RstephensonJR's blog

A Classical Approach to Grant Proposals

Before campaign advisors, spin doctors, influencers or ad men, there was the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. His treatise, The Rhetoric, laid out a durable blueprint for creating persuasive arguments and the elements he described are as useful today as they were in 4th century BC Greece. As proposal writers, we sometimes get lost in the weeds of data, logic models, detailed methods and other granular stuff. Preparing persuasive proposals can benefit from reviewing these classical principles.

VMOST for Nonprofits

The concept probably predates Rakesh Sondhi’s Total Strategy but a VMOST analysis is still a useful way of figuring out what your organization wants to accomplish and how it plans to go about it. Assumptions are sand traps when it comes to planning and submitting proposals. Instead of assuming “everybody knows” why we do what we do and how we do it, this is a useful framework for thinking through the hierarchy of intentions and actions for your organization.

A Case for Collaboration

More and more nonprofits are discovering the benefits of collaborating with other organizations (other nonprofits or for-profit businesses) to get things done. These collaborations might be formal partnerships, joint applications, mergers or other arrangements. Whatever their structure, they often deepen and expand the impact of a program or initiative.

Does Your Board Know Its Business?

In the worlds of nonprofit programs, management, fundraising and development, there are few topics more widely discussed and more generally misunderstood than the role of the board. In development, e.g., some nonprofits expect (demand?) that board members make a financial contribution to the organization. Others beg and plead with the board to do something, anything, to help raise money.

Chop This Year’s Wood for Next Year’s Fire

One of the inescapable truths about proposal writing and grants funding is the time it sometimes takes for a funder to make up its mind. Weeks, months – many months – can go by without a word. Funders work on a variety of timetables: some wait for a regular board meeting; some review proposals as they are submitted; some put requests through a series of screens and determinations, each one setting the stage for the next one.

Put Your Mouth Where Your Money Is

Across the country, thousands of nonprofits have been hard at work for many years, delivering life-saving social and human services to millions of people. Your organization is one such. In addition to doing the work, your nonprofit has learned some things about the causes of the problems you’re trying to address. You’ve begun to reflect on the words of Desmond Tutu: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling in.”


Hardly anybody remembers John Venn, a British mathematician from the late 1800s. But everybody has heard of Venn diagrams, maybe used them in charts to explain how one group of characteristics “overlaps” another, and to name and define the stuff in the place where the groups overlap. Circle A represents tall people, circle B represents athletes. When we overlap the circles we’ve got tall people who aren’t athletes, and athletes who aren’t tall—but in the overlap, we’ve got tall athletes.

Proposal Writing Skills: Transferable?

Let’s say you’re an experienced development staffer, or a consultant, and you’ve been submitting grant proposals to support the organization’s mission. Let’s also say you’ve gotten good at it and have helped your organization win funding. But you’ve lately gotten very interested in a different field (arts, environment, housing, e.g.) and you think maybe you can take your skills to a nonprofit in that new field that will be glad to have you. Can you? Will they?


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