Transcript Episode 110

Episode 110 – The Missing Element in Every Grant Writing Office with Meredith Noble

[00:00:00] Stephanie Skryzowski: Hey there. If you’re looking for the 100 degrees of entrepreneurship podcast, you’re in the right place after a hundred amazing episodes, we’re changing things up to serve you the most inspiring content in a fresh new way. Thanks for being here and keep listening.

Welcome to the prosperous nonprofit, the podcast for leaders who are building financially sustainable and impactful nonprofits and changing the world. I’m Stephanie Kowski, a Chief financial Officer and founder and c e O of 100 Degrees Consulting. My personal mission is to empower leaders to better understand their.

To grow their impact and their income. On this show, we talk to people who are leading the nonprofit sector in new, innovative, disruptive, and entrepreneurial ways, creating organizations that fuel their lives, their hearts, and their communities. Let’s dive in.[00:01:00] 

Hey there. Welcome back to the Prosperous nonprofit. I am Stephanie Kowski, and today I have on the podcast with me Meredith Noble. Now Meredith is a new friend that I met at the ROI Millionaire Summit put on by Hello seven. We should all be millionaires. Rachel Rogers, who’s my business coach, she had a big conference early in 2023, and I met Meredith there.

And we initially bonded because we both work with nonprofits. She owns a company called Learn Grant Writing. And so basically her company helps grant writers, either freelance grant writers or grant writers within nonprofit organizations learn how to write better winning grants. And so today in our conversation, We talk about how to work smarter, not harder when it comes to writing grants for your organization and why the like spray and pray method [00:02:00] doesn’t work.

Meaning like, let’s just write like as many grants as possible. Let’s just push ’em all out the door because it’s a numbers game and we just want to like, You know, we wanna get as many as we possibly can, right? So she talks about really having a solid funding strategy and how grants are just the icing on the cake of your entire revenue portfolio, not the cake, right?

So grants are not the foundation of your entire organization. They are the icing on the cake. So we also talk about chat, G p T. She is another person who is exploring chat G P T as well. And she gave me one of my favorite answers to the question that you all know that I ask every single guest that comes on the show, what does a prosperous nonprofit look like to you?

And she gave me one of my favorite answers. So I’m not gonna tell you what that was though. You’re just going to have to listen and hear her answer to that question at the end. Let me tell you a little bit about Meredith [00:03:00] before we jump into the episode. So Meredith helps the entre Curious build Lifestyle freedom by taking imperfect action.

She’s the co-founder of Learn grant writing and online membership for those building their careers in grant writing. Her book, how to Write a Grant to Become a Grant Writing Unicorn is a best seller for nonprofit fundraising and grants. Her expertise has been featured in Nasdaq, Forbes Fast Company Authority Magazine and other.

Publications. She has secured over 42 million in grant finding, and her students have secured over 550 million a number that grows daily. If Meredith is not biking or skiing in Alaska, she can be found curled around a steaming cup of green tea and a good book. And I totally forgot to mention that. She wrote a book and she’s also, now we talked about this as well.

She’s recording the audio book for her book. And so by the time that this episode comes out, you’ll be able to both purchase her [00:04:00] regular paperback book and you’ll be able to purchase the audio version as well. So this was a fantastic episode. I loved some of the, not just like tactics that she shared, but some of the mindset shifts.

And sort of principles that she shared around grant writing for nonprofits. So without further ado, let’s jump into our episode with Meredith.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to the show. I’m super excited to have Meredith Noble on the podcast with me today. Welcome, Meredith. Hello. So I would love for you to tell our listeners a little bit about your company Learn grant writing and what you guys do and also what, what the journey was like to get you to the point where you are now.

[00:04:46] Meredith Noble: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So Learn grant writing. We’re known for the Global Grant Writers Collective. It’s an online community for those that are. Moving into grant writing, whether that’s freelancing or within their role at a nonprofit. And so we have a course community [00:05:00] group and coaching program that’s absolutely unbeatable.

I feel so lucky that the people that are in that program all feel like friends. You’re like, where have these people been all my life? Like, you didn’t know that there were other people out there like you. So that’s, that’s what the collective is. And then in terms of how I fell into it completely accidentally, I graduated in the economic recession in 2008, could not find work, and started doing all of these informational interviews, which is a different style of meeting with people where you’re really curious, you’re really trying to understand do they have a problem I can solve?

And that led to falling into grant writing. And I discovered I loved it because you get to be. Navigating the triangle between the funder, your organization you’re working with, and maybe technical staff. Cause I was doing that for an engineering firm. Fast forward, offered a job, worked full-time as a grant writer at an engineering firm that grew to 22,000 employees in the time I was there.

So obviously if you’re helping get client funding for your infrastructure clients, every project [00:06:00] manager wanted me on their team. Which was great, but I was like very young in my twenties working so hard and I burned out and so I left pledging to never write another grant again. And the, the message here is don’t say, you know, never say never is actually a true statement.

Right. And, Fast forward. I quit my job to launch the sexy startup when I basically realized that just because you have an idea doesn’t mean you have an underlying business model, which is probably something we can get into later. And so I started consulting cuz that was what I knew how to do. And people wanted that expertise.

And often people would say, can I get you a cup of coffee or buy you lunch? I wanna learn all about grants. And the reality is I cannot give you everything you. Over a cup of coffee. And that was what led to, Hey, what if I turned this into a course? And of course, you know how this goes, that actually there was years of failure or what looked like success, but was actually [00:07:00] not success before we finally got it right.

And then that, that has been, uh, the journey of the global grant writing collective in the last two years. 

[00:07:08] Stephanie Skryzowski: Oh, that’s amazing. So does your company now write grants for nonprofits or not at all? You’re supporting grant writers who write 

[00:07:16] Meredith Noble: grants? We did. So what happened was when Covid 19 hit and Cares Act money was flowing, we were getting five to 10 requests a week to write grants and so I ended up hiring.

Mm-hmm. I had only launched my course like four months before I ended up hiring a bunch of my student. To go after these grants, some of which had just joined, like they weren’t even through the content yet, but I thought they looked promising. And so that was obviously insanity of trying to write millions of dollars of federal grant proposals while also running a course business.

And so that’s when I brought in, who is now my co-founder Alex. And Alex is a project manager extraordinaire. And so she really managed the [00:08:00] team build. Making all the processes that are in my head, putting them into a project management software and just executing on a really high level. And our students that were in the course, the ones that we loved the most, they were asking, how are you charging?

How are you managing contracting? Mm-hmm. Like they wanted to know how we were making money as grant writers, not just how to write grants. And so fast forward, we do close down consulting because it’s hard to split your brain and go all in on the course. But at that point, we actually, in December of 2020, we lost 25 grand alone that month.

And you can’t live on your consulting savings that long before you run out of runway, right? Mm-hmm. And so we were, it was definitely a rock bottom moment, especially up here in Alaska. December’s dark. Right. Literally, yes. Literally dark. You don’t know what to do. But when we decided to really focus on who is that specific person that we get a ton of energy working with, how do we build.

At the time for her, now we’re getting a ton of great men, but at the time we really [00:09:00] narrowed uncomfortably narrow, right? Mm. Mm-hmm. And, and that was the moment that was a complete turning point. So we’ve taken a few consulting projects to where I can teach what I’m learning through the process with my members.

But at this point we’re, I’ve got 500 of them providing me active consulting examples in every coaching call. So I feel plenty kept up to speed without having to have my own workload on top of. 

[00:09:23] Stephanie Skryzowski: Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. So your members are grant writers, like you said, some are freelance and some work in-house at a nonprofit.

So are you finding, like after they sort of graduate through your course, do they stay with you? Is it like a membership concept? Or do they sort of like graduate and then you know, go on to run their business on par? 

[00:09:46] Meredith Noble: Oh, a hundred percent. So I think about it this way. Who built the business of their dreams in one year?

Do you know? 

[00:09:53] Stephanie Skryzowski: I don’t, Nope, nope, nope, nope. Me neither. 

[00:09:56] Meredith Noble: It’s a journey. New levels, new devils, and [00:10:00] mm-hmm. The biggest thing I find we have to continually break through are new mindset barriers, and so knowing that we think of it more as a three year program, as if you were going to get your masters. And you are going through different levels.

So once you’ve made $35,000 in revenue, you unlock this whole other section of content that’s about hiring. And how do you actually give yourself benefits, like the thing, the business skills that sometimes can be so elusive. And so we have people who have been with me literally from the very beginning.

So they’ve been around for yes, three years at this point. And I think there’ll come probably a point for some of them where it’s like, okay, you’re, you’re ready. You’re ready to go find a new, a new guru That can be your advisor and your coach. But for now, we have found that until you’ve hit 250 K in revenue, or you feel like your p your peak at your job, like you’ve not, you’re not done.

Because that’s what makes grant writing so beautiful is that you’re never done learning. And if you are, you’re probably bored and not enjoying it and looking for a pivot anyway, because that’s who we are as people, right? Mm-hmm. We really mm-hmm. [00:11:00] Love to learn. So yeah, I think of it more as a, more as a mba, so more of a three year program that you’re going through, but you only have a one year commitment.

So if people feel a little scared about that, cuz they haven’t written grants before or whatever, it’s like, hey, we don’t, it’s not like a college that you’ve just committed years and years of your life, do you, if you don’t even know you’re gonna like that career. 

[00:11:19] Stephanie Skryzowski: Mm-hmm. I love that. I like the way of thinking of that.

And there’s really something to be said for staying with the same coach or the same program for multiple years rather than like coach shopping or program hopping, which I see in like the entrepreneurial space. I see that happen all the time. It’s. Like, okay, I just did this person’s program. I just went on that person’s retreat.

Now I’m gonna join this mastermind. And it’s like, well, why don’t we stick with one thing for a little while and like, see, see how far we can take this? Like you said, kind of until you hit a certain level, until you’re starting to outgrow it. And that’s one thing I don’t see a lot in the nonprofit sector is nonprofit leaders, like investing in themselves and then sticking [00:12:00] with it for a period of time.

But it sounds like you have members in your program that work inside. Nonprofit. So like it’s happening. I feel like it’s just not widespread. What do you think is maybe like different about those people that are working inside a nonprofit that are in your program committed to their development over a long period of time?

[00:12:19] Meredith Noble: I’d say that many of them that are within a nonprofit sometimes do struggle to get their membership paid for year after year. They can get it paid for the first year without too much trouble. But the problem is there’s this thought that, okay, I’ve invested in you. You have everything you. The sense of staticness, the sense that you are done, you’ve learned, I’ve invested in you.

Yes. So now you give back to me. And yeah. The unfortunate fallacy in all of that is that you are never done. They’re, they’re always going to be encountering new challenges. And if your employee is not held and supported, they will leave your organization. Mm-hmm. And so one of the best ways, and frankly, paying [00:13:00] to give someone educational support is cheaper than a higher compensation package.

In terms of how they will feel like if you look at the reward that, or how an employee feels when they’re supported in their job. Right. And that’s what keeps someone, that’s what also allows ’em to keep succeeding like they have at this point, especially if they’ve been with you for a while. So much institutional knowledge.

If you lose that, you’re, it’s more than a loss in salary or the bottom line. Like it can take months if not even years, to get someone back to where they were. Right? So I do think that can be sometimes a little bit of a struggle cuz there’s this sense. Yeah, you’re, you’re done. And there is no such thing as done.

And if there was, you probably don’t want that employee. 

[00:13:44] Stephanie Skryzowski: Yeah, yeah. You’re so right. It’s like, okay, you checked the box. Now perform for us now. Like, go to your thing and, and make the, you know, the return on our investment. And you’re right. So I love that you have people in your program whose organizations [00:14:00] do value their investment in them.

I think that’s so important. I just think your point about that, like for everybody listening, your development, your professional, your personal development is never done and it is always a worthwhile investment. And I think especially for those people like me that like to crunch the numbers, but the benefit of that is a greater benefit than, like you said, even paying someone higher salary.

So, I love that. Right. And 

[00:14:25] Meredith Noble: another thing that I didn’t expect to be a, like a catching point for the nonprofits, what the ones that are really enthusiastic about paying for someone in their organization to be getting trained within the collective is the realization that they’re not actually just paying for one person, their employee.

They’re actually paying for six coaches. They’re paying for 500 peer mentors. So they’re realizing that wait a. We are gaining almost like that person is the, the funnel and the gateway to so much more capacity because no one person can know it all. And so our nonprofits [00:15:00] that get that fact, they’re the ones that have no trouble with investing in, in it for years because they realize, wow, like we get so much more than this one person when we have that much expertise backing.


[00:15:13] Stephanie Skryzowski: Yeah. That’s beautiful. That’s such a good selling point. Yeah, cuz I, I’ve struggled with that. Like, I just remember in my own career working inside a nonprofit wanting to go to like a professional development course about, specifically about nonprofit accounting. And I remember getting pushback for months.

Like I’d have it on my one-on-one, like my check-in sheet with my supervisor for months. And it was always, We’ll talk about it next month, we’ll talk about it next quarter. And I’m just like, this is like $700 and this organization is like 15 million. Why are we even having this conversation? And as a result, how did that make me feel?

Like I did not feel like I was valued at all. You can’t spend 700 bucks to help me do my job better. Like, right, exactly. So yeah, so I love that about [00:16:00] your company and about the people that you have in your collective. That’s awesome. I wanted to talk to you about grants since that is your expertise, and you said earlier, before we had started recording that grants are the icing on the cake, not the cake.

Is that, did I get it right? Yes. And tell me more about that. What does that mean? 

[00:16:18] Meredith Noble: I always use this, the analogy that writing grants is like baking a cake because if you follow a recipe, Right. That’s how an what a grant narrative looks like. Whether we’re talking about a federal grant that’s super complicated, which would be a complicated cake with meringue on top, or are we talking cake mix, which is a simpler application, right?

But they do all follow the same rhythm and cycle. But one place that we find people get into trouble, particularly our newer nonprofits, is when they’re looking for grants to sustain the organization and provide for ongoing operational costs. Now, it’s not to say that grants can’t pay for staff at times in creative ways because your staff are the reason you can implement [00:17:00] programs.

Without them, the program wouldn’t happen. So that is a cost that directly correlates to a grant application that you might be applying. But the rule of thumb that we advise is that a grant is no more than 20% of your overall budget. I’d love your opinion on this. You’re the number scalp, but that’s generally where we wanna land.

And if you think about this, like a cake, we’re not, we have about 20% is frosting, right? 20% is that delicious cream cheese frosting on the carrot cake, which is your very viable, sustainable. Financial model underpinning your nonprofit that, I mean, the cake tastes good, whether it has frosting or not, right?

Mm-hmm. The frosting is just that extra bit that really sweetens the deal. Mm-hmm. 

[00:17:45] Stephanie Skryzowski: So, yeah. So that’s interesting. So you’re saying one grant, not like the bucket of grants that maybe there’s like 30 different grants. You’re saying one grant should not comprise more than 20% of revenue. I’m saying 

[00:17:58] Meredith Noble: all of your grants, your whole [00:18:00] grant portfolio should not make up more than if we’re looking at your a hundred percent, your entire annual budget, your whole budget.

We only want about 20% of that at most to be made up of grants. So if we have a 1 million budget, around $200,000 could be grant funded, and part of the reason for that is that. When you’re applying for grants, they’re going to ask, what is your operating budget? For one, they’re going to want to know what size you are, and it’s very hard for you at a, and so it’s easier to get grants once you start getting to a larger budget because it’s proving that you have some stability, right?

And it’s going to be nearly impossible as you get to a certain size. Like you mentioned you were working for a nonprofit that had 15 million in revenue. How does a 15 million in revenue business run on grants alone? That volatility would just be unreal because there’s no guarantee you’re getting grants year after year after year from the same programs.

Right? So that’s because there is that inherent fluctuating. I don’t know that it fluctuates a little bit, right? Like what grants [00:19:00] you get, new programs come online, others are retiring and you’re moving on. So it just can’t provide that base stability that we need for your operations to be sustainable and secure and all the things that you talk about.

But I welcome your opinion on that if you have a, I mean, it’s not to say, like I said, this is an average. So there might be people that are 50% grant funded or more, but maybe they’re just a little smaller urban organization. Right. And I get that, but it’s sort of looking at from an average perspective, I just don’t want someone rolling in thinking their whole operation should be a hundred percent grant funded, because that suggests to me you don’t actually have a sustainable business model.

And yes, a nonprofit has a business model. Mm-hmm. Yeah. And if you don’t have that, it’s gonna make, even writing your grant applications harder. Like that’s something that’s being looked at more closely by funders now than ever, because there’s this realization that a lot of money has been spent that hasn’t really had the impact that was promised or anticipated.

[00:19:57] Stephanie Skryzowski: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s interesting. So [00:20:00] as you’re saying this, I’m definitely thinking of like, because obviously I’ve seen behind the scenes financials of hundreds of nonprofit organizations, and so I can think of examples where, you know, I’m thinking of one organization who, one federal grant comprised like 60 or 70% of their entire revenue, and the federal funder was.

We’re not doing this anymore. We’re not funding you at this level, so we’re not, we’re gonna fund you less and less and you gotta go find money elsewhere. We can’t be the, like, main source of revenue keeping this organization alive, basically. And so, yeah, I definitely, like, I’ve seen that side of things.

Then I, I’m thinking of another organization where they’re about nine or 10 million and I would say probably 7 million of that is from their grant portfolio. But then within that grant portfolio, They have probably like 50 50 grants, um, five figures up to seven figures, and they’re all spanning multiple years.

And so in that case, like [00:21:00] definitely more than 20%, it’s coming from their grant portfolio, but their grant portfolio itself is so diverse, right? That like, to me, that still is very strong. Now, if that grant portfolio. Seven of the 10 million and like three grants, then that would be definitely much more reason for concern.

But because they have a deep portfolio within it, I’m like, okay, well that, that’s working for them while they’re also actively trying to build other revenue streams. So, um, so it’s very interesting. But I think the common message for all of our listeners is that, Like, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

We really need like a diverse portfolio of revenue that we’re not relying on just one source, whether it’s grants or something else, to, to sustain us. Cuz at the end of the day, the grants go away. Like they go away. You may not be renewed, you may not get that funding again. And then what, you’re kind of starting over again.

So I love that you’re teaching that to your grant writers who then are bringing that back to. Their organizations or their clients that they’re working for [00:22:00] to make sure that the organization is also not thinking, oh, this grant writer is gonna be responsible for like all of our revenue. Just doesn’t work like that.

[00:22:08] Meredith Noble: Yeah. And Stephanie, that kicked loose a thought that I’d love to share, which is the importance of a funding strategy, which I’m gonna separate right now, grants and fundraising. So I’m not gonna talk about the fundraising side because I actually think that’s a very different skillset in personality. A more outward facing extrovert in grant writers, we can actually be decently introverted and behind the scenes.

Right. So can be a different person. Mm-hmm. So I’m talking about a funding strategy for the grants. This was a, a methodology I developed when I was working at those engineering firms and infrastructure projects are multi-million dollars. No one grant is going to pay for it, and so I had to figure out how do I layer in which grants at what timing to help win the next one before you spend one, so you can use it as leverage.

So that we can in secure the entire 5 million needed or whatever. [00:23:00] And the, that formed the basis of what I now call the funding strategy, which is looking ahead, it’s a roadmap for the next 12 to 18 months of what grants you’re going to pursue that have the highest likelihood of success and return on investment in terms of your resources put in to get it.

And I don’t see. Often enough because there’s too much reaction to the grants out go. And that leads to a ton of burnout for poor grant writers that are in this very reactionary mode. And so the way we can reverse that to not be in a haphazard approach to grants is to like put a pin in things for a moment.

Look forward plan, which ones you’re going to use. So one grant always helps you win the next one. I think of them like dominoes. If your dominoes are too far apart and one knocks over, it’s going to have no effect on the next domino. Whereas if they’re close, we can really send that domino, I don’t know, lineup flowing right.

And so I just wanna emphasize that that’s a really important tool for your listeners to start investigating and learning about. If they don’t have [00:24:00] that so that you’re not in that situation where you’ve ran out of the money from grants or they didn’t get renewed, like you’re not going to be vulnerable like that.

[00:24:08] Stephanie Skryzowski: Hmm. Yeah, that’s so good. And I’ve definitely like seen organizations think about their, their overall, like funding strategy related to fundraising and grant writing. But it’s more like, okay, grants, we’re gonna bring in like a million dollars from grants, and then that’s it. And then like you said, it’s very reactive and it’s just constantly chasing money.

But I love this idea. Really being strategic about it. And so is that something that a grant writer within an organization or even a grant writing consultant is? Are they the ones doing that, or is that somebody you know in a more senior leadership position at the organization who’s kind of spearheading that effort?

[00:24:49] Meredith Noble: I like to see it led from the grant writer themselves, whether they’re in-house or they’re a freelancer. This is not a skill that even requires grant writing knowledge. It’s critical thinking. [00:25:00] It’s critical thinking and research. And it’s, it’s very learnable. So I’ll give an example of its efficacy. We had a gal, Jane, she works for a fire department in.

Rural Washington really broke small little town and she had applied, I hope I can get all my numbers right. She’d applied for something like 42 grants the year before she joined us and she had won one of them worth $5,000. So she was obviously feeling pretty crushed. Because she had just applied for absolutely anything that would pass through her desk.

So after we showed her how to not do that, focus on the handful of grants that are worth it and put more effort into them, she ended up applying for 11 grants. So we’re now looking at a fraction of the original list, and she’d already secured 1.5 million from that, including supporting other fire districts in the county.

And so it just goes to show like that turnaround was transformative and that happened in a. Just by learning about a [00:26:00] funding strategy, that’s it. Like learning how to research the grants, focus on the right ones, make a plan, and stop that cycle of chasing the grants haphazardly. 

[00:26:11] Stephanie Skryzowski: That’s amazing. That’s like.

Work smarter, not harder. Yes. I feel like that perfectly describes that. And it’s also the opposite of like the spray and pray method of just like doing everything and hoping that one is gonna land. And that’s really interesting cuz I’m sure people have heard before. Related to grants that it’s just a numbers game.

Just get as many applications out there as you can and like then you have a better chance of getting them. But I think that example approves that. Like, actually no, that’s not the way to, um, to, 

[00:26:44] Meredith Noble: to win more grants. No. That can be a more damaging approach. When you just throw in an application that’s poorly put together, your name is still attached to that, that is still your brand.

That is still what you are then known for. That’s going to influence the next proposal that comes in next year, right? Mm-hmm. And so we want [00:27:00] to be putting forth great work. We wanna communicate professionally, we wanna be building a relationship with them through the year. And you can only manage so many relationships in a year.

And so we’re so much better served to focus on the ones that a really truly feel aligned and that we have the the time and the energy to. Really build versus, yes, this, like you said, the spray and brain. 

[00:27:23] Stephanie Skryzowski: I don’t know where that came from. That sounds like, I don’t know what the original meaning of that was, but like I’ve heard it used before.

[00:27:32] Meredith Noble: Have 

[00:27:32] Stephanie Skryzowski: you been spinning your wheels trying to figure out how some nonprofits have three or six months of a cash reserve while you’re barely scraping by to make payroll every two. I’d venture to guess that one of the reasons you feel overwhelmed and nervous about your cash situation is because you don’t have a forecast.

So I’ve created a free cash forecast template for you. This spreadsheet will help you forecast your cash flow, build an insightful budget, and really help you [00:28:00] see into the future of your revenue and expenses. I’ve built the template for you now. All you have to do is use it, gain more clarity into your numbers.

You can make smart decisions today to grow your impact and income tomorrow. Head over to 100 degrees to get your free spreadsheet.

So in terms of thinking, uh, working, working smarter, and being more strategic and being more focused to really put your best foot forward in the work that does go out into the world. I know that you are starting to experiment with chat g p t inside your business, and I would love to just hear a little bit more about what you’re doing with chat G B T, how it impacts the writing profession, the grant writing profession.

Just tell us a little bit more about what you’re. 

[00:28:50] Meredith Noble: Absolutely. So I was really fired up about this in December when chat g p t was really sort of hitting mainstream media and I wor, I worked with a developer [00:29:00] to say, Hey, what if we partner, like we help our grant writers implement this technology to write their grant applications better and faster?

Because one of the hardest things to do is get that first draft completed. Once you have a first draft, there’s PA words on the paper. It’s so much simpler to work. And that ended up not flowing. And so I looked, I found another developer to work with and I thought, okay, well let’s just step back and build a newsletter so we can all just stay up to speed on where this technology’s going.

Cuz every week it feels like there’s something new that’s coming out. And I will be completely honest with you, it has not flown as easily as I expected. The newsletter copy, like the draft that I’ve been getting back, that is basically we’re using, uh, chat g p T to summarize all of the articles that we’re pulling.

And those summaries are terrible. Sometimes you’re like, where did this even come from? Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And so I feel that often there’s just this glorification. AI and chat g [00:30:00] p t, but, and it’s going to get there. It’s going to be amazing. But it’s not to say that it’s still not quite messy. And the other thing I reflected on quite recently was that I was like, why am I getting into this?

Partly it’s because I feel like are known as the modern grant writers, like we’re the ones that are always pushing the limits and wanna know like what’s around the corner. But I also, if I’m honest with myself and your listeners, it was from a place of. Am I going to get left behind? I’m still young in my career.

If I don’t understand how this works, am I going to be irrelevant? Right? Someone else is gonna beat me to it. So if I’m real, a lot of what was motivating me was not an expansive state of mind. It was from fear. And now that I’ve named that, I feel actually more comfortable moving forward because I’m removing the pressure that it becomes or does anything.

And instead I’m viewing it with a state of curiosity, but not trying to force or need an outcome. And so that’s where we stand with it. Now, obviously, I hope by the time this airs [00:31:00] that we have a working newsletter and we could throw it in your links. Um, but for now, I don’t. It’s messy, but I also think that messy is what we need to be talking.


[00:31:10] Stephanie Skryzowski: I also kind of had that same realization last week, cuz I’ve been playing around with it as well for, for a lot of different things. Just like, okay, let’s see what this thing can do. And what I realized, I was like, okay, this actually isn’t, I don’t think it’s going to replace anybody. To me, I look it as like a faster, more efficient search engine.

But what’s missing is like the story, like if I’m writing something, you know, like I’ve been using it to kind of brainstorm some ideas and like outlines for my book, well, Chat. G B t can’t write my own story for me. Like I still have to go in there and do that. Can it help me with talking points related to a specific kind of like tactical subject and gimme like five bullet points?

Yes. And that’s super helpful. Cause now I don’t have to write that, but what it’s not gonna do is write my story and I, I don’t know. So like I’ve been [00:32:00] kind of coming to the same realization that like, yeah, it’s helpful but it’s not everything and I don’t think it’s going to replace, like it’s not going to fully replace.

Me or my work. Or you or your work. So that’s interesting and I can’t wait to see like what your newsletter turns out to be. So were you, are you, are you trying to have it write you like an entire newsletter? You give it some prompts and it writes the whole thing. 

[00:32:21] Meredith Noble: Essentially I hate research, which is a little ironic for a grant writer.

And so I just, I, I don’t like to look at the screen longer than I need to, and so I was hoping it would shortcut that work for me. Right. We’ll gather all the latest information. Give me the summary. I will distill that and I will, I will share that. But the original was actually, can we build our own data informed model?

Because I have 500 grant writers, have them upload their grants. So we can actually, cuz the thing about chat GBT is it’s built on, I think it’s 2021 data and, and behind, right? Mm-hmm. So it’s not actually gathering, it’s not gathering information in the last couple years. And so I wanted as like, can we build [00:33:00] our own proprietary data set essentially so that it’s getting to know what does a successful grant narrative look like?

So it’s, it’s even smarter, right? And that is possible. But the other thing is what we have today, chat, G P T three. Is how it’s like 170 million data points. I’m, I’m sure I’m goofing my numbers, but that it pulls from, to be able to give an answer chat, G p T four is projected to be many multiples over that.

And so once you start having more and more data points, then it becomes more refined, more accurate, et cetera. And so that’s why yes, it’s, it’s okay right now to say, I don’t think it’s going to strike my story, et cetera, et cetera, but it’s, it’s not, it’s not very far away where really it can’t help. Maybe you’re just audio recording it and then it’s helping you digest that onto paper, right?

So, mm-hmm. I, that’s part of the reason why I’m trying to just slow down, learn as much as we can with this newsletter, gather information. Cuz I’m actually more curious about chat Chachi PT four, because that is, I think [00:34:00] that’s gonna be a breakaway. Hmm. 

[00:34:03] Stephanie Skryzowski: I definitely do not follow tech stuff, so I’ve just been playing around with it, but I didn’t know A, a version four was coming.

[00:34:09] Meredith Noble: I mean, I think it’d be like a year out, right? Like we don’t know when that would come, but now the race is on, right? Like Google with Sure. Their. And et cetera. So I mean, I’ve pretty much, I feel like I’m sharing all like the best I have right now. And there’s not really much noise talk about on it, but I’ll say that it’s a space that will continue to evolve and the speed at which it evolves will increase.

And we all know that because we live in a world with hello, like look at your phones from just the last 20 years, right? Like this is mm-hmm. The world we live in. And I do think na, navigating our own mindset issues. Around it is really vital so that we can embrace something and not doing it from a place of fear, because otherwise, like we’re only gonna have inherent resistance.

So even if we don’t use it today and we don’t use it for a while, like the, the day will come where we’re using it and there will come the day when we can’t imagine our life without it. We imagine our lives without our phones now, right? Yeah. [00:35:00] So, so I, I think just there’s some sort of surrender to that without feeling like you have to be the first one out the gate.

And, and the other point I’ll share on this is I grew up on a cattle ranch in Wyoming. We were the last ranchers, I swear, to switch from pitching hay loosely with a team of horses, a team of work horses pulling the hay, right? You should have seen my abs. So we’d be pitching off all hay for, you know, five, 600 cattle.

And we were the last ones to move to bailing, round bailing. But because we were so late, Of technology adopters. The technology had been highly refined, so we had just a Cadillac tractor makes those bales perfectly versus everyone else that had rougher technology cuz they adopted sooner. And so we have to remember, you don’t always have to be the person that’s on the front end of it.

I wanna be, I think I’m kind of curious on this one. Maybe I wanna be out in front on it. But it’s also okay to be a late adopter. You’re not going to necessarily get left behind. You’re going to get the Cadillac experience. So that’s just something to, I think, to [00:36:00] process and think about. Cause I think sometimes our fear of missing out or fear of being left behind can outweigh really being the right time for us as individuals.

[00:36:08] Stephanie Skryzowski: I really like that analogy. I think that’s such a good point. Let the kinks get worked out and then you jump in when the technology is refined and it’s maybe easier to use or it’s more accurate, it’s whatever. I like that analogy a lot. You have written a book and you are working right now at the time of recording.

You’re working on the audio version of that book, but can you tell us about your book? 

[00:36:32] Meredith Noble: Yes. It’s How to Write a Grant, become a Grant Writing Unicorn. I wrote the first edition a couple years ago by actually now that we’re talking about hacks I, audio recorded, I outlined, and then audio recorded. The chapter transcribed.

With a friend that could, that coded me a piece of software that would transcribe it. Now you can just go do that online cheaply. And then I edited that version. And so when I wrote [00:37:00] the second edition, I did the same thing. I went to this remote village in Alaska. I literally just hiked and wrote and slept, and.

Transcribed audio into the book. So I wrote this whole thing in seriously, seven days and published it a month later. Uh, so it’s amazing. What, just to sh to your point of like, what’s possible even without, uh, ai, right. Um, I guess. The book is basically the first third is about the top 10 questions I would get asked as a grant writer.

So right off the bat, whatever your question is, what does the funder want to hear? How do you write a grant? Right? All you answer all of that. Then I answer the top 10 questions. I wish you were asking the ones that a new grant writer or someone that’s in the space maybe isn’t thinking about, but you would be well served to think about.

And then the third section, which is the new part of the second edition, was. All of the mindset stuff that I did not fully appreciate, and probably the biggest point I make in there is about the Dunning Krueger effect. Have you heard of that? I have not. [00:38:00] No. Okay. It’s game changing. So essentially the idea is when we start something new, we’re actually highly confident, but we’re low incompetence.

And then once we realize how much we don’t know, our confidence plummets and we’re still pretty incompetent. Then that’s where most people either get kicked outta programs at their lowest point or your, you. Because it just feels insurmountable. But for those that stick with it, and this is where we have a lot of interventions, cuz this occurs for most people between month four and six.

Then it’s like, okay, you can climb out of this to gain confidence and competence to the full grant writing unicorn status. But once you reflect on anything new you’ve learned, anything new you can see this pattern happens. And when we become adults, often we. Learned something new in a while and we forget that process and we expect ourselves to be good at something right off the bat.

Right. I’m super guilty of this at times too. Mm-hmm. And so understanding that principle and how it [00:39:00] works and helping us just embrace that has been game changing for bringing more people into the profession that maybe otherwise would’ve dropped off. Not because they couldn’t be great at it, but, but just because our mind got 

[00:39:11] Stephanie Skryzowski: in the.

Oh, I love that addition. I think that is huge. I can think of like three ex, I’m thinking cuz I’m writing a book as well, and so I feel like I’m at that point where I had the idea, I got started, I’m like, oh, this is going to be awesome. I’m so excited. This is, then I’m like, What was I thinking? Who am I should be writing this book?

I dunno how to do this. I dunno, I can’t do 

[00:39:34] Meredith Noble: this. Yeah, the Dunning Krueger effect. We have a whole chart for it. We call it the Dunning Kruger effect on unicorns. Like it’s, it’s great and it’s wonderful because now our. Members will reference it. They’re like, I’m in the valley of despair. Can some, you know, can I get a pep talk to help me get out of it?

And like everyone will rally in the community group for them and get ’em going. And so it’s just amazing to understand these underlying principles that I think sometimes we fight [00:40:00] against and we don’t realize, like these are human nature cycles. Like life is nothing but a bunch of patterns and we either see the pattern and make peace with it, or we make war with a pattern because we don’t understand it and we just fight it.

Mm-hmm. So the more. See these patterns. This is another ranching analogy. So essentially I was out in the hay fields, 14 years old. It was my first year. Again, we’re putting up hay loose, right? Like it’s this old school process that has not changed in a hundred years. And I was the, I was, I was the raker. So I’m like raking the hay after it’s been cut into windrows and I kept getting caught up to by the stacking crew.

So I was holding them up and my dad came over to me and he said, Meredith, You’ve got to look in the hay for the patterns, make each move count. And when I started looking ahead, but well, what if I made this turn? Instead of that turn, I started to pull ahead because I wasn’t just doing the job, I was looking for a pattern.

I was making each move count. And we can do the same thing in our jobs. We can roll [00:41:00] into our day and let the day hit us, or we can look forward and say, what pattern do I wanna create with my week? Right? What are my deep work? What are my days that I connect with people, right? So we don’t, we can create patterns and look ahead and anticipate it and make each move count, or we can just get steamrolled by it and others catch up to you and you feel like you’re on the heels all the time.

So it’s just a really useful way to think about, like, we can get ahead of things if we’re just even looking ahead. All we have to do is look for a pattern. 

[00:41:29] Stephanie Skryzowski: I love that and I feel like nonprofit leaders are just really burnt out, and it’s probably because, at least in part, we’re just letting our days and our weeks and our months and our gears just steamroll us versus being intentional about looking ahead and finding those patterns.

And I love that. I’m definitely going to look up that principle because again, if you, if you know it’s, You can anticipate it and help yourself kind of get through it before it just runs you over. Mm-hmm. [00:42:00] I, I really like that. So where can we find your book? First of all, the actual like paper book. I see it’s on Amazon.


[00:42:07] Meredith Noble: that where we should go to grab it? Noble. Or if you wanna support your local bookstore, which always is a plus, you could ask them to order it in for you. And yeah, I think what you might be jumping to next is, I’m actually working on recording the audio book right now, which is so fun. And so that’ll be out.

Who knows? Pretty soon. Definitely by the time we’ll have a link below. But I’m excited about that. Cause if people are listening to a podcast, you obviously like to listen and learn. And I had a lot of fun with the audiobook. I’m being way more, I think I took the first one a little too seriously. Like you’re supposed to sound a certain way.

And now that I’ve listened to more audiobooks and I realize the ones I most love, It just feels like you’re having a conversation. It’s way more playful. I even added in a few things. Yes. Like, Hey, Chachi PT didn’t exist when I was writing this chapter, so here’s my two thoughts on that. Like who knows if that’s even allowed, but [00:43:00] I did it.

So yeah, I’m really pumped about, it’ll be a great book. I’m excited to get it out. 

[00:43:05] Stephanie Skryzowski: That’s awesome. And I love the fact that it started, it basically started out as an audiobook and then you trans you like translated that into a paper book and now it’s going back to audio. Um, that’s such a brilliant way.

Now I’m like, okay, I’m getting on my treadmill with like, uh, yes. You know, a voice recorder. And that’s how I’m doing this book because staring at like a blank screen and a blinking cursor is like, 

[00:43:30] Meredith Noble: I believe truly at this point, you could write your book in a couple of days, especially if you were to go treat, treat yourself to even, like, can I get away?

Can I do a little mini escape? Mm-hmm. And you do nothing else but do that. And frankly, whether we’re talking about writing a book or just for your listeners doing anything of meaning, grant writing. Grant writing requires deep work, grant writing. I mm-hmm. Advise the same tip, like if you, you have someone that has the scope of work and you can’t get them to sit still and give you advice and give you what you need, we’ll go in with the recorder and let them just say, And then you transcribe it and rework it.

So there’s a number of ways [00:44:00] you hack this so that we can all just write faster. Cuz that first version is the hardest. And then it’s better from 

[00:44:05] Stephanie Skryzowski: there. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Ugh, I love that. Okay, before we wrap up, I need to ask you the question that I ask all of our guests, what does a prosperous nonprofit look like to you?


[00:44:19] Meredith Noble: nonprofit has spaciousness. Mm. What do you mean by. Is that it’s not chaos. Every day people can come in feeling refreshed. You know what you’re doing. It’s high impact. You live by Pareto’s principle, right? The 80 20 rule, so that you’re courageous in dropping the things that no longer serve you and focus on just that which you are the absolute best suited to do.

And that allows for spaciousness. It won’t always be spacious, but on the whole, if it is, That’s a viable, prosperous nonprofit. So 

[00:44:57] Stephanie Skryzowski: beautiful. I could not agree with that more. [00:45:00] And that’s like, that’s what I try to achieve in my business as well is spaciousness rather than continuously chasing the inbox, chasing the task list, um, really building space.

And that’s when I feel like I have my best ideas and do my best work. So I love that. Thank you so much, Meredith. I loved this conversation. Where can our listeners find out more about Learn grant writing about all the things? Where do we, where do we find. 

[00:45:28] Meredith Noble: All right. It’s going to be very easy. Learn grant

Love, so you can go to our website. I love that. Writing org. There’s a free grant writing class that’s a solid starting point for anyone that’s, even if you’ve been in this space for a while, I have a free budget template in there that I think is worth its weighting goals. Yeah, you would love that, right?

[00:45:47] Stephanie Skryzowski: Yes. 

[00:45:48] Meredith Noble: Starting point. Are you, YouTube channel is pretty bumping as well, and so yeah, I think that’s where 

[00:45:53] Stephanie Skryzowski: I would start. Awesome. Thank you so much. Well, I’m like, okay, I, I just typed learned grant writing into [00:46:00] Google, and obviously you were the number one result. I was like, well, that’s a brilliant business name, because that’s a very googleable term and there you’re right at the 

[00:46:07] Meredith Noble: top.

I know we keep thinking we need a real name, but we can’t figure one out, so we just keep going with the domain. 

[00:46:14] Stephanie Skryzowski: Yeah. I mean, to type a phrase into Google and you’re the first result, I think that’s a keeper. Amazing. Also awesome. Learn grant Definitely go check out Meredith and her team and their work if you are interested in learning grant writing.

Meredith, thank you so much for being here. 

[00:46:29] Meredith Noble: Thank you. All right. Talk to you later. 

[00:46:33] Stephanie Skryzowski: Before you go, I just wanna thank you for being here. To access our show notes and bonus content, visit 100 degrees That’s 100 degrees, and I’ll see you next time.