ORLANDO — People say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but those people clearly don’t know about grants – gifts of money or land for a particular purpose. Monetary grants are the lifeblood of many Tribes and organizations; the money does not have to be paid back.
Receiving a grant is not as simple as just asking for it. Detailed grant proposals must be written and specific instructions must be followed. The process can be daunting for those unfamiliar with it, but grant writing can be learned with proper training.
The Native Learning Center (NLC) taught 93 people how to write grants in the Grant Researching and Proposal Writing in Indian Country Workshop, held Dec. 3-5 in Lake Buena Vista in Orlando. The workshop was the first of what could become an annual course.
“We have seen an overwhelming interest in our grant education focus area,” said Christina Gonzalez, NLC marketing coordinator. “We put together this workshop to give training and education to beginners, experts and everyone in between. Grant writing is a skill that can be acquired, which is why we put on the workshop.”
Many Tribes and organizations have people solely dedicated to grant writing; others do it on their own. Participants came from all over the nation and included members of numerous Tribes, as well as non-Tribal members who work in Indian Country. The goal was to give them practical information they could take home and use to get grants. The workshop included courses that provided skills necessary to explore, seek out and successfully write a grant proposal.
Mike Hollingsworth, a descendent of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, works closely with the Leech Lake Tribal College in Cass Lake, Minn. about 100 miles from the Canadian border. The Tribe has three casinos, but the income derived from gaming is not enough to support the college, which is dependent on grants for 70 percent of its funding. Hollingsworth had a number of expectations when he signed up for the NLC workshop and left with a more realistic understanding of the grant writing process.
“It was very clear they did a lot of work to put on the workshop,” he said. “It went smoothly on the front end, so I know there was a lot of work done on the back end. Grants are looked at as a mystical thing, but they are actually methodical like contracts. The course gave the foundation of how to approach writing grants. Anything we can do to make grant writing efforts more effective and the grant capture rate higher is time well spent.”
Twelve instructors, seven of whom are members of Tribes across the country, offered courses such as Using Grants for Tribal Economic Development, From the Eyes of a Reviewer, Philanthropic Language, Is Your Organization Ready for Grant Writing and Grants Writing 101, to name a few. Feedback received by the NLC from attendees was very good.
“We are still getting feedback,” said Jared Forman, curriculum development specialist. “Attendees went through process of learning best practices and applying them to specific grants. We are always available for follow up and to provide technical assistance; if someone has further questions about a grant, we will help.”
Workshop participant Lew Hastings, executive director of the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce near Fort Myers, isn’t affiliated with a Tribe but has friends on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. One of them works with the Okiciyapi Tipi Habitat for Humanity in Eagle Butte.
“They are in desperate need for money to continue their efforts to build homes,” he said. “It struck me that this was a way I could help. The workshop was pretty intimate, so it let us have a personal learning level you need when you deal with such technical forms. The instructors were absolutely fantastic.”
The workshop gave participants a skill set they need to write grants and the confidence to do it.
“It took the fear out of trying to tackle something so large,” Hastings said. “They broke it down into smaller pieces so you were able to grasp everything. It was really well done and if they keep going in this direction, they are going to help a lot of people in Indian Country.”