The Power of a New Perspective: Building Clinic Capacity Through Grant Writing
Michaela Read is a member of the 2015-16 cohort serving with the CARE Clinic in Red Wing. Despite having little to no experience in grant writing prior to service, she has raised funds for her site in a big way. Read on to learn about her success and the advice she has for first-time grant writers.
1) What drew you to serve with CARE Clinic?
When it came time to look for jobs after college, I had a lot of hypothetical ideas in my head, but did not know exactly which direction I wanted to take. I had coffee with a professor last spring who suggested that I look into AmeriCorps VISTA. After doing so, I was pleasantly surprised that I could apply for positions based on my interests, which at the time included serving disadvantaged populations and working in public health. CARE Clinic seemed particularly interesting because of the breadth of services it offers to address overall health and well-being. In addition, I was excited about the opportunity to use my Spanish language skills out “in the real world.”
2) What is your role there?
My position works to build the clinic’s capacity primarily through fundraising activities, community outreach, volunteer coordination, and overall program support. Since the clinic is comprised of only a few part-time staff members, I have had the opportunity to work in all areas of the clinic, giving me experience in public health and nonprofit management in general. One of my main tasks this year has been to ensure that the clinic has a variety of funding sources. I quickly learned all about grants so that I could take over the role of grant writing.
I have also been very involved in CARE Clinic’s MNsure Navigation program. Despite the changes in the health care landscape due to the Affordable Care Act, many individuals face barriers to health insurance enrollment and affordability. I’ve been working to expand our MNsure navigation services so that they are open to the entire community and not just CARE Clinic patients. It has been really interesting to learn about the fine details involved in accessing health insurance and how we can connect patients with insurance so that they can receive the best continuity of care possible.
3) What was your experience with grant writing before starting service at the CARE Clinic?
Almost nothing! I wrote a very general grant for a study abroad organization I was involved with in college, but it was relatively informal. I essentially started at CARE Clinic not knowing anything about the important relationships between funders and grantees and how this translates into receiving grants. I am very lucky to have a knowledgeable and patient VISTA supervisor who continues to guide me through the whole grant writing process. Writing grants can sometimes be a game, and the strategy is different for every application.
4) The CARE Clinic recently received a $35,000 grant from the CVS Health Foundation to support wellness programming for low-income clients. What was your role with that?
I came across the grant with the CVS Health Foundation in a newsletter from the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (NAFC). Immediately after reading the foundation’s funding priorities, I knew that CARE Clinic could be a competitive applicant. This was a completely new funding source for CARE Clinic so I was starting from scratch. My supervisor let me take the lead this project, and I started where I always do—with a work plan. Constructing a solid work plan probably took more time than writing the narrative. It was important to me that the project had clear objectives and outcomes that I knew CARE Clinic would be able to easily measure and achieve. With limited grant writing experience, I also referenced a similar grant CARE Clinic had submitted in 2013 to help guide me. I really tried to keep a linear thought process when writing the narrative so the grant reviewers could understand how exactly we plan to accomplish our goal. CARE Clinic’s Finance Director worked with me to construct a budget for the project and since the goals of CVS and the NAFC aligned so well with CARE Clinic’s mission, writing the grant narrative came pretty naturally (having a work plan with concrete project goals and outcomes made this process much easier too). Upon submitting the grant, I felt pretty good about our application, but we were all still pleasantly surprised when we received an award notification back in December!
5) What will the CVS funds be used for? How will this grant money build capacity for CARE Clinic beyond your VISTA term?
Funding from the grant will be used to support the integration of wellness programming with primary care services in order to reduce uncontrolled chronic illness among the uninsured and low-income population in Goodhue County. A portion of this funding will ensure that CARE Clinic can continue to provide free health care and prescription assistance, but it is also helping to launch new programs to improve health literacy among our patients. The wellness aspects of this project utilize a “train the trainer” system so that volunteers can provide oral health and chronic disease education in collaboration with our primary care services.
6) What advice would you give first-time grant writers?
For someone who is writing a grant for the first time, I would recommend that they have a good grasp on what it means to create a (grant-funded) project in general. It is important that the project has a unique goal and creative strategies/activities to help achieve the project’s objectives. It is also important that the project is going to have an impact on the organization’s population and that there are effective tools in place to measure changes. Funders love to see data and how their money is going to leave a sustainable impact.
Also, this sounds so simple, but be sure to carefully read the grant requirements and application questions and then read them again. And keep referencing the application guidelines as you write so that you stay on the right track. The CVS Health Foundation held a webinar this winter and their biggest complaint was that unsuccessful applicants diverged from or did not properly answer the application questions. Lastly, let someone else who is familiar with grant writing edit the application. It can be discouraging to see your hard work critiqued, but it is important that someone outside of the organization can understand the project just as well as you do.
7) What are your plans beyond VISTA?
After my VISTA year ends, I will continue to work part time at CARE Clinic as their Development Director and potentially help coordinate the MNsure navigation program. Beyond that, I will start applying for a Masters in Public Health, although I still don’t know which track I would like to pursue. I have always disliked economics and public policy, but find that I am really passionate about navigating the health care system so that the U.S. will have a healthier society long-term. I am beyond grateful for the opportunities and guidance I have received this past year as a VISTA.