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This article originally appeared in the Daily Business Review on March 13, 2023, and was written by Candice Balmori.

This March’s celebration of Women’s History Month provides an opportunity to reflect upon some practical lessons from our female forebears. There are a number of local women whose work and efforts on behalf of the community are worthy of praise, but for today, the focus will be upon the “Mother of Miami”: Julia DeForest Tuttle. Tuttle was perhaps one of the most persistent, dedicated, and visionary women of her time. As far as lessons from history go, did you know that one of her most noteworthy historical achievements also represents an underrated case study in effective grant writing?

So driven was Tuttle to lead the movement to start a new city along the Miami River that after writing numerous letters to Henry Flagler, she personally made the trip to St. Augustine to discuss the matter of extending his railroad further southward. Her vision to attract development to South Florida depended upon ensuring efficient access to the area—and in the 1800s that required a train. Allegedly, her effort in St. Augustine proved fruitless. But as one story goes, after The Great Freeze of 1894-1895, wherein the majority of Florida’s citrus groves were devastated, the clever Tuttle sent Flagler flowering orange blossoms from her own yard beside Biscayne Bay—a demonstration of the area’s “freeze proof” potential. Offering her own “local match,” in effect, by granting Flagler significant tracts of her own land for the construction of the railway, Tuttle deftly capitalized on a collaborating interest to propel her vision forward. Ultimately, Flagler accepted, and the rest is Miami history, folklore or not.

More than a century after Tuttle’s land grant, grant sources and similar opportunities have expanded and diversified. Like Tuttle’s grant, which in her contribution of land both addressed an issue plaguing the citrus industry as well as foresightedly sought a means to her vision, grants today are about making impact investments with benefits exceeding their costs. To be sure, the federal government, states, counties, cities, foundations, nonprofit entities, and even for-profit corporations offer opportunities for grants and are motivated to find worthy projects to meet their funding mandates. But efficient allocation of funding resources requires more than availability of funding. Applicants, for their part, must effectively communicate the merits of their prospective projects.

To this end, grant writers and specialized consultants spend countless hours fine-tuning technical information to transform grant applications to perfection. Their help is usually invaluable. But for those humbly trying to build their own visions into reality (and for whom clippings of foliage may not be sufficient), Tuttle’s example outlines some core concepts critical for effective grant writing.

Thoughtfully Assemble Your Team
To bring her vision of developing a city along the Miami River to reality, not only did Tuttle reach out to Flagler for the construction of a railroad, but she also collaborated with Mary Brickell and her husband William Brickell, who agreed to grant a large tract of their land for the benefit of railroad construction.

Research shows that group decision-making is more effective than working in a silo because it has the advantage of leveraging multiple perspectives and areas of expertise. It also has the benefit of leading to more creative thinking. Those value-adds are well-established preconditions for success in grant writing. As with the coalition that Tuttle built to see her vision through, consider assembling a grant-writing team with a complimentary diversity of backgrounds and strengths to bolster the request being made. A grant application should inspire confidence in the knowledge base of the applicant, but also should be easily understood by those who are not necessarily experts in a particular field.

Know Your Audience
Tuttle ultimately, and creatively, addressed hardship brought on after The Great Freeze to gain Flagler’s attention. She sent clippings of fragrant orange blossoms from her region of interest that had been unscathed after the freeze that befell the rest of the state. Tuttle knew that Flagler needed an attractive place to lay tracks and induce ridership and that both were interested in catalyzing economic development. Indeed, the merits of extending the railroad southward may never have smelled sweeter, or more of citrus.

Funding agencies are invested in educating prospective applicants on their funding criteria because they are motivated to match funding to worthy projects that solve the kinds of problems that their agencies are institutionally mission-driven to resolve. To avoid wasting valuable time in a review of applicants that miss the mark, funding agencies are usually available to discuss their opportunities. In many cases, it is the individual who ultimately will review and score applications that initiates such informational sessions. Too many applicants incorrectly discount such opportunities as a waste of time. But applicants should seek out informational sessions on grant opportunities, or arrange for separate question and answer appointments with grant administrators.

Understanding the background, goals, and values of the funding agency can provide an informative framework within which a grant writer may be able to more strategically craft a grant application.

Know Your Parameters
Tuttle began her endeavor by writing letters to Flagler, but they were to no avail. By all accounts her initial letters went unanswered.

These days, it is not quite as difficult to know where to start in seeking assistance for grant funding. Grant opportunities come with small print. As to federal grants, for instance, these are known as “Notices of Funding Opportunity” or “NOFOs,” which—themselves—may be accompanied by yet additional guidance from departments administering funding. It is vital to carefully follow a grant’s submission guidelines to avoid excluding your project on a technicality and ensure that your subject matter meets the eligibility criteria from the onset.

Communicate Clearly and Succinctly
Clarity and brevity are fundamental to persuasive argument. Tuttle’s initial letter writing campaign to Flagler seemed to have been in vain, but the simplicity and directness of citrus blossoms wrapped in damp cotton apparently hit the mark.

Compelling hooks, themes, road maps, headers, and demonstratives can position grant applications to be more consumable. Word limits are not suggestions, and there should be no reservations about using less than that allotted. Grant readers are tasked with thousands of pages to evaluate during grant seasons and need applicants to get to the point quickly.

At its very minimal essence, a grant application has three core elements: the identification of a problem or inefficiency or deficiency; a novel proposal to address that problem or inefficiency or deficiency; and a plan of action for executing that proposal that is effective and for which its benefits outweigh its costs. Not losing sight of that framework through all of the sophisticated and idiosyncratic analyses that often accompany an application—even when the formal criteria does not explicitly list these elements—is key to clear communication. And substance is as important as form. Organization, a professional appearance, proofreading, timeliness of submission, and following format guidelines all help to underscore the competence of the submission as well.

Zealously Advocate
Tuttle wrote. She traveled the length of the state. She offered her own landholdings, and banded together with her neighbors, the Brickells. To say that she was persistent, dedicated, and tenacious would be an understatement.

A grant reader can discern the zeal with which an applicant believes in a project. Supported heartfelt responses will always score higher than boilerplate or formulaic submissions.

Conclusory statements and baseless speculation carry little weight for grant applications. For any proposition to be persuasive, applicants should take care to provide support in the form of data or reliable authorities. As with any compelling story, showing is more effective than telling.

For instance, in demonstrating a plan of action for executing a proposal, highlight specific examples of the applicant’s ability to effectively and efficiently administer the grant funding (i.e. partnerships, resources, and experiences in similar endeavors). Sharing this information helps the grantor gain confidence that the grant will be a sound investment.

We enjoy a vibrant South Florida today in large part because Tuttle was an adept grant writer. As the only woman to found a major American city (and having done so even before women were afforded the right to vote), her progressive vision and relentless advocacy are worth more than just passive celebration during this March’s Women’s History Month: Julia DeForest Tuttle is worth learning from.

Candice Balmori is an attorney at Weiss Serota Helfman Cole + Bierman where she represents municipalities on a broad range of issues, including counseling on contracts, compliance with public records, sunshine and ethics laws.

Read the original article published in the Daily Business Review here.

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