An Intro to Grant Writing at CCHC

Charlotte Community Health Clinic (CCHC) relies on a significant amount of grant funding from diverse organizations. These include local faith groups, national non-profits, and the state and federal government. During my year at the clinic, I was given the chance to work on a number of these grants. Here’s three things I’ve learned as a result of my foray into grant writing:

Know your audience: It’s important to think about exactly who the funder is, in terms of what you write and how you write it. When I wrote a request to a local church, there was more flexibility to talk about individuals and their stories, express our organization’s belief in the right to access care and the inherent worth of individuals we care for. While that’s all well and good, when writing a grant request to the NC Office of Rural Health, they tend to care more about things like, well, money. In that grant request, we were careful to emphasize ROI, calculating potential community savings brought about by prevention of unnecessary ER trips. Different outcomes constitute impactful results for different audiences.

It’s a team effort: For some of the more formal grants I worked on this year, as many as five or six people would be involved in their writing. Typically, I would get to take a first stab at the narrative and work to find any clinical, local, or national data we might need to support our request. Requests for general operating funds were pretty straightforward because I could use fairly similar wording across grants. However, when writing for a new program, like when we wanted one of our providers to work onsite at a public housing location, I needed information from clinical staff to understand what the program would actually look like. Often times, the individuals that would know this (namely, our Chief Operating Office), would be busy with other things, like you know, keeping the clinic running, so I would take a stab at outlining the program. Then, when I had a chance to sit down with the COO she’d provide input as to what resources would be needed for the program to succeed and what I missed in the narrative. She would also help come up with reasonable objectives, usually with support from our data analyst. This would then get passed on to my supervisor, the Director of Development, who would work on the detailed budget and make my narrative sound a lot nicer (despite my Writing 101 professor’s best efforts, I’m the queen of unnecessary commas). When she was done, it would go back to the COO and CEO for final approval.

Outcomes are really, really tricky: Outcomes are what support the worth of your work. They give the grantor an idea of the tangible results that we anticipate coming if they fork over the money. However, there are a lot of things that make coming up with these objectives tough. Sure, we know that having a nurse who coordinates the care of our patients with chronic disease improves outcomes for them, but how do we measure that? 150 unnecessary ER trips avoided? Lower A1c levels for our diabetics by 1? A 25% increase in access to a patient care team? Are these objectives too broad, do they have too little direct correlation to the nurse coordinator, or are they too hard to measure? Even if we already track this data, do we have the capability to export it from our Electronic Health Records system? Additionally, what we think are significant goals may not seem that impactful to funders. For example, when we say the hire of a nurse coordinator will improve outcomes for our diabetics by 5%, we’re taking into account the many social determinants that impact our patients and the comorbidities that they often present with. But for some funders who may not understand our patient population as well, a 5% improvement may hardly seem a worthy investment.

It has certainly been a challenge to attempt to convey the value of our work to those who will never have the chance to meet our patients, but one I have very much enjoyed. It’s also been pretty great to start seeing the results of our efforts. Over the last two weeks we have received notice of having been awarded more than $170,000 for various grants we wrote earlier this year. While this may seem like a drop in the bucket, for us it means kick starting our effort to provide onsite services in public housing, buying medical supplies for our pediatric patients, providing health education workshops for seniors, and covering the cost of part of our nurse care coordination team. As I’m currently finishing out my final weeks here at the clinic, I won’t be around to see these funds in action. However, I’m grateful to have been given a chance to play a small part in tracking down the resources needed to let our clinic staff do more of their incredibly important work.

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