In no particular order and by no particular topic... These are books I have enjoyed over the last year. In fact, some of these are books that I have re-read or sought out time and again for little bits of wisdom or information over the years:
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#$k by Mark Manson
Peace is Every Step by Tich Nhat Hanh
Secrets of Successful Six-Figure Women by Barbara Stanny
Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person by Barrie Jaeger, Ph.D.
Finish: Give yourself the gift of done by Jon Acuff
I'm currently reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
And next up on my reading list is Start with Why by Simon Sinek
I often get questions about the type of information that is needed in order to complete a grant application. A grant application requires not only a strong story that tugs on the heartstrings, but there is also a long list of organizational paperwork required to make the request valid. We know the story, the mission, the passion is the driving force for the very existence of your organization. Telling the story is often the easy part. However, I find myself urging organizations to go back to the basics in order to set a strong foundation for the grant application process.
Each grant application will ask for the following documentation:
A strong grant application will have all of these documents readily available. The best way to win a grant is to have transparency, thorough information and a kick-ass reporting/monitoring and evaluation process. Funders want to know they are entering a relationship with an organization that takes things seriously. They want to know that their money is being wisely used, and more importantly having a positive impact. Funders want to see numbers; they want to see results.
Although I love hearing the passionate stories that drive nonprofit organizations into existence, I urge you to set a strong foundation with your paperwork. Almost treating your organization as a for-profit business structure. This solid foundation can truly go a long way when requesting funding. They good news is that once you set this paperwork up right, you can reuse it over and over for each grant you apply for!
It’s simple, yet profound. I garden because there is no “perfect” in gardening. It’s virtually impossible to truly mess things up. Gardening is something where no two people see the same thing. This also means that you could see flaws and someone else sees pure beauty. There is no way to define a “perfect” garden, and that is refreshing. I often find, in other aspects of my life, a need to strive for perfection. The yearning that I want to be the best at everything I do. Then there is gardening. It’s a breath of fresh air. I can’t mess this up, and even if I do, nobody cares, nobody notices, the plants still grow, there is still natural beauty in my backyard, and life goes on.
Gardening also allows for creative thought patterns. It makes me question what I think is aesthetically appealing, while also considering the needs and wants of the plant in question. It allows my brain to visualize what will happen if I cut this down? Or let this grow wild? Why not experiment and try both options? This allows for critical thinking in a low risk environment.
Lastly and most importantly, gardening serves as my moving meditation. When I am working in the garden, my hands are busy and my mind is occupied. This is an activity in which I become fully immersed. All the chatter and worries from the day seems to dissipate as my focus goes solely on the plant material in front of me. I find myself transformed into a bubble where all that exists is me and the garden. Weird, I know, but think about the definition and intention of meditation: to focus on the ‘here and now,’ to let go of all else that has occurred in your day. That is the garden. That is my place of peace.
10.Improves Vision – studies have shown that participating in outdoor activities can improve vision distance and reduce the chance of nearsightedness. Considering that children spend around 7 hours in front of a screen per day, this is no surprise.
9. Increases Attention Span – Believe it or not, spending more time in the outdoors and participating in unstructured play can reduce the chance of ADHD.
8. Reduces stress – Nature provides a sense of peace and calm. There is no rushed or hurried feeling that can often come with the everyday stresses of regular life.
7. Teaches Responsibility – Having a child in direct contact with plants teaches them how to care for living things. Picking flowers or watching vegetable plants grow gives a child a sense of responsibility for another life form.
6. Promotes Problem Solving Skills – Play outside usually involves creative and critical thinking in order to come up with games or solutions to natural curiosities.
5. Actives the Senses – More than watching TV or playing a video game, that is. Think about which senses are stimulated when you are standing in the middle of a forest… enough said.
4. Builds Confidence – Kids can run, scream, climb trees, get dirty. The sky is the limit. Outdoor, unstructured play not only gives youth the freedom to be themselves, but also allows for decision making and confidence building.
3. Keeps Them Healthy – An obvious increase in physical activity and increased exposure to Vitamin D can reduce the chances of obesity, heart disease, future bone problems, and diabetes.
2. Stimulates Imagination – Unstructured free time in the outdoors allows for free thinking. A general curiosity for life emerges and “play” becomes anything you want it to be.
1. Promotes Social Skills – Is anyone tired of the younger generation hiding behind text messages, instagram, snapchat, etc. The art of social skills is quickly dwindling, getting outside forces youth to interactive without electronics as a barrier.
*The order of this list is purely my opinion.
Recommended Read: Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder By Richard Louv
5 Health benefits of playing outside
Get Kids Outside
Why Children Need to Play Outside
Why kids need to spend time in nature.
Early Childhood News
When was the last time you volunteered your time to help a worthy cause? For me, I go in spurts. I’ve had some major volunteer experiences, like with International Student Volunteers; some long term stints, like with Grand Rapids Public Schools as a middle school assistant soccer coach; and also one day events, like planting Peter (aka a tree) at Pleasant Park with Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. Though, to be honest, I have probably had more experience managing volunteers and volunteer events, than actually volunteering myself (that was a mouthful!). Regardless, it doesn’t change the fact that volunteering makes everyone involved feel just a little bit better about life in general. Whatever your passion is, whatever makes your inner core light up, the mission has to resonate with you in order to make volunteering worthwhile.
How can you volunteer?
My advice… Do Your Research!!!
When you donate your time, you want it to have an impact, to be valued, and well spent. After all, you are a genius that has so much to give back to the world, right? Ask around. Does this organization treat volunteers well? Do volunteers feel well utilized at events? Does this organization have good ethics and moral standing? For more research, check out the following websites:
Great Nonprofits – A nonprofit itself, formed to get the inside scoop on organizations from first hand testimonies.
Guide Star – Get the low down on an organization's financials, programs, success rates, and more.
The nonprofit sector is a funny world when you consider the following:
I’m sure there is much more you could add to this list. It seems that nonprofit organizations are often caught between a rock and a hard place, especially when it comes to money. The general consensus seems to be that nonprofits don’t make money, and that employees of nonprofits don’t make money (yes, there are actual people in my life who have said this to me). Well, news flash – I have almost exclusively worked for nonprofits for about 10 years and somewhere in there I managed a backpacking trip around Europe and a move to Colorado. It is possible for a nonprofit to make a decent profit. And in fact, if they are making a decent profit, it most likely means they are doing something right and that their mission can be reached on an even larger scale.
Now, when it comes to money, there are restrictions that should be followed, such as a certain percentage of revenue must go directly back into the mission, or a certain percentage of revenue can be put toward salaries. This, however, leads me to a HUGE restriction that often comes up with funding in the nonprofit world – when people (or organizations) give their money, they may give it with the restriction that it goes directly toward the program. Not to salaries. Not to administrative costs. Not to anything to do with overhead. I always wonder, when people make this restriction, do they realize that it takes staff (who are paid) to run the programs that you want your money to go to. It takes administrative costs (printing, marketing, phone calls, community outreach) to recruit participants to said program. Now, one could make a case for these administrative costs, but in general money labeled as restricted is meant to go toward participation fees, materials used during the program by participants, etc. The reality is, there is so much more that goes into a program at a nonprofit organization then just showing up the day of. I wonder how much more successful NPOs would be if more funding were labeled as “unrestricted.”
Some other food for thought is in the article “We Need to Stop Treating Nonprofits the Way we Treat Poor People”. This article provides a different perspective on the way people perceive nonprofits. It’s an underlying belief that I’m not quite sure how it came into existence in the first place. And if nothing else, try out this excerpt from the article:
“The punishment of success. Ironically, while we expect poor people to work and save up money so they can stop being dependent, we punish them when they succeed at that, removing their benefits if they earn close to an amount where they may actually be able to no longer need the benefits. It’s weirdly paradoxical, demotivating, and insulting. In nonprofits, many funders expect sustainability and yet punish nonprofits for having a strong reserve, which is probably the most important factor for sustainability. You need to be sustainable, but if you are too successful at that, we’re not funding you, or we take away the money we gave you. I remember frantically trying to spend some left-over money because it otherwise would have had to be returned, per the requirement of this funder, even though the reason we had leftover was because we were spending it wisely; that money we saved would have greatly helped our programs if we had been allowed to put it into reserve.”
An interesting thing happened to be the other day… a friend, who has been completely supportive of me starting a grant writing business, finally asked the question, “so, what is a grant anyways?” For starters, I am glad I have people in my life who are willing to support me regardless if they fully understand what I am doing. Secondly, I had to kind of laugh at my response, “It’s ummm, well essentially it’s a way for organizations to get money… ummm... it’s like an application, but it can be really tedious to complete, and there is a lot of competition. But umm… well let me give you an example…” Now, let me make it VERY clear: I know what a grant is, I wouldn’t be going into this business if I didn’t; but this was a small reminder that when we involve ourselves so much in a subject area, we can forget that there are people out there who have no concept of said subject. I suppose it’s a bit humbling to have to go back to the basics and explain what I perceive to be a simple concept to someone who has no knowledge or previous experience in this topic. I mean, hey, the reverse would be true if a biochemical engineer mentioned any sort of fancy science related term as if it were part of my everyday repertoire. So, let’s dive in – what is a grant?
We all know that the word grant means ‘to give’ as in “I grant you this wish.” In this case, it’s not too far off. It is, in essence, giving someone a gift.
“A grant is a monetary award given by a government agency, foundation, corporation, or other entity to another body in order to plan, implement, or operate a particular program or fund a particular project.” – Alexis Carter-Black, Getting Grants
The easiest example of a grant is financial aid for college students (FAFSA anybody??). Essentially, the person receiving the money has proven a genuine need for this money AND can prove how they will use the money to benefit the giver’s mission (in this case, more students in higher education). Grant money is not paid back (it is not a loan), but often times reporting during the time period of which the money is used is required (after all, we don’t want you running away with the money and going on a luxury vacation when you are supposed to be attending university!).
In my case, I aim to work specifically with nonprofit organizations that are seeking funding for youth or environmental/outdoors related programs. Say, for example, a school wants to install a community garden so that students can experience first hand what it is like to grow their own food, learn how to cook healthy snacks, and take this home to share with their families, but the school has no money in their budget this year to make such a wonderful program happen. That’s where I come in! I research and find organizations (usually foundations) who are looking to fund particular projects. If a community foundation aims to support programs that focus on youth, the environment, and nutrition, this would be a perfect match! But of course that is only the beginning. Grants are a process that needs planning far in advance. It is a highly competitive field (everyone wants money!). And the money only lasts for a certain period of time, which means sustainability needs to be considered as well. In the end, getting awarded grant money is a very exciting opportunity for a nonprofit organization. Oh the possibilities!
Whew! Was that too much information or what?! Any questions on this topic, please feel free to comment or message me directly. To learn more on grants and the grant writing process, check out these resources:
Grant Writing for Dummies, 4th edition by Beverly A. Browning
Getting Grants by Alexis Carter-Black
90 Days to Success in Grant Writing by Timothy and Judith Kachinske
Grant Writing 101
What is positive youth development? Sounds like a fancy term for working with kids, right? Well, kind of…
Although positive youth development (PYD) has been the backbone of my work for many years, I find that it is a term unknown to most. I first encountered this specific phrase when working at the American Youth Foundation, Camp Miniwanca, as a Community and School Program Staff. Essentially, the camp promoted PYD through what they coined “4-fold living.” That is, you can strive for balance in your life by fulfilling four areas: Mental, Physical, Social, and Spiritual. That, coupled with their motto of “being my own self, at my very best, all the time” captured the essence of PYD, in my opinion. Youth.gov puts it even more simply:
Positive Experiences + Positive Relationships + Positive Environments = Positive Youth Development
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this concept is that it is so incredibly intentional. As someone who has worked in the outdoors with youth for many years, I often got the comment ‘oh so you just play outside with kids everyday?’ coupled with a bewildered and somewhat degrading facial expression. If only that person knew… not only does it take great patience to work with a rambunctious group of middle school students who are estactic to be out of the classroom and on a field trip, and are now running wild at camp, but it takes strategy and deliberate planning. Now, let’s look at the official definition as provided by youth.gov:
Positive youth development is an intentional, pro-social approach that engages youth within their communities, schools, organizations, peer groups, and families in a manner that is productive and constructive; recognizes, utilizes, and enhances youths' strengths; and promotes positive outcomes for young people by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership strengths.
An outsider looking in, may see a group of youth playing a game or taking a hike in the woods. But any good group facilitator knows that this is an opportune moment to let natural leaders emerge from the group while also giving voice to the quiet ones. It is striking a balance and cooperation between a set of unique individuals and coyly letting them know that each person’s strengths are different, and that is okay! It’s knowing when to take a step back and let the group develop on their own. It’s knowing that “storming” is okay (more on forming, storming, norming later).
I feel that any youth development professional should be familiar with the concept of positive youth development. I have to believe that anyone who wants what’s best for our future generations would be able to get behind this concept. And really, it starts with just one person: One person who is willing to cultivate a positive relationship, who can facilitate a positive experience, and who can create a positive environment. Will that person be you???
My first official blog post! This is a big day for me. It marks the official launch of my website for Nicole Joan Consulting LLC. This has been a long time planning and preparing, and now I am officially ready for business!
I hope this blog serves as an opportunity to discuss topics that are of interest to me (related to grants, nonprofits, youth, and the outdoors) and for the reader to get to know me as well. These posts may be a bit more informal than the rest of my website, and for that matter, many other things I write. However, as someone who enjoys the art of writing, I know that it can be educational, intriguing, or simply therapeutic; this blog may just capture all three!
As you come to know me, you will realize that being your true, genuine, best version of yourself is something that I admire and respect in others. I can only hope to deliver my business services much in the same way: with honesty and integrity. That means being true to myself at all times; only taking on clients whose mission I feel passionate about; establishing a work/life balance throughout my week; and knowing that not everyone fits into the same mold. I may run my services at a more relaxed and personable standard, but ya know what? As long as I am being true to myself, and serving your organization in the best way I possibly can…. I think that’s good business! Ethical business. The way relationships should be.
I am exciting to start this new chapter of my journey and start taking on clients. I am excited to start helping nonprofit organizations find grant funding for their programs. I am excited at the prospect that my skills and strengths can now have the ability to reach a wider audience and positively impact our community. Plain and simple: I’m excited (and scared… I’m only human!).
Now, it’s time to get working!
This blog contains anything and everything nonprofit, grants, youth development, outdoor education, and more. Really, this is just an informal way to chat more about what I love! Enjoy :)