Commentary: 8 grant-writing myths busted

Joanne Fritz, Guide, 10/5/11

Unfortunately, many smaller nonprofits think that it is impossible and thereby pass up an inviting source of funding for their causes. I asked Pamela Grow to debunk the myths surrounding grant writing. She has been on both sides of the grant writing process, having evaluated grant applications for a foundation and then setting up a grant writing program for a nonprofit. Pamela says the following eight myths often hold nonprofits back from seizing their share of the grant-giving pie:

  1. Writing a grant is an instant solution to our money problems. Many nonprofits give up after their first grant is rejected. What if you searched for a job in that way? You would give up after the first turn down. But we keep sending out resumes, working our contacts, upgrading our skills, and hanging in there until we get a break. It's the same with grant writing.
  2. Grants aren't like other's a different animal altogether. It is crucial you build relationships with funders, just as you do with individual donors. Don't hesitate to call a foundation to test the waters...would they welcome your application? Strike up a conversation with a program officer, or founder of a small foundation.  If your grant is rejected, find out why and if there is anything you can do better or different. Always ask if there is another funding source that they can recommend. Pamela's Grant Proposal Checklist is a big help with this.
  3. The recession has caused foundations to cut way back on funding, so what's the point? It is true foundation grant making has fallen recently. On the other hand, small and midsize foundations actually exceeded their payout requirements in 2009.
  4. We need operational support and foundations don't provide that. There has been a shift from programmatic funding toward funding operating costs.
  5. We don't know anyone at any foundations. Actually, you might. Take note of foundation trustees and forward those names to your board to see if there are any connections. One may well turn up. Even if you start out with no contacts, you can still get funding, and as you gain experience your contact universe will grow.
  6. We don't know how to search for funders and the databases are expensive. Your public library may have the Foundation Center's database which you can use for free at that site. The Foundation Center also offers free online tutorials and webinars in using its database. There are also free databases that will provide basic information on foundations. Pamela offers an online video tutorial using some of these that is very helpful.
  7. It is too complicated to write a grant proposal. Pamela says the biggest problem [is] that organizations simply [do] not follow the guidelines. Following them is much more important than flowery prose. You can also read sample grant proposals. Pamela's Grant Proposal Toolkit provides several samples of grant proposals. Grant writing is also about simply telling stories. People are going to be reading your proposal and people can be touched by those stories. Use statistics, but then illustrate them with inspiring stories.
  8. We don't have anyone on staff to write proposals and professional grant writers are too expensive. First look internally for someone who could learn to write grant proposals. It might be someone you hadn't thought of...even a volunteer. But, if you do feel that you need a professional, don't hire one because you think it is going to be an instant solution. If someone promises that, beware. Look for a writer who will work with you on transitioning your organization to doing it in-house. See If You're Looking for a Grant Writer... for more tips.


Commentary: 7 social media myths debunked

Shane Snow,, 9/15/11

Dan Zarella is a different kind of marketing guru. He eschews head-nodding maxims like "be part of the conversation" and puts commonly held notions to the test. With a mix of scientific method and just enough statistics to be dangerous, Zarella recently shared his own version of Mythbusters at the Inbound Marketing Summit. Zarella debunked all 7 myths below using data collected from millions of Twitter and Facebook users, their status updates, and lots of math.

Myth #1: Engaging in the conversation is the most important thing on social media. People with more followers have fewer conversations with other people on Twitter. But they do share a lot more links. Conversely, people with fewer followers share fewer links and have more conversations. "Engaging in the conversation doesn't work," Zarella explains, from a follower-building standpoint. "Publishing interesting content does."
Myth #2: Don't call yourself a guru on Twitter. Data shows that those who do so have more followers than the average Twitter user, and bios with the words "official" and "expert" tend to have even more followers. "Don't be afraid to identify yourself authoritatively," says Zarella. But, of course, that doesn't mean that by simply calling yourself a guru you will have more followers. You've got to back it up, too, or you'll be unfollowed.
Myth #3: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are bad days to publish. Email and social media link click-throughs are higher on Saturday and Sunday than during the week. That's because total email and status update volume those days is lower. Facebook shares go way up on Saturday and Sunday, because that's when people have time to share, and that's when they're not being bombarded by everyone else.

Myth #4: Talk about what other people are talking about. Tweets with the most words in common get the lowest amount of retweets, according to Zarella's stats. Word novelty analysis indicates that if you tweet something that no one else is saying, it's more likely to be retweeted.

Myth #5: Saying "Please ReTweet" doesn't work. By adding "Please ReTweet" to status updates, the average result is a 4-fold increase in retweets. It's less if you abbreviate "Please RT" than if you spell it all the way out.

Myth #6: Quality (of followers) gets you more reach than quantity. Having a lot of small-fry followers gets you more reach than fewer followers who in turn have large followings. If you have to re-read that a couple of times to make sense of it, don't worry. I did, too!

Myth #7: The more frequently you publish, the more followers you get. The click-through rate of links in status updates goes down with every additional tweet per hour. Oversharing apparently "cheapens" the value of your content in your followers minds. Zarella says, "Don't crowd out your own content."


Commentary: 4 email deliverability myths debunked

Clint Kaiser,, 9/23/11

Because of the pace of change, best practices in email deliverability quickly grow stale. It's time to purge ourselves of these outdated myths regarding inbox deliverability optimization:

Myth No. 1: Avoid using the word "free" in subject lines. For that matter, don't use all caps or special characters. In looking at 65 marketing emails delivered to my inbox over the past 24 hours, 18 of them used the word "free" (gasp) and often the word was in all caps (double gasp)! These emails were from smart marketers that know what they're doing. While free is a powerful word, it's not powerful enough to force a message into a spam folder.

Myth No. 2: Avoid trigger words in the body of your message.Just the other day I read a set of recommendations advising marketers to not include the words "click here" as a call to action. Instead, it recommended saying "press here." Beyond sounding extremely awkward, this shift isn't going to greatly impact whether a message is delivered to an inbox. Sure, a company using poor HTML code and sending off an IP address with a shoddy reputation is going to have issues. But if "click here" works for you, use it.

Myth No. 3: ISPs have a "bat phone" to call to get unblocked.There's no bat phone to call to get an IP address unblocked. Most of the time these aren't quick fixes. Email service providers can help identify and address deliverability issues, but the responsibility is shared and there are key elements of inbox assurance that aren't under their control.

Myth No. 4: If I ignore a deliverability problem, it will go away. It depends on the depth and type of infraction. But more than likely, if you don't address it, the blocking or bulking of messages is going to happen again. Address it head-on for resolution now than wait it out.

What makes email deliverability such a challenge is the shifting nature of the ISP rule set paired with the various approaches taken by different ISPs. How do you best ensure emails get to the inbox? Here's where things haven't changed from a best practice standpoint:

  • set and adhere to the expectations provided at the point of subscription;
  • keep your list clean through expedient and thorough hygiene practices; and
  • provide timely, relevant content for your subscribers that engages them.
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