Caitlin McDonald

Caitlin McDonald, program manager at the Utah Center for Local Initiatives for Utah Humanities, will be leading a grant-writing workshop in Moab on Jan. 13. [Photo courtesy Caitlin McDonald]

Moab is full of ideas that just need funding to get off the ground. A workshop offered this month can help aspiring grant writers turn those ideas into realities.

“Utah Humanities has funded multiple grant projects [in Moab] in the past 5 years, but we’re always looking for more organizations to partner with in the area,” said Caitlin McDonald, program manager at the Utah Center for Local Initiatives for Utah Humanities.

Utah Humanities is a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit dedicated to arts and philosophy programs throughout the state. The group both creates events and programs directly and supports partner organizations through grants. The organization is putting on grant-writing workshops in rural areas around the state this winter, including in Moab, Green River, and Blanding. Moab’s workshop will take place at 1 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 13, in the Moab City Council Chambers.

McDonald, who will be the instructor at the workshop, has a background in academic and nonprofit grant administration and has been managing the grant program for Utah Humanities for a year and a half.

Some local organizations that Utah Humanities has supported in the past include the Museum of Moab, the Grand County Library and the Moab Valley Multicultural Center.

The two-hour workshop will highlight grants available through Utah Humanities, but the pointers and advice shared will be applicable to any nonprofit grant writing.

“The first hour or so will be me presenting the main components of grant writing, and the second hour or two will focus on giving people time to workshop their own ideas or get feedback on work they may have already done,” said McDonald.

On her tour around the state, McDonald hopes to make connections with smaller nonprofits in rural areas.

“One of my main goals this year is to do outreach to rural areas and let them know about UH’s funding opportunities,” said McDonald. “One thing we’ve noticed recently is that the smaller organizations just don’t have the experience, time or manpower to write as strong of an application as some of the larger partners.”

To give these smaller groups a boost, Utah Humanities will be offering modest “capacity building” grants, which are tailored to help an organization grow its management and administrative capacities rather than directly funding projects or programs. As examples, McDonald said these grants could pay for a staff member to enroll in a full-length grant writing course or for an organization to hire a consultant to help with a grant application.

Individuals or organizations in Moab looking for grant money might also turn to local funding sources. Moab nonprofit WabiSabi’s mission is “to increase the impact of local nonprofits by providing money, materials, and mentorship.” Executive Director Liz Dana said the organization reviewed 40 grant applications in 2019 and awarded over $34,000 in grants to 12 nonprofit partners, as well as $5,000 in scholarships for nonprofit training.

Dana weighed in on what makes an effective grant application.

“Good applications have a clear and thoughtful budget and timeline,” she said.

She said they also demonstrate why or how their organization qualifies for the grant. A reviewer can be positively influenced by a personable tone and relatable story, and even a sense of humor, when appropriate.

McDonald said many common weaknesses she has noticed in reviewing grant applications are simple to correct when you pay attention.

“People simply do not read instructions or they assume that one main grant application narrative can apply to multiple places,” she said. “Each grant asks for different things, and it’s important to show that you are willing to follow instructions closely.”

She also said applicants may get so caught up in describing the details of their project that they neglect to feature the larger mission of their organization.

“The other mistake people make is not identifying the ‘why’ of their project,” McDonald said. “The most powerful part of any application will show what issue or need is being filled by their work.”

Dana agreed that failing to provide the information requested by a particular grant is a common oversight, and added another: “Listing lots of possible reasons your organization could use the funds, rather than being more specific on what the funds will go towards.”

She also advised grant writers to reach out to the granting organization if they have any questions.

“Most of the time the organization welcomes a phone call,” Dana said. “They want to help you write a compelling application.”

One other thing that Dana said helps grant applications succeed: “A little bit of luck!”