Friday, March 4, 2011

What Exactly Goes in the Agency Background?

In the typical grant proposal, the grant writer tends to spend a lot of time researching and writing specific sections such as the needs statement, goals and objectives and the like. Oftentimes, the Organizational Background ends up being the weaker section, with less time and importance attached to it. At other times, grant writers may even go overboard with this section, thinking that they need to cram every piece of history and details in here. What is a good median here?
Imagine telling your child's school principle about how gifted your child is. Of course you could go on and on, but you realize that she doesn’t want to hear details about what he did as a toddler, or how he could tie his laces when he was three. You obviously have to filter the information and give only major details and milestones. At the same time you want to tell as succinctly as possible how clever, talented and absolutely amazing he is! Exactly the same is the case of the Organizational Background. To maintain that delicate balance between too much and too little, here are some tips of the trade:

  • Be brief – give the highlights of the organization rather than focusing on every detail. Consider asking a layman to review the section and ask if it makes sense.
  • Be historically frugal – give only the facts, such as the year it was created, and some other major milestones if they apply. In some cases it may be relevant to mention why and by whom the organization was started, but only if the whys and wherefores are really unique, or speak to the story in some way. So an adult literacy organization started by two ladies who could not read or write, may be worthwhile to include, but a boys’ club started by a scoutmaster may not.
  • Be relevant – really ask yourself, is this piece of information going to advance my organization's case? Is it going to give a better idea of what we are and why we are important? If not, leave it out. And remember that there cannot be any hard and fast rule, because what makes sense for one organization is not going to make sense for another.
  • Offer the salient features – one thing a background statement must definitely include are the organization's key numbers: how many clients served in the last year, how many overall, what are the demographics, locations? If there are some really wonderful outcomes that your organization is proud of, you could mention them here too, and then explain in detail in later sections. Another good use of  this section to give a bullet list of programs offered, and maybe a sentence or two of explanation for each. However, if your organization has so many programs that it may take an entire page, then attach an appendix instead.
  • Show off cautiously – often we tend to go overboard with awards, certifications and milestones that may not seem that great to an outsider. When selecting awards, mention those that really stand out, or those that are most recent. But if your organization hasn’t got awards or accolades, don’t worry about it. It’s not the end of the world. Funders place much more emphasis on the proposed program or project than history.
The Organizational Background can be a key piece of the puzzle... it certainly deserves a grant writer's time and attention. But it is better kept short, sweet, and to the point. Just like mentions of your gifted child!

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