Knowledge Makes the Difference

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The energetic and imaginative changemakers who staff nonprofits are full of great ideas. They’re constantly coming up with ways to make things better and looking for grants to support their vision.

 

After teaching hundreds of classes for public and private nonprofits, the very first direction I give for winning grants is to invest whatever time is needed to build deep, professional-level knowledge in your field of interest. Without that, it’s not possible to assess the potential of a new idea, to plan a solid program, or to advocate for your cause. Without an up-to-date, fact-based perspective of what’s happening in the field, it’s not possible to develop a compelling and competitive grant proposal.

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Information is everywhere, so the bar is set high. You can access expensive books and professional journals for free at a reference library, and with the endless wealth of the Internet there’s no excuse for a faulty knowledge base. What’s been tried? What’s worked and what hasn’t? Where are the knowledge gaps–the places where more information is needed? What are the best opportunities for making change–the pressure points where focus and energy can produce the most impact? What types of outcomes are most meaningful and how are they typically measured?
 

Without a solid base of knowledge, you’re on shaky ground. You may claim that an approach is unique or ground-breaking, when a quick online search will show that it isn’t. You may lament the impossibility of measuring the benefits of an arts program when a little time with research from the National Endowment for the Arts or Americans for the Arts will show that it’s not impossible. You may struggle to explain the importance of an urban community garden when you don’t have to because there’s extensive literature on that topic to give your argument power and focus.
 

To do the best you can for those you wish to help, begin with a deep understanding of your field. Explore, learn, dig, question. Knowledge is key to making good things happen.

— Barbara Floersch, Chief of Training & Curriculum

 

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