Germinating Grant Ideas into Proposals
There are three kinds of people who review grant proposals—those who are influenced by data, those who are swayed by stories, and those who fall somewhere in the middle. In academia, we refer to the numbers as quantitative evidence, while narratives are labeled as qualitative evidence. We don’t have a catchy q-word to group the mixture of the two, but it’s in that unnamed space that grant seekers should sow their ideas. By cross-pollinating a proposal with both data and stories, one can fortify their ideas to withstand skeptical reviewers from both persuasions. This column will take you through the cultivation necessary to nurture a grant’s rationale and design to yield a funded proposal. It will draw on my experience serving at College of Menominee Nation (CMN), a tribal college chartered by the Menominee people.
As I discussed in the last installment of this grant writing series, every meaningful grant proposal emerges from community conversations. Once you recognize a need, establish that now is the time to address it, and prove that your group is the one capable of meeting it, you must explain the rationale behind your grant’s deliverables. Of course, if you want to hold a talking circle, discussion, workshop, or listening session, then you explain the who, what, where, when, and why imbedded in your thinking. Yet, you must also elaborate on your reasoning for choosing those events. Do the activities tie to the cultural practices of the community you are working with? Are you replicating a practice you found elsewhere? Is your grant funding a new type of promising research? In short, what makes your approach novel?
A convincing argument always begins with research. I cannot stress enough that the wisdom held in tribal documents must guide you—especially those that elaborate on a mission, vision, or value statement for the people whom you are serving. Teachings from a community are medicine for that community, and one would be wise to appraise it as such. Further, one can find a multitude of texts on Native research and the necessity of performing acts of reciprocity. Although these sources are often specific to a single tribe or region, they contain truisms about pan-Indian ideals that can help mold grant ideas into actionable items. The application of that research is where your data and stories come into play.
First, there’s the data of the community you serve, which can be used to establish a need. I teach at CMN, and in my role as a faculty member, I seek grants on behalf of the Menominee people. According to the 2020 census, now is the time when pre-college and college courses can aid in generational change for the public good. That report found that 51.7% of the population of Menominee county is 24-years-old or younger, with 15% of the total population falling within the age range of traditional college students—18 to 24. Further, the mean age of the entire population is 23.2, which conveys the necessity of college programing within the community. Of course, I could tailor my data search to reflect specific needs, but the reality is that by reading this data I can show the fierce urgency of acting on educational needs now by evoking concrete numbers for the granting agency to consider.
CMN is also rich in inspiring data that can sway entities to invest in its reputation for success. Since it’s founding nearly 30 years ago, the school has graduated over 1,200 students, while boasting an average class size of one faculty member for every four students. CMN students past and present represent 83 Native nations and 93% of our alumni leave the school without any debt. CMN offers 18 degree programs and 74% of our students are awarded Pell grants to help fund their education. In short, the school has the data to prove it is an effective, accessible change agent for Native people.
All of my favorite stories to tell involve successful students. In my 17 years teaching at CMN, I have witnessed former students ascend to admirable heights that include local board representatives, touring artists, grassroot organizers, community developers, entrepreneurs, tribal legislators, and women’s advocates. I have attended speeches, workshops, and even taken classes where former pupils have formally taught me what they have learned since leaving our college. Each story is unique, but they all can be told, with permission, to both reinforce what is possible and inspire others to imagine it. There’s power in each of their narratives and one of the things that links them all is their connection to CMN.
The trick to successfully conveying your rationale and design boils down to using evidence to show your entity has the ability to address the specific needs of a community. Proposals that describe conversations, research, entities, and processes collectively paint a picture for grant reviewers, but it’s the data and stories that bring them to life. By putting in the effort for a worthwhile cause, you can convince almost anyone reading and reviewing your proposal.
Ryan Winn teaches in the Liberal Studies Department at College of Menominee Nation.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the Writer’s Corner or any other opinion columns published by the Tribal College Journal (TCJ) do not necessarily reflect the opinions of TCJ or the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
College of Menominee Nation. (2022). Retrieved from: https://www.menominee.edu/about-cmn
US Census Bureau. (2022). Retrieved from: https://data.census.gov/cedsci/