who also care about children, and who want them to build character, and you will be even more successful in influencing who they are.

Your Questions Answered! How Can I Be an Effective Public Speaker when I Have an Accent?

Q: How can I be an effective public speaker when I have an accent?

Your accent is a part of who you are. It makes you unique and can distinguish you from the crowd. On the other hand, when we speak with an accent other people might misunderstand what we are saying or not take us seriously. Despite taking Spanish in school for several years and being around Spanish speaking people most of my life, I sound absolutely ridiculous when I try to speak this language (I know what it should sound like, and that’s not what is coming out of my mouth!). I more than make up for this with my French, which might be passable in certain regions (though I’m not sure which ones). I really appreciate your courage because I know how uncomfortable I would be if I were in your shoes.

Identifying that you have an accent and that this might interfere with your effectiveness as a public speaker demonstrates critical self-awareness which is really important for any leader! Whether we are speaking in our native or another language, we can always improve our word choice and elocution so that we are can deliver a stronger message. I’m a native English speaker and my public speaking ability in my native tongue is completely different now than it was five, 10, or 20 years ago. This takes preparation and practice, practice, practice.

Don’t let your self-awareness turn into self-consciousness or self-criticism. If you feel self-conscious about your accent while you are speaking, you may project nervousness that distracts people from your message. Be proud of who you are and what you have to say! If you think the audience is not understanding you, check in with them and look at their reaction. You can also use visual aids, like presentation software or a handout, with text to help people grasp the key points of your speech.

Remember that we all have different linguistic abilities. I’m referring not just to you as a speaker, but to listeners as well. It can be harder for some people than others to interpret meaning when the speaker has an accent. Be compassionate toward them, and yourself, to develop a rapport that will make your audience want to learn more from you.

 

Your Questions Answered! How Can I Better Manage My Volunteers?

Q: How can I better manage my volunteers?

As a person who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 20 years, I know how important volunteers are to the mission of our organizations. I also know, having volunteered for a variety of organizations, that the process of creating a great volunteer experience that leads to people feeling truly engaged can be mystifying. The administrative aspects of managing volunteers, like recruitment and keeping track of contact information and hours contributed, is relatively easy. Developing your volunteer base is not difficult, but it does require intention and consistent effort. Here are a few tips to help you improve your volunteer management.

1. Ask volunteers to fill out an application, just like they would for a job. This helps you to assess the best ways that each volunteer can contribute to your organization.
2. Interview prospective volunteers. Give each candidate the opportunity to ask questions and to decide what their level of commitment can be to your organization.
3. Get to know your volunteers. The process of getting to know another person takes time, so your assessment of volunteer interests and skills can’t be limited to the application and interview process. Show interest in each volunteer and provide them with opportunities to develop their skills and explore their interests.
4. Consistently communicate. Volunteers want to know what is going on in your organization, and they want to hear it from you! Make sure your volunteers receive regular formal communications with important updates, like printed newsletters or email. Invite volunteers to all of your social media accounts. Make sure your volunteers hear about important changes from you rather than through the grapevine.
5. Check in on a regular basis. Call, email, or schedule a meeting with each volunteer at least once a month to see how things are going. Ask them to provide you with recommendations for how the organization can create a better experience for them.
6. Recognize each volunteer’s contributions. Tell volunteers directly that you appreciate what they are doing for your organization, and do it often! For those who don’t mind the spotlight, you can also feature volunteers in your newsletter or on social media.