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It is Not About You, but the Sirens Can Make You Feel Otherwise

“Mrs. Hurst, your daughter had a medical emergency. Please get here as quickly as possible.”

Minutes later, I ran across the school parking lot with one shoe on. The other was forgotten in the car when I saw the ambulances, fire trucks, and seven paramedics surrounding my 6-year-old daughter. The administrator stopped me: “Take a deep breath. Calm down.”
We all wanted my daughter to be okay, but we defined “okay” differently. Thankfully, I stopped long enough to recognize the administrator's need to manage the situation and restrain myself from plowing through her to get to my daughter.
It is relatively easy to respond to someone's needs when standing in front of him/her; It is more challenging when your primary interaction is via a Statement of Need. Thinking about each person, impacted by a funding request, can result in a comprehensive response.
The Patient – People/cause you serve
Initially, my daughter needed professional care and calming reassurance. Shortly thereafter, she required surgery and ongoing monitoring by an orthopedist. However, I wasn't the one deciding on her treatment; grant writing isn't a skill that is transferable to orthopedic surgery. Rather, my daughter needed experts to understand the problem and treatment.
Who is your organization trying to reach? Help the reader develop a picture in his/her mind of the person you are describing. Basic demographics create an outline, but other statistics can link the reader's personal experience to the people impacted by your services.
Describe the immediate need your organization desires to meet, as well as the long-term impact. Use evidence to support your assertions and assumptions, and document that evidence.
The Mom – Leadership and organizational vision
Upon arrival, I needed a clear path, strong legs, and probably could have benefited from a paper bag to breathe into. Even now, two months later, I am managing the impact on our daily lives, family budget, and morale. Daily choices - to encourage healing and returning to pre-injury activities - impact the long-term trust and safety that family should bring.
The Board of Directors, CEO, and other top-level leaders are responsible for making sure activities lead to long-term impact. They embody the “Zoom In, Zoom Out” metaphor of leadership (popularized by Jim Collins and Rosabeth Moss Kanter), which reminds leaders to constantly put the every day in the context of the long-term vision, and vice-versa. They aren't decision-makers from afar but have hands-on involvement, relationships, and insight. The Statement of Need shows how the need, being met by the proposal, is related to the organization's overarching vision, long-term goals, and strategic plan.
The Paramedics – Funder
The seven paramedics brought their own tools, medical language, and years of experience. They requested a medical history and medication information. They less overtly sought my own mental state, that of my daughter, and the story of how the accident occurred. Each paramedic filled a different role: calming the patient, asking questions, taking notes, monitoring the physical response to the injury, and coordinating next steps.
The funder will fill many of these roles, but it isn't always clear how many people will read and review your proposal. Therefore, the Statement of Need should use the funder's language to describe how the request aligns with their funding priorities. Each reader can give different weights to the elements of the needs statement. Some will care more about external statistics; others may be looking for an emotional tug.
Read through the most recent Statement of Need that you wrote. Did your writing lean toward a specific player? Were you missing any of the players listed above?
Jen Hurst, M.A. has developed programs and strategies for nonprofits since middle school, when she and a few friends started their philanthropic work by raising $150 for the local animal shelter.