I am the director of the Central Arizona Writing Project (CAWP), which is a new site in the National Writing Project (founded in 2008). Like many directors and TC’s throughout the network, when I heard word about the loss of funding in 2011, I started to panic. I am an assistant professor at Arizona State University and along with my work directing the CAWP, I am under tremendous pressure to earn tenure. As a way to problem solve about the new funding situation, I reached out to more senior directors of writing projects to seek advice about ways of staying afloat. These conversations were fruitful and I received some great tips (i.e. expand our young writers camps). However, many of the people I spoke to told me not to worry and that they had been directors of successful projects long before national funding was ever in place and that I just needed to switch my focus to become a fundraiser for the site. For example, one writing project director told me that in the early years of her project she spent hours and hours knocking on doors in the community and found creative ways to earn money for her site. Although these stories were meant to be encouraging, they put me into a tail spin. I immediately thought, “I don’t have time for fundraising! The university won’t value this work.”
As I sat in my office one morning, I came across an email from my dean, announcing a call for proposals for an internal grant through Arizona University’s Women & Philanthropy. The Women & Philanthropy established a “pooled fund within the ASU Foundation to provide funding in support of advancing ASU as a New American University. Funds support initiatives and programs that help fulfill the vision of excellence, access and impact.” The grant called for two categories (Category A & B) and would award only one Category A grant for $150,000 and multiple Category B grants for $50,000. I had heard about the Women & Philanthropy from other professors in my department and I knew they had funded literacy research programs and a writer’s in the schools program in the past. As I read the call for proposals, I immediately thought, “This is a way I can earn money for CAWP AND do it in a way the university will value for my tenure file.”
Repurposing Writing for the Grant Narrative
One of the first things I noticed about the call for proposals for the Women & Philanthropy was that many of the questions directly connected to content I had already covered in previous writing for the NWP. Here are a few examples of the items the W&P wanted covered in the grant narrative:
1. Brief description of program/services.
2. Who will benefit from this program?
3. Is there any collaboration with other ASU or community programs?
4. Specifically, how will the funds be used?
5. How will you evaluate the effectiveness of this program?
I realized I could use much of the writing I had already generated for the original NWP Application to establish CAWP as well as writing I had generated for NWP Annual Reports, and the NWP Site Report. About 75% of the W&P narrative was directly drawn from my prior writing for NWP. I also used the budget for CAWP as a way to guide and create the budget for this new grant. Because I repurposed so much of my prior writing for the grant narrative and budget, the process of writing the grant proposal took far less time than I had anticipated.
Finding Support for Grant Writing at the University and NWP
One of the keys to the success of this grant was the help I received from our CAWP leadership team and from the university research and grants team. Meredith DeCosta, who was the CAWP Technology Liaison and a doctoral student in our English education program at the time, assisted with the narrative for the first stage in the grant process. This gave her a lens into the grant writing process at the university level and a fresh role because her work for the site as Tech Liaison had been put on hold with the shift in funding. I also invited one of our TC’s, Tracey Flores, to assist in an on-site interview that took place after the grant proposal went through the initial review process. And, I reached out to the Institute for Humanities Research Grants Office at ASU. There is a team of people in this Institute who work with faculty to support grant writing. The team assisted with the budget and with the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects on campus. I also contacted the NWP office to help gather information about the impact of the NWP and to make my case stronger using data from the network as a whole. I am grateful to the folks at NWP who helped me gather information to make my case for the grant and who cheered this work along (Joye Alberts, Mike Mathis, Linda Friedrich, and Susan Freundlich).All of these people played an important role in the grant writing process and helped move it forward at different stages.
Lessons Learned About Internal Grants
One of the main things I learned through the process of applying for and receiving this grant, is that internal foundation grants can be more time consuming than external grants. Based on prior experience writing external grants, I mistakenly thought that once I submitted the proposal for the Women & Philanthropy I could sit back and wait to hear if I received the award. I thought my work was basically done. This was NOT the case. Writing the narrative for this grant was only 10% of the work that went into earning the grant. The Women & Philanthropy group went through several rounds of review for the proposals. As the grant made it through each round of review, I had to make my case in new and public ways to compete with the other finalists. The second and third round of review involved a site visit and interview, several phone interviews, and a final presentation in front of the entire Women & Philanthropy group (over 250 members). This grant process also meant building relationships with members of Women & Philanthropy and key administrators at my university. I was asked to involve the chair of my department and my dean in the final presentation in front of the Women & Philanthropy group.
All of these steps required more writing and each step required me to articulate my case/argument for the work of the site to new audiences with different interests in mind. For example, my chair wanted to understand how the work of the site would help support and align with the mission of the Department of English and my Dean wanted to know how the work for the grant would support the mission of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. And, the Women & Philanthropy wanted to know how their money would impact students at ASU, teachers and students and parents in the greater Phoenix area, and future research. Because this was an internal foundation grant, I had to argue how CAWP aligned with the mission of the university and show the impact of CAWP on the university and local and national audiences.
Through all of the stages of review and the final presentation, I had to generate informational handouts, talking points, and a final presentation. For many of these documents, I repurposed writing and information from the NWP and writing I had already generated for NWP. Although all of these steps were time consuming, the process gave me numerous opportunities to articulate the work of our site with major administrators, donors, and faculty at the university. Besides earning money for our site, this became an opportunity to give CAWP a presence it had not had previously.
Instead of thinking of fundraising as something I didn’t have time for, I realized I needed to expand my thinking about this work and create a new definition that works for my situation and site. Fundraising, in my case, turned into writing a grant, making connections with ASU’s Foundation, and making a case for CAWP as an important research site for the university. It also meant stepping up to the plate to compete with some of the major researchers, programs, and centers at my university in the realm of research and teaching. I am delighted to have received this grant to support the continued work of the CAWP.
- The narrative for the Women & Philanthropy grant. I wrote this with assistance from Meredith DeCosta, the technology liaison for the CAWP.
- A handout describing CAWP’s impact. I created this as a resource for Women & Philanthropy members who met with me for an interview and site visit as part of the grant competition process.
- The PowerPoint presentation I created for the final Women& Philanthropy event for finalists (the members of this foundation saw these presentations and then voted on which grants should receive funding).
- The talking points I created for my dean to give her support for the CAWP at the final Women & Philanthropy event.