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.

 

Your Questions Answered: Working with Youth, Staff Challenges, Innovation

Q: I lead a group of young people between the ages of two to 26. Attendance is very poor for our weekly meetings and are a bit hard to organize. How can I make these gatherings interesting?

A: It can be very difficult to hold the attention of young people, especially when there is such a large age span. Here are a few ideas that might help increase attendance and organization:

  1. Think like one of the young people. As adults we often have very different ideas about the world and goals than children do. When we approach working with children, it can be helpful to try to see the world through their eyes – which may seem naïve or distorted to us. Imagine what it is like for them to participate in the group. What other activities might they be doing instead? Why do you think they are making this choice?
  2. Ask participants what they want. In addition to thinking like a young person, you can get right inside their minds by asking them what they want. What do they like most about the meetings? What don’t they like? What do they want to get out of participating? Why do they choose to come or not to come? Accept their honest feedback and adjust the schedule and activities accordingly.
  3. Create an incentive to participate. It may seem a little manipulative or unethical to offer people something for participating. The reward of your meeting should be enough! But in reality, incentives can help people try something that they might otherwise choose not to do. An incentive can be something very simple, like the opportunity to do something new, a snack, or a special guest speaker that piques their interest. Make a list of rewards that your young people might like and choose something that is feasible given your resources.
  4. Divide the group by age. Because the attention span, interests, and goals of people in your age range are very different, it may be beneficial to break the group up according to age. If this is difficult to manage, you may need to recruit more volunteers to help you implement activities.
  5. Develop mentors. You have a great opportunity here for the older participants to mentor those who are younger. This will give them a sense of responsibility and connection that my improve participation. In addition, the younger people will benefit from these relationships and may attend more often because they are excited to see their mentor.
  6. Identify cheerleaders. Young people are highly influenced by their peers. If you have active participants in your group, they can be your cheerleaders and help you recruit participants. Provide them with the language and support needed to tell other young people about the group.
  7. Demonstrate impact. Clearly identify the goals of each meeting and the group overall. When goals are achieved, or milestones toward those goals, verbally let the group know. Remind them of your group’s purpose and let them know that you are making progress. It may not be obvious to them without you calling it to their attention.

Q: I own a school and have a staff of 17 people. It is hard to recruit staff because of our school’s location. The staff I have do not respect my authority. They come late, dress improperly, are insubordinate, and express many other negative attitudes. How can I restructure and build on my staff’s strength?

A: I understand your predicament. You don’t want to lose staff, because they are hard to replace. Yet, the staff you have aren’t being good role models to your students. Here are a few ideas that might help:

  1. Reward good behavior. Hopefully, some of your staff are exhibiting good behaviors. Recognize and reward them for being good role models not just to your students but to other employees. Consider matching these employees with others who are struggling to serve as mentors and provide them with a reward for their extra effort.
  2. Create a comprehensive policy book. Make sure all of your expectations are in writing. When new staff are hired, go over each item with them. Unfortunately, you can’t expect that everyone will have common sense. Ask employees to sign a document stating that they have read and understand the policies.
  3. Create consequences for breaking the rules. Put a system in place to let people know when they have broken a policy. Remind them why this particular policy is important to the school and your students. Clearly identify the consequences for breaking the rule including both the impact on the employee and the influence it will on students. Create a progressive system of consequences leading up to termination of employment.
  4. Suggest ideas for improvement. Provide your staff with alternative options for behavior. If they are doing something that is against the school policy, don’t just point out that what they are doing is breaking the rules – provide them with specific ideas of things that they could do instead. If this behavior is something that the employees always do at work and otherwise, they may not really think about other options.
  5. Document challenges and progress. Keep notes for yourself with dates to help you remember what happened when. When you have a conversation with an employee about their behavior, follow that conversation up with something in writing that identifies the policy that was broken and what your expectation is for them going forward.
  6. Build on your school’s strengths. Think of your school in terms of its unique strengths. What makes it special? If you do need to recruit new staff, do so from a position of strength rather than focusing on the inconvenient location. Position your school as a great place to work and you will attract great talent.
  7. Carefully screen new employees. If you do hire new staff, make sure you are prepared to ask them questions that will help you determine whether or not they are a good fit for your school – and whether they will bring you the same challenges you have experienced in the past. Carefully observe their behavior and how they respond to your questions.
  8. Be a role model. As the owner, you are the ultimate role model and are always being watched by your students and staff. Make sure you always exhibit the behaviors that you expect to see in others.

Q: I am a teacher and the head of our English department. I work with many different personalities. How can I be more innovative to improve the department’s achievement?

A: Yes, it can be a challenge to work with many different personalities! Here are a few ideas that may promote your department’s success:

  1. Approach relationships with curiosity. Demonstrate a genuine interest in getting to know your coworkers and other employees in your school. This will open up opportunities to learn about how each person is motivated and what they can offer to improve the department.
  2. Identify each other’s strengths and interests. It is helpful to be curious and to pay attention to information that other people voluntarily share. But sometimes we need to intentionally ask questions to gather specific information. Take the time to ask each person in your department what their special gifts are and what interests them most. Don’t forget to share this information about you with others, too! It may be especially powerful to do this in a group setting where everyone in the department can learn more about each other to coordinate effort and promote bonding.
  3. Create opportunities for everyone to contribute. Now that you know how people are motivated and what their strengths and interests are, create opportunities for them to use their talent to benefit the department. When new projects come up, pull people in who will be interested and who will likely make a positive contribution.
  4. Let people take risks. Innovation involves risk and learning. Give your staff a little room to try new things and then evaluate, together, whether or not it worked. If it worked well, then this practice can be shared throughout your department. If it didn’t work so well, then you can either change it up a bit or try something new. Let your staff know that you trust them to try new things.
  5. Celebrate your department in the school. Honor the contributions of your staff by letting school administrators and other department heads know about their commitment, innovative ideas, and successes.
  6. Expose your employees to new ideas. As department head, you have the opportunity to shape your employee’s ideas about education and to expand their horizons. When you find examples of practices that are working well in other environments, share them with your staff. You can do this verbally, in writing, or at meetings. Set up a system to regularly share new ideas with your staff.
  7. Define success. What is your department trying to achieve? How does it define success? Have this conversation with staff to create a working definition of success. This will guide the department’s efforts and can serve as a reminder of what the group thinks is most important when decisions are made.

Your Questions Answered: Accomplishing Goals on Your Own

Q: If you need to accomplish something and you have no help to push you through, how do you it?

A: It can be difficult to stay on track toward our goals when we don’t have someone actively supporting our work. I’ve been in this situation, too. Here are some suggestions to accomplish your goals, regardless of the support you have from other people.

  1. Identify your internal resistance. Is there a reason why you feel hesitant to move forward without external validation and support? Identifying the sources of resistance that you may be feeling will help you move past them.
  2. Connect with your motivation. You have identified a goal. Why is this important to you? Connecting with the reason why you are pursing something as you are doing it will keep you focused and moving forward.
  3. Realize that ‘you’re it!’ Ultimately, you are responsible for your actions. While it’s nice to have a cheerleader, coach, and mentor, that just isn’t always the reality. And when we do have someone like that on our side, they may not always be available to us because they are working on their own projects.
  4. Establish an accountability system. Tell someone what you are doing to do. Post it on social media so the whole world will (potentially) know. By stating your intentions to another person or people, you may feel a stronger sense of obligation because you know that others are watching and waiting.
  5. Enjoy a reward. Celebrate your progress, however small. Do something that you enjoy doing — something just for you – when you achieve milestones on your journey.
  6. Build a support network. If you don’t have a mentor or sponsor, it may be beneficial to connect with a peer who shares or complements your experiences. The Women’s Creative Leadership Network is one way for you to connect with others and ask for advice or support.
  7. Identify other resources that you need – and go after them! You may feel stuck because there are resources – like relationships, facilities, or materials – that you need to make progress. Make a list of everything that you need and then develop a plan to get (or borrow) those items.
  8. Share your vision. Tell other people about what you are trying to accomplish, why this is important to you, and how this will benefit them. Get people excited and involved in your work – even if they are not directly with you every step of the way. Find your “first follower” to motivate you and start creating your vision.

Q&A: Dealing with Anger as a Leader

Q: As a leader, I know that I should avoid getting angry and losing control, but it sometimes happens. How can I avoid this?

A: It sounds like you might be a little stressed out. I’ve been there. Leadership is indeed a stressful occupation. You have many responsibilities, and no one quite understands what you go through every day. So it’s not only stressful; it can be isolating which compounds that stress. Here are a few suggestions that might help you overcome this challenge.

  1. Recognize that you are not alone. There are leaders all over the world who have struggles and challenges that are similar to yours. When you are going through a difficult time, recognize that your experience – while it is unique to you and your particular circumstances – is in some way shared by many other women.
  2. Connect with a network. Find a mentor or colleague who can help you navigate challenges and identify your priorities.
  3. Remember your vision and purpose. There is a reason why you chose the path you are on. Immerse yourself in that vision and purpose through creative visualization and then translate that into daily action.
  4. Practice gratitude. It is easy to be overwhelmed by challenges. Yet, we all have something to be grateful for – our family, our health, the opportunity to take one more breath. Whatever it is for you, write it down and celebrate it.
  5. Take care of yourself. When you are engaged in important, valuable work, it can be difficult (and seem selfish) to take time for yourself. Yet, if you don’t make time for yourself, the quality of your work will suffer. Make sure you get rest, eat well, take breaks, and do what you need to do to nurture your physical and emotional health.
  6. Identify your triggers. If there is something or someone in particular that is triggering your anger? If so, either remove the trigger or create a plan to respond to it in a constructive way that is mutually beneficial.
  7. Reflect. When you react in a negative way that potentially causes harm, take the time to reflect upon what happened. Think about how you could have responded better and make a plan to act accordingly in the future.
  8. Build on your strengths. If you find yourself getting angry, impatient, or judgmental, use your unique gifts, whatever they may be, to change your behavior.
  9. Remember your role as a leader. As a leader, others are watching you. You are a role model. Other people will replicate your behavior, whether it is good or bad. You set the tone for your organization. In addition, as a leader, you have a responsibility to help guide and develop those around you. Take this responsibility seriously.
  10. Have fun. Make a plan to do something that you enjoy. Get out of your work environment and do something fun. It doesn’t need to be expensive – it could be a long walk or getting together with friends. Make a list of things that bring you joy – big and small – and do at least one thing every day.

These are just a few ideas to potentially avoid having your anger take over at work. If you have any other ideas, please post them in the comments below!

Your Questions Answered: Trust, Patience, Emotions, the Comfort Zone

Q: How can I trust others to help me?

I sometimes have trouble trusting others. I know that they are (generally) good people and mean well, but sometimes it just seems easier to do everything myself. But I know that part of my responsibility as a leader is to support, guide, and uplift others around me. To fulfill this responsibility, we need to give other people space to be involved, try, and make mistakes. Yes, we need to let them fail a little, but support and catch them before they cause real harm. If you can’t trust the people around you, then you might not have the right people on your team.

Q: How can I help other people understand my goals?

With so many competing interests and compelling things drawing our attention, it can be difficult to get other people to pay attention to, let alone understand, our goals. The first step is to make sure your goals are crystal clear. That means succinct, quantifiable, and easily digestible. Once your goals are clear, make sure you are able to articulate why this goal is important to you, your organization, your community, and various constituent groups. You can tell a great story by sharing why this goal is important to you, but don’t forget to put yourself in others’ shoes to try and see things from their perspective. You can also share your goals in an open way to provoke discussion. Perhaps other people can help you refine or expand your goals so that they are even better!

Q: How can I challenge myself to step outside of my comfort zone?

As leaders, it is important for us to push ourselves and redefine our limits. We can do this in ways that are directly related to our work, like making a presentation to 100 people, or in ways that expand us as a human being. Both are valuable and make use more adaptable and resilient leaders. To take on this challenge, make a list of things that you would like to do, but they feel quite scary. Think exhilaration. For me, that would be making a sales call (something I really don’t like to do, but I would like to do it because it is valuable) or, for a personal example, joining a roller derby team (which I might just do). After you make your list, including both personal and professional things to do – and you can take a few days to make your list – pick one and commit to doing it within one month. Over time, you can expand your list, pick more activities, and set more ambitious goals. Have fun!

Q: How can reign in my passion to focus on my goals?

You may be asking the wrong person. I am pretty much all over the place, and it is because I am a passionate person with multiple interests. I find it hard to focus and just do one thing. That being said, having this disposition has forced me to develop some discipline over the years to keep me on track toward my goals. First of all, you may need to prioritize your goals because, if you’re anything like me, you probably have more that you want to do than you could ever realistically accomplish. So write down those goals and prioritize them. Determine what is most important to you. Now, get out your calendar and write down specific things, even little things, that you can do to progress toward your most important goals each week. Even just one thing. So, you have prioritized your goals and scheduled time to work on them every week. Now, how do you reign in your passion? I’m not sure that you need to. Your multiple passions are what make you an interesting person, and they probably contribute to your sense of pleasure and fulfillment. And don’t forget that you have an entire lifetime to explore your passions. You don’t need to do everything right now. Keep prioritizing and adjust to keep yourself focused on your current goals.

Q: How can I use technology for my presentation without distracting my audience?

Yes, you are right – technology can definitely be distracting. But it can also be really helpful to communicate our messages. Think of technology not as a must have, but as something that enhances your delivery. In other words, don’t rely on technology, use it to add value to what you are saying. I find it is helpful to keep text to a minimum and use pictures to keep people engaged. But then, sometimes people start to write down every word because they are afraid they will miss something important! If this is the case, you can prepare notes and let the group know that you will make them available after the presentation. That way, they can just sit back and relax. Don’t forget to test out all of your technology well in advance of your meeting. There is nothing worse than having to postpone a meeting because the projector won’t connect to the computer (learned that the hard way!).

Q: How can I control my emotions so that I do not come across like a “boss?”

This is a delicate balance. Women are (too often) expected to be demure and nurturing; we are judged harshly when we exert our authority. Yet, for me, I resist authoritarianism and actively choose to engage with others in an open, responsive way whenever possible (I actually tend to be more rigid naturally, so this take some effort). I do this not to meet society’s expectations, but to align with my values. I suspect that you are similar to me in this way. You might want to read up Daniel Goleman’s concept of “emotional intelligence.” He has written a lot about the benefits of controlling emotions at work. It may benefit you to close your eyes for a few moments and take some deep breaths before you engage with others at work – especially those that might bring out the boss in you. You can also keep a journal to help you explore your feelings – their source, what provokes them, how you express them, etc. This may help you to identify ways to adjust to present yourself as the leader you want to be.

Q: How can I be a more patient leader?

Leaders are often involved in provoking change, whether it is change in organizations or change in communities. And change takes time. People don’t like change; they resist it and resent it. But, for change to be sustainable – to really get people on board with our vision — we need to work through all of its messiness. As leaders, we also try to provoke change in other people, like the people we supervise. It can be frustrating when we share our years of experience and wisdom with other people over and over again only to be ignored. Remember that you are the teacher, the guide, the source of support for others. People are looking to you for answers and watching how you respond (or react) as things unfold. Appreciating our position as a role model can help us put things in perspective and transform our feeling and how we interact with others. Our patience can also develop over time through persistence. We need to integrate both our immediate needs and our long term vision into our perspective.