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Grant Proposal Tips You May Not Have Heard

I was excited to attend Passion with Purpose: Cultivating Support for Your Project Proposal, a workshop hosted at Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership and facilitated by Elena Mireles-Hill and Sandy Barry-Loken, Community Investment Officers at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. ONEplace offers its own grant writing course, but it’s always insightful to stay current on what relevant information other organizations may present.

The hour-long workshop allowed time for Elena and Sandy to talk in detail about the most important things to keep in mind when crafting your proposal, including pitfalls to avoid. The especially nice thing about having two investment officers facilitating was their unique and valuable perspective. I have highlighted some of the best tips I learned at Passion with Purpose.

         Office EDC by Yusuf Prens used under CC 2.0

Provide evidence that your project is addressing a need. We all have personal passions, and while that can fuel your interest in starting a nonprofit, check to make sure that passion will help alleviate a community issue. That’s a sure way to present a solid case for support.

Be honest about what your weaknesses. You are probably aware of the strengths that you or your colleagues are bringing to the table, be they material, knowledge-based, or otherwise. You will want to highlight those, but it is also okay to state what you need to complement those strengths. Make sure to tie those needs to your proposal! It shows that you are being forthcoming and self-reflective.

Bring back-up when meeting with funders. Depending on the foundation, you may have an opportunity to sit down with a representative to speak more about your proposal. Feel free to bring someone else affiliated with the project or organization along, like a board member or a volunteer. They can provide another perspective, as well as quell your fears about going it alone.

Avoid being entitled or demanding. It’s okay to care about your proposal – that’s expected – but please remember that old adage about catching more flies with honey. Elena gave a great example: even if you plan to carry out your project with or without the grant you’re seeking, don’t share that in your proposal. It signals that you don’t need their support, in which case they’ll divert those dollars to someone who does.


Did any of these surprise you? Or do you have any tips that would be helpful for others? Please share in the comments below.

Creating a Self-Care Plan

I'm still trying to figure out to which school of thought the term self-care truly belongs. I've seen it in contexts as varied as yoga packages sold on Groupon, and social work practice guides. For those still unsure of what it means, self-care refers to all activities necessary for all aspects of personal wellness, including mind, body, and spirit. I think it's a wonderful health framework for the average busy, hyper-connected professional.

 "Calm" by Norbert Reimer used under CC 2.0

Attending the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership's recent Self-Care for Social Change workshop was a great opportunity for me to connect theory to practice. The facilitators emphasized how vital self-care is for people who work in the social sector because sustaining yourself ultimately sustains your work. Dr. Michelle Johnson led the participants through an awesome exercise designed to help them stay on top of their self-care, detailed below.

Define your top 8. Think about the top eight things you need to be at your best; these are whatever you need to be at your peak emotional, spiritual and physical health. They can be things like exercise, eight hours of sleep, a conversation with a loved one, or putting money in your savings account.

Assess where you are. For each of the eight, rate how you're doing at this moment from 0 to 10. For example, are you hydrated? Did you exercise recently?

Use this list to get a holistic picture of where you are. Once each item is ranked, you will have a clear idea of how to prioritize your self-care plan for the immediate future; so, if you ranked hydration at a 2, you can plan to grab a glass of water right away. In a couple of weeks, re-assess and plan accordingly.


 It felt really powerful to walk out of the workshop with a resource I can use to mind my self-care. Please leave your own self-care tools and plans in the comments.

Revisiting Trust

I recently joined a couple of new professional committees (which I thoughtfully added to my plate, of course). I love working in teams, and am very excited about what I'll be able to accomplish in these new groups. As I've written before, I have found collaboration to be a very efficient method for achieving objectives.


I'm already thinking about ways my new teammates and I will build respect and accountability into our work together. At the heart of these matters is trust. Browsing through the ONEplace archives, I found that Thom had broached this topic a couple of years ago. Here is a bit of what he had to say:

In the workplace, trust’s impact goes beyond individual relationships. It affects the key organizational matters of maximizing performance and achieving desired outcomes. Without trust, we question our colleagues’ intentions and judge their personalities. Productivity disintegrates in the acidic pool of office politics.

- Excerpt from “Do You Trust Me?”

This really drives home that trust is not just a factor in group work; it’s integral to everything from how well group members communicate, to how and how well a project is completed. Check out Thom's blogpost in its entirety here.

A time to grieve

Early Sunday morning I opened my computer to do some reading and writing to find an overnight message from my son in California – “Hey – sorry it’s late. Just saw the news and wanted to check in….” What? I turned to the news and learned that a man went on a random shooting spree Saturday night, shooting 8 and killing 6: in parking lots, car dealer lot, just wherever he saw a couple of people. The suspect was later apprehended.

While this was going on, I was enjoying a party. There was food, singing, conversation, and much laughter. It was a fun time. And yet, as we sang and ate and laughed, a few blocks away people were being shot and killed by someone they had never met.

Life can be so random…such a surprising mix of delight and sorrow, of celebration and tragedy. 

Had I not looked at the news, I would have been sitting there in my home – safe, warm, and untouched by the horror of the previous evening. But there I was: presuming I didn’t know the victims or the shooter (names had not been released) but picturing the exact spots where each shooting took place. These are innocent places, safe places, and well-lit places. These are places you walk through without looking over your shoulder. A car pulls in and you think nothing of it.

Of course, one random incident doesn’t change the fact that they’re still safe places. People will still show up at Cracker Barrel to get their breakfasts and brunches. They’ll still browse the lot at Seelye Kia. And they’ll do so safely, without concern.

While we know these places will continue to be safe, we grieve their loss of innocence. They now bear the stains and scars of meaningless violence. And we, people of Kalamazoo living here or miles away, like so many other communities before us, feel the weight of having a mass shooting in our own backyard.

While each of us carries the scars of personal tragedy and loss, today we mourn our collective loss…and we need to give ourselves the space to do so. Even though there are things to do, each of us needs to deal with this. We need to allow ourselves the time and energy to get past the disbelief and anger. We need to open ourselves to the company of others who grieve with us, so together we may let this moment find its way into of our life experience. 

Yes, we’ll eventually move on, but not today. 

Today we grieve.




During holiday break last December, the hashtag #LeaveItIn2015 trended briefly on Twitter. I enjoyed scrolling through my timeline as people used it to discourage certain conversations in the New Year, like talking about over-hyped bands and Presidential debate hot takes. Then I noticed that one of my favorite health and wellness bloggers was using it to list personal habits that she feels are stifling her self-development. Since I have found great success in naming and claiming personal goals, I want to do the same. The following are the habits of mind and behavior that I plan to leave behind.


               Formation Still by Parkwood Ent used under CC 2.0 

Waiting for the perfect time to act

 I am very upfront about my Type A personality, which has undoubtedly helped me accomplish my goals. The thing about being a perfectionist, though, is that you are less apt to take risks. I'm likely to do hours of tedious research and planning before making a decision because failure is not an option. Now I understand that failure is natural, and waiting around could mean missing a great opportunity. This year I vow to have more faith in myself and simply wait for preparedness, not perfection. Then I can grind and focus on my target.


 Letting someone else's opinions set my limits

One of the hardest lessons I've learned since graduating is that people might like you or respect you, but they may not believe in or invest in your talent. I have been hurt in the past because people I look up to have not given me opportunities to excel. No more. Half the time, someone's doubts aren't about you, but rather a general impression based on where you grew up, went to school, who you date, or how you dress. This year I'm going to focus on being someone that I can be proud of above all else.


 Going it alone 

Working independently is typically my modus operandi, but I'm learning that it's not necessarily the most efficient or productive way to get things done. In fact, burnout happens when I am doing precisely too much, completely alone. I have come to terms with the fact that I truly find joy when working in formation with a determined collective towards a shared goal. It makes success more tangible and enjoyable once you cross the finish line.


 Underestimating bad energy

As an empath, energy, or the "vibes" in a given environment, determines how comfortable I feel. If I sense negative or nasty energy, it clings to me like a veil, and I have found that it even alters my thoughts. With that knowledge I have decided to avoid negative energy when I can, and when I can't, to do my best to be positive and remain gracious. I expect mindfulness will be a big help with this.


I'm very excited about this list because it gives me a context for goal-setting this year. What things would you have in your #LeaveItIn2015?

Expectations and feedback

His total playing time added up to less than a minute, and virtually every second he was on the field, he was the center of attention. Yet, Denver Bronco’s kicker Brandon McManus – who scored 10 of the team’s 24 points – was hardly mentioned in the postgame discussions and gave few, if any, locker room interviews. Why?

With kickers, “successes are largely expected and failures magnified.”

Do you ever feel like that? You strive to stay current. You prepare for countless hours. You go through draft after draft of the plan or presentation. And when it’s all said and done, only the mistakes and missteps get discussed.

While we assess our own performance, feedback from colleagues and managers carries great weight. For most of us, feedback is scarce, and we tend to hang on to the critical and the negative. The latest statistic I’ve seen says that it takes eight positive comments to balance out one negative comment.

And, the occasional nod is not feedback.

When recently asked about their offensive players, the often-interviewed quarterback Peyton Manning named McManus and Colquitt (punter) as “two of our best.” That’s similar to the boss saying, “good job” to you in a staff meeting and thanking everyone for their hard work. It’s a nice thing to do, but it’s not feedback.

Feedback is specific. It references previously set goals or expectations. And it allows room for people to develop.

People need space to develop. After struggling for two years to make it in the NFL, McManus finally earned the kicking job last fall. He went 30 for 35 for the regular season and was a perfect 10 for 10 in the playoffs. Even so, he was working with his coach last week to adjust his kicking stride, “a seemingly minute change that can be a significant one in a craft where inches matter.”

Professional development, like football, is a game of inches – a nudge here, an adjustment there.

How are you helping your staff to develop? How are you addressing your own professional development? If you’re stuck or not sure where to turn, ONEplace can help. Don’t hesitate to contact us.



Quotes are from Sacramento Bee

Just ONEthing - Feb 2016

Three times a year, ONEplace hosts a gathering of our Consultants and Trainers Network – area professionals that work with nonprofits. During each gathering, we check-in with each other and discuss the underlying issues related to nonprofit operations, management, and leadership.

Our recent gathering took a deep dive into the question, “What drives an organization, and what difference does it make?” This was not a philosophical question but one of observation and assessment. We wanted to get a read on what’s happening in the field. Three themes emerged in the discussion.

First, we tend the follow the path we’re on. This was expressed as tradition, the status quo, going down the same tunnel, fear of change, or even as an object in motion stays in motion. While organizations are consistent, they may lose sight of other options or become risk averse.

Second, we’re bound by a common cause. While most organizations have a mission statement, this point gets to a more personal connection to the cause, such as all have a family member who suffers from the same disease or endured a similar experience. Being close to the cause elicits deep engagement, and it may cloud understanding relative to fundraising or community engagement barriers.

Third, the organization will rise and fall with leadership. Organizational success often is determined by how the Board and Executive Director partnership lead the organization. The organization thrives when the board conversation revolves around impact, and it falters when the board conversation delves into operational concerns.

We acknowledged the fact that organizations are always communicating a message – whether intentional or not. Being deliberate about that message and mission creates clarity internally as well as external consistency.

Coffee with Don Nitz

This month we sat down with Don Nitz, CEO at Lakeside Academy. With nearly five decades of experience, Don reflects on the people and events that have most influenced his career, and the lessons they taught him.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

I’ve had a wonderful career – working with kids for 45 years. I started employment in 1970 with Kalamazoo County as an attendant at the Juvenile Home. Over the next few years, I was a Caseworker/Probation Officer, a Supervisor, and Assistant Court Administrator. In 1984, I accepted the position of Superintendent of the Juvenile Home and was asked to clean it up. I fell in love with the place, and we were able to bring the agency to one of the tops in the state. I served Superintendent until I retired in 2003. Funny thing – as I retired from the position, I was asked to re-apply for it. So I was rehired as Superintendent for another two years which allowed me time to finish up some loose ends. I was asked to consult with the Lakeside Academy in 2004, and I joined their board in 2005. I became Executive Director of Lakeside in 2006 and then CEO in 2007 – the position I hold today. 

In my work, I always focused on systems – revisiting why we’re doing what we’re doing. I look to improve the service delivery by improving the systems and processes. As one system changes, it has ripple effects throughout the organization. I got this from my Dad – he like working puzzles.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

I’m a promoter of revolution. I enjoy looking down the road to see where new ideas and initiatives will take us, and ask, “Is that where we want to be?” So, Kalamazoo is a great fit for me. It’s a city that provides people the opportunity to think big, try new ideas, pick themselves up when ideas fail, and enjoy the ones that work. It’s in our communal DNA. I stay here because Kalamazoo is constantly working on its brand, maintaining its core, and keeping it a wonderful place to live. In addition, Kalamazoo has a strong downtown, arts, family-oriented, higher education institutions, great size, ease in getting around, surrounding agricultural and recreational areas, wonderful people and friendships. The community allows individuals to become involved in living their passions.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

The primary guiding principle has always been to ask, “What is best for the kids and their families?” Related to that, I share with staff, “If your son or daughter was here, how would you want them to be treated?” Sometimes, adhering to my principles meant putting my job on the line – doing what was right rather than following the rules. In fact, a judge actually fired and rehired me twice in the same day! Oh, I also keep in mind that, in addition to skill development and learning, success takes a lot of pure luck.

I developed a personal mission statement around 1994, and it stays before me to this day. It’s a series of principles influenced by my parents: Be fair with others; Honor my parents; Appreciate the wonders of nature and protect it; Advocate for the underdog; Maintain a high physical regimen; Nourish the spiritual inner self; Prepare mentally for a positive departure (death); Let determination and perseverance rule; Give back more than I take from this world; Accept my deficits and tolerate those in others; Leave no financial or emotional debt for others; Practice the development of new life skills and knowledge; Live a clean, orderly lifestyle; Never lose sight of the vision on how the world could be; Allow my sense of adventure and curiosity emerge, to seek personal fulfillment; and Crave learning and gaining knowledge.

Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?

First, my parents were great influences. Both had 8th grade educations and worked hard for low wages. They valued a strong family, open-mindedness, taking in others in need, and being fair. They taught me about social justice and working hard, and they always said, “You WILL go to college.” Among all my aunts, uncles, and cousins, only my siblings and I went to college because of my parents’ encouragement.

Harold Dyer, Court Administrator, also was a mentor to me. He took me into his administrative domain and taught me the rigors of politics, administrative struggles, human resources, and the importance of staying focused on end results. He made my career!

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

The Peace Corps changed my life at a young age. Living outside the USA opened my eyes to the many terrible things my country was doing around the world. Living in a mud house without toilets, running water, or electronics, relationships and daily survival were the common foundation for living. This made me question the USA model.

Another learning moment came in Kalamazoo when I was asked by a Chief Judge to clean up our Juvenile Home after numerous serious problems were discovered. After becoming Superintendent, I developed a 3-year plan for functional changes and never met my goal. To be successful, I needed to functionally change my approach and relationships with all other staff members before changing the system. This was a real “aha” moment that carried my career.

What’s an average day like for you at work?

At Lakeside, the executive director handles the organization, so for me, an average day is pretty low key: licensing, accreditation, audits, legislation watch, requests from prior students, consulting with peers and talking with students. It’s a big change from my days at the Juvenile Home where I was working 50-60 hour weeks.

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

My greatest challenge at Lakeside was in 2006-07 when trying to save the agency and convince the Board members that “we could be a national model.” We faced the challenge and went from worst to first in Michigan as a residential treatment facility. It took many sleepless nights to get there. Today, our biggest challenge is educating our community on the outstanding work we do with our students and the sustainable health of the agency. It is slowly coming around.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

I constantly keep my ear to the ground: legislative searches, talking with similar agencies, being a member of the Michigan Federation for Children and Families, and receiving updates on state and federal policy and legislative decisions. I chair the local DHHS Board of Trustees overseeing the local operations and I’m a member of the Michigan County Social Services Association. MCSSA keeps a finger on the pulse of Lansing policy and legislation, and it offers opportunities to discuss program needs and immediate citizen issues at any age.

What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?

Most of all, know who you are. Challenge yourself to be your best. Overcome competitiveness, defensiveness, and ego. Be forward thinking and fresh.

On the content side, understand the politics of your board and where each member stands on their view of the agency. Be inclusive in idea sharing and decision making. Also, understand organizational finance: budgets, audits, balance sheets, and fiscal health for the agency. 

I’ve found that the really fun side of living is talking with people and getting to know so many good people. The greatest joy in work is having an idea, sharing it, and watching it develop. That only happens in relationships.

What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?

I enjoy hiking, biking, golf, running, swimming, tabata training, weight training, yoga, pilates, gardening, cross country skiing, reading, international travel, college sports, Rotary, and family.

One more thing

I started a physical regimen in 1972, and it has been an integral part of my lifestyle all through the years. It’s worked well for me, and I’m grateful for it. Too many sacrifice health for work, and it’s not something that you can buy back. You must start early and maintain it.

Self determination

One day, long ago, my 4 year old son was crying. He was frustrated, angry, uncomfortable, or whatever – he was crying. In my wisdom, I offered him this solution…then that…then this…then that. No success. So I went back to the first “this.” Why? All my best data and experience convinced me that this is what he wanted…what he needed. He cried louder, his whatevers all in a twist. Then, having exhausted the taller, wiser parent approach, I tried this:

I sat with him, put all of my good ideas aside, and asked him, “What’s wrong? What do you need?”

Recently I read the January 2016 installment of Trickle-Down Community Engagement (TDCE) – TDCE is when we bypass the people who are most affected by issues, engage and fund larger organizations to tackle these issues, and hope that miraculously the people most affected will help out in the effort, usually for free. It’s often manifested in community-wide efforts that eventually falter under the weight of convening fatigue, a series of false starts, and no dedicated personnel.

Unfortunately(?) I followed the TDCE post with a scholarly article from a national institute staffer who had his “spirit awakened” by a renewed effort by his network of partner organizations to “step up our ambition, performance, and leadership as a national backbone organization.” (Release the Trickle!)

To add salt to the wound, all of this came on the heels of participating in a board meeting in which a list of “gaps” were circulated and discussed followed by a list “ways to fill the gaps” – a list which had no connection to the previous list of gaps. The proposed “ways” came from persons removed from the problems and included a lot of wonky language that didn’t make clear what specific action(s) could be taken.


When do we include the voice of the people being served and the staff who directly perform those services? 

When I worked in a large, multi-building organization in Chicago area, there were managers spending time in meeting after meeting developing policies and procedures to guide the work of people not in the room. These initiatives failed every time. When the managers asked those doing the work to propose policies and procedures to improve their work and job satisfaction, an effective solution was found in half the time. And the buy-in was 100%!

Self-determination goes a long way.

Our motivations and intentions are good, and we need to study all the evidence, data, and best practices. It’s important. Equally important is to sit down with those most affected, set our good ideas aside, and ask: “What’s wrong? What do you need?”



Reflections on Creating Change

With the success of last year’s Inclusion Series, I started 2016 excited to plan our next installment. Conversations about equity and inclusion are happening all over the country, everywhere from the world of literature to Hollywood. Being a part of that zeitgeist, and bringing practical tools to the nonprofit sector here in Kalamazoo is a great privilege.

 Photo by @thetaskforce Twitter used under CC 2.0

I took that energy to Creating Change, a conference hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, this year held in Chicago. Over 4,000 organizers, activists, and social justice allies came together for workshops and institutes concerning the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities. I attended just three out of the five days of Creating Change, and can’t quite believe how much I learned in such a short period. Here a few of the biggest lessons I took from the conference.


1.      Lean into – not away from – discomfort. One awesome panel that focused on the experiences of queer racial justice activists encouraged the participants to expect discomfort, and embrace that. The moderator noted that turning away or shutting down due to uncomfortable feelings or truths can be a major barrier to advancing important conversations.

2.      Don’t do for, do with. One very serious, heartfelt panel about the crisis of HIV in young Black American queer men focused on how realities specific to the African American community, such as religiosity, are exacerbating the issue of HIV transmission rates. The moderator noted that because these issues are entrenched, health organizations would do well to work with communities rather than dictating terms on how to lower infection rates.

3.      Visions of justice tomorrow may not look like yesterday’s. During the State of the Movement address, one of the Task Force staff members noted that it was the 43rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, guaranteeing women the right to choose. That staffer further explained that while that event is an important one for reproductive justice, there is still much work to do to guarantee access to good healthcare for all, particularly the trans*, disabled and undocumented communities.


Creating Change was an excellent opportunity to illuminate how so many different things so essential to a fulfilling and productive life – secure housing, a good education, a safe work environment – must not be taken for granted. I am excited to use this new information as we plan for the 2016 Inclusion Series. And, if you have ideas of what you’d like to see addressed in the series this year, please email us.