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Episode 437: Libby Hikind. The Queen of Grants and Proposals

Episode Summary

In this episode, The Queen of Grants, Libby Hikind, joins us to unravel the unknown world of grants. Throughout our conversation, you’ll hear about Libby’s journey from grant writer to CEO and founder, her best tips to navigate the grants industry, and the thought process that helped her transition from grant writer to leader and public figure. Tune in to Episode 437 and discover the secrets to successful grant writing with The Queen of Grants, Libby Hikind. 

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. We’re broadcasting this particular podcast from New Orleans. We’re at the ATD conference and having a great time. Our guest, Libby, is in Florida. We have 15,000 people at this conference from all over the world, and so it’s perfect for this podcast because this goes all over the world. I’d like to tell you a little bit about our guest, and then we’ll introduce her. She is often referred to as the Queen of Grants, and she’s the founder and CEO of GrantWatch.com. It’s the leading grant funding search engine for nonprofits, businesses, and individuals, with more than 230,000 monthly visitors. She has been a trusted guest on TV news segments for outlets including Bloom TV and Lifestyle Today. She has been a guest on podcasts and radio shows, including ours. So, welcome Libby Hikind. Good to have you with us. So, before we get started today, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Libby, and then we’ll jump right into our interview. Libby has over three decades in education, grant writing, and entrepreneurship, and she is a leading figure in the grant world. Her expertise serves diverse sectors and nonprofits, as we mentioned before, leveraging technology in grant search. She holds a post-master’s degree in educational administration and supervision. Libby’s journey from New York City educator to CEO of a leading online grant search engine is really inspiring. Her book, The Queen of Grants: From Teacher to Grant Writer to CEO, showcases her dedication to grant writing. So, we’ll hear all about her. But, Libby, to get going today, tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that had a significant impact on you.

Libby Hikind: Well, there have been lots of twists and turns in my life. I started teaching at age 15, Sunday school and after school while I was in high school. I continued my education into elementary ed with a minor in Fine Arts. I was supposed to go to Pratt; I was accepted. In those days, it was like “teacher or nurse.” My father said to me. I’m very grateful because now I have a pension, and I was able to continue on because of his ruling in the house. But I didn’t go to Pratt, although I minored in Fine Arts. I can tell you that, as an elementary school student in sixth grade, we had Career Day. What I wanted to be was a commercial advertiser way back then. And today, I’m doing marketing besides GrantWatch. While we give you grants for nonprofits, small businesses, and individuals, there’s a lot of marketing that has to happen. I mean, Steve, you know that as well. Any business needs marketing. So, my desire to be a commercial advertiser is happening today, many, many decades later. As you said, there have been so many twists and turns. If we go back to my teaching, my special education class really needed to pass New York City exams and New York State exams. It was very difficult to teach them because of the behavioral issues. I wanted to take them into a computer room. We had one computer room in the school with Tandy Model 4s, which were those big clunkers in those days. I taught word processing—it didn’t exist. The computers didn’t have enough memory. Eventually, through going to the district office and them teaching me, I wrote my first grant—a grant to Tandy/Radio Shack, and we won one of four in the United States. Unreal. That was the beginning of my career as a grant writer, and it’s just gone on and on. Now, I don’t write grants anymore. I’ve retired from that because I’m running GrantWatch and GrantWriterTeam. I’m the host of GrantTalk, and I’ve just recently published a book on February 1, 2024. So, many twists and turns.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, I’ve got so many questions for you today. First of all, tell us about your book.

Libby Hikind: Well, here we go again. I’m holding it up for everybody. It’s got a little glare on it, so I’m twisting it so that you can see it: The Queen of Grants: From Teacher to Grant Writer to CEO. The beginning of the book takes you on my journey, and that’s how I began everything until today. It stops before I started GrantTalk, which will be the second book. I’ve already started writing that one. In this book, it answers every question you’ve ever wanted to know about grants. I took everything from the past 14 years and put it in the book. Then, I divided the book based on each different section of a grant, and I’ve modeled everything for you so that you can see what goes into each section. I’ve also shared my tips and tricks, which are PMF (Passion, Maps, and Folders.) I marked that all out for you. How to map a grant. It’s very important that everything from the beginning to the end—every piece of writing that goes in—aligns. Your needs, your goals, your objectives, your activities, your evaluation, your budget—everything has to be in line with each other. So, I go through all of that, and then at the end, I talk about AI a little bit, which will also be more in the next book.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, fun book! Sounds like it’s chock-full of really good information if you’re thinking about a grant.

Libby Hikind: And I write the way I speak, so it’s very easy reading.

Steve Shallenberger: For our listeners, we’re always so honored to have you with us today. The reason we have Libby with us is she’s one of the best anywhere in grant writing and knows this world. Some of you may have a project or some initiative that you think can bless people. Well, that’s the purpose of this podcast today: to give you some ideas. This is a great resource for us, and so we’ll enjoy this. So, first of all, what are some of your best lessons learned as a leader?

Libby Hikind: It’s empathy. It’s empathy and not falling into somebody else’s burden. You have to have that separation, but you have to feel for the people. If you fall in, you just can’t continue to lead because you’re so immersed in somebody else’s issue. So, I have to have empathy. I have to be able to point my people in the right direction on how to get help but not be part of their issues. And that’s very hard, yeah.

Steve Shallenberger: Once you understand somebody, then perhaps you can better provide work together and collaborate with them to find good ways forward. That’s leadership.

Libby Hikind: I looked at your book, so thank you for sending it to me. I find that at the beginning of the book, you’re really giving a values education to everyone on what it means to be a great leader. You have to be a model because you can’t say, “Do what I say, not what I do.” That’s important. We have a lot of things across different political spectrums, religious spectrums, and everything else, but the core value system that’s in somebody, that’s in their soul, is so important. That comes out in your leadership, and I thank you for including that in the initial part of the book. I think you probably build all your principles on that.

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, well, thank you. That’s a great insight. Those are two great tips for every single one of us: to remember to have empathy. I expect that applies in grant writing too, trying to reach out and sense the needs and interests of those providing the grant. Really, getting in their shoes puts us in a better place. I also love what you just pointed out, Libby, which is being really aware of timeless values and principles that we can all operate on that help us find confidence, and they work; they produce a good outcome. Well, thanks. That was kind of a spontaneous question. How have people responded to your book?

Libby Hikind: As of today, the book has been out since February 1, and today is May 21. We’ve sold 370 copies. Talking to other first-time writers and authors, I think it’s a great number. I’m not sure. What do you think, Steve?

Steve Shallenberger: I think it’s a great start, especially for grant writing. You have a little bit more of a narrow market there, so that kind of reception is lovely. I know I’m going to add to it because we are interested. I was just talking with Libby about this before we started—that we have some thoughts on what we can do to help people who are disadvantaged with leadership principles to help them create their own personal vision. They may not have had a traditional family setting where they could have a positive influence. Maybe they ended up in gangs or something else; they just got off track somehow. How would you approach that? Libby, how do you use your services and experience to look for opportunities to bless certain individuals and groups?

Libby Hikind: Over the years, I’ve taught at-risk children and at-risk youth, and I understand that the main problem is that they only see what’s in front of them. They don’t see the short-term and the long-term goals. There’s no planning. It’s “I take it because I want it,” not “there are consequences to your actions,” not “if I don’t take it and I think that I want it, I’m going to go earn money for it, and then I’ll be able to purchase it, and I’ll save some of my money for another day.” What you’re trying to do is really very helpful. If we can get youth to think in terms of goals, which I know is also in your book, that would be really helpful. We have 60 categories of grants on GrantWatch, and one of them is workforce training, and another is mental health. Then, we also have youth and at-risk youth. So there are grants out there for what you’re trying to do. Now, it could be that you might have to join another nonprofit organization because there may be a focus on what the grant is for. Hypothetically, a grant could be out there to teach youth to be bus drivers. Let’s just say that’s a grant. They need bus drivers. They need more transportation opportunities. Now, that’s not your thing, but your thing is workforce goals and value systems. If the grant is to teach something, some career goal or skill, they need you for retention because people join programs and then leave. So, you need to focus on retention. Even if you’re going to join with the university, retention is very important. They don’t want their freshmen not to make it to seniors; they need you, and that’s how you should look at it. Look at every grant: Can we do all of it? Are we eligible? Do we need a partner and form that partnership? I think you’ll have that because you outreach to so many nonprofit organizations with what you do. Just think that way.

Steve Shallenberger: That’s really great advice. If you don’t mind, inform me and our listeners about GrantWatch. How does it work? Is it a monthly subscription? How does that work exactly, and how would one find information about it and access it?

Libby Hikind: GrantWatch is a subscription-based website, and we have four price points: $18 a week, $45 a month, $90 a quarter, or $199, which is the absolute best value for an entire year. When you subscribe, you have access to everything. The first thing you’ll start with is your location because every grant has a geographic focus. Now, it could be the United States, international, Canada, Israel, or all over. It could be that, but it could also be local to your small community. So, you need to define your location in your search. The first thing is to pick your state or country and then start looking through the categories. We have multiple ways to search. You can also search by keyword or keyword phrase. Then, you’ll go through that and look at your eligibility to see if it’s for you. Another thing we have—and I don’t want to go on and on about it because I’ve worked so hard, so I keep talking about it—we have 990 reports. You can look at other foundations that have given grants for what you want to do, and then you can approach them with a letter of inquiry. So, you have multiple ways. We show currently available grants, and we’ve just added upcoming grants. If we know a grant is coming out but the guidelines are not finished, we will put that there for you as well so you can do some planning.

Steve Shallenberger: I love that answer. That’s very helpful. So, tell us about your Grant Talk show. It’s a podcast show, I believe you mentioned it earlier. Tell us about that.

Libby Hikind: Grant Talk is where I interview funding sources that give grants and grant recipients who have received grants they found on GrantWatch. I’m also going to start interviewing some B2B organizations to help the grant-seeking community. It’s very interesting. When you talk to a grant recipient, you find out what they’ve been doing to receive grants, their skills, their tips and tricks, and how they continue to communicate with the funding source so that they’re funded year after year. It’s just great. It’s like people who are just like you and I, and you think, “Oh, if he/she could apply for their organization, and look how much they received, I can do it too.” So, while my book says that, my book also tells you, “I did it. You can do it too. I wrote my first grant. Why not you?” You can hear that from other people. And when we talk to funding sources, we find out what’s behind that curtain. You submit the grant, and then what happens next? Everyone wants to know: is one person making the decision or 20 people? Are they going in the garbage? Did they already pick who they want to fund, and we just did this for nothing? It’s really interesting to hear from them. Even if we’re speaking to an organization in Wisconsin and you’re in Florida, and you think, “Well, they don’t fund where I live,” that’s not what’s important. What’s important is what goes on after a grant is submitted and how you can make your application better.

Steve Shallenberger: So, two questions that come to mind. One is, let’s say that you submit a grant and it’s not accepted. What would be your recommendation in terms of making contact with them and getting feedback? How could I improve?

Libby Hikind: Most funding sources say that they respond to that contact, so you can communicate with the funding source. When it comes to the federal government and state governments, you definitely are allowed, under freedom of information, to ask for your score on the grant. When it comes to private foundations and nonprofits, they do want to hear from you. Sometimes, it’s something very simple, and you can apply again next year. Sometimes, you did a great job, but they only had money to fund 10, and yours was number 11 on their list. So yes, apply again.

Steve Shallenberger: That’s good advice. How can we learn from our mistakes? Have you ever made a mistake in submitting a grant?

Libby Hikind: Oh yes, big time. My first mistake goes way back to the Commodore 64, which many of your listeners won’t know what we’re speaking about. It was my first grant, and I didn’t spell-check. That’s one mistake I made. I write about it in the book. Another mistake was I didn’t know to save my work. I crossed my legs under my desk and kicked out the plug. Twenty-three pages had to be rewritten. Those were big mistakes, but I won. That’s what’s important. I persevered. Another mistake was I left on vacation. I left the grant application with somebody to submit with exact directions. They didn’t follow them. They were also leaving on vacation, and so they were in a hurry. What happened was it was a federal grant, and I exceeded the 60 pages because the font was wrong, the margins were wrong, and my budget was left out because the federal government just cuts it. When you exceed the page limit, you’re done. Whatever else was there is not there. So, of course, there was no budget. I couldn’t win because I lost all those points. So I learned.

Steve Shallenberger: Thank you for sharing that. That’s what your book’s about. We can learn from your mistakes.

Libby Hikind: That’s why I wrote them. I’m a little embarrassed sometimes, but I really want people to learn from my mistakes.

Steve Shallenberger: What makes GrantWatch—you may have already talked about this—the number one grants website?

Libby Hikind: When you call GrantWatch, you get a human being who is knowledgeable in what we do. You’re not getting someone in another country. These are Americans who have read my book, have worked on the book with me, and have been with me for quite a while. They will point you in the right direction. Of course, if you call after hours, we will respond via email. We have a live chat, and that’s not a bot. So, please don’t walk away if somebody’s not answering and it’s between nine and six Eastern Time. Stick with it. It just means we’re a little busy because a lot of people call in. So, we have phone, chat, and email, and we work really hard to help people. That’s a main thing. Currently available grants also. If you’re looking on the web, you’re going to get stuck in a rabbit hole. Even some of our competitors, the grants have expired, and we don’t leave them there. We hit a button every day to archive the grants if they came due, and then we’ll bring them back when they’re available. We even say thank you to the good citizens who are on our website. Occasionally, they find something that we missed, and we actually reward them for letting us know.

Steve Shallenberger: Wonderful. Oh, that’s a good answer. What would be the most important advice that you have for someone preparing a grant?

Libby Hikind: Follow directions. Most important, follow them—cross every T, dot every I. Get your ducks in a row and read those questions carefully over and over again so that you’re really extracting what they are looking for. Just don’t go off on a tangent. Stay focused. Answer the question. Stay within the—sometimes there’s a character count, sometimes there’s a page limit, whatever it is. And check your eligibility. When you write a grant, it takes over the entire organization. During that time, everybody has to submit something to the grant application. You need to go to your CPA for information. You have to go to your program director. Sometimes, you have to go to your parents, subscribers, or participants. You have to get surveys from them. You have a lot of work to do. I don’t want to chase people away from writing grants. Sometimes a grant is as simple as a one-page fill-in on the web. It could be that easy. Sometimes a grant is 100 pages with another 100 pages of appendices. So, you have to look at it and say, “Are we really and truly eligible?” And if you’re not, and you can’t partner with someone to make yourself eligible, pass on it, even if it’s a lot of money. It’s not worth the time and effort.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that is fantastic advice. I bet my listeners would love to just sit in a room with you, Libby, and pick your brain. I’ve tried to ask some questions that might give us a feel for things. Any final tips that you would have for our listeners?

Libby Hikind: Stay focused, stay organized, and watch the deadlines. If there’s not enough time in your life to complete an application, don’t start that one. Go to the next one because grants take a while, and there’s a lot of thought that goes into it. So stay focused and organized. Keep a calendar. We actually have a grants calendar on GrantWatch so that you can pace yourself. You might want to say, “In two weeks, I want to have my first draft completed.” You could put that in your calendar. “In three weeks, I want to have everybody on the board review it.” Set yourself these short-term goals because the long-term goal is to submit, and to submit early. Sometimes money runs out. That can happen as well. It happened during COVID. During COVID, the grants were there, and the money ran out very quickly, and then new grants came out. But if you didn’t apply right away, you just didn’t get it.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, tell our listeners how they can learn about what you’re doing. Libby, this has been so fun today. I’ve loved it.

Libby Hikind: Well, the first thing is GrantWatch.com. Just go there, log in, create a user and password, and you’ll get emails from us. When you’re ready, you can subscribe and pay a subscription fee. You don’t have to right away; you’ll just get our emails. There are a lot of them because we send out grants, and we have grant news on GrantWatch, so you’ll find wonderful articles that will point you in the right direction. If you go onto YouTube, you can find GrantWatch, and you can subscribe. Every week, we try to drop at least one video where we’ve spoken to either a funding source, a funder, or a grant recipient, and you’ll be able to watch that as well. There are a lot of tutorial videos there that’ll help you. On GrantWatch, one of the drop-downs says testimonials. I think it’s in the “About” section. You can listen to other people talk about how GrantWatch has helped them, so you’ll know we’re legit, we’re real, and we’re out there, and we’re helping everyone. Oh, one other thing—the book. It’s on Amazon.com. That’s where you’ll find it.

Steve Shallenberger: The Queen of Grants. There we have it. Well, we wish you the best in what you’re doing. You’re actually blessing a lot of people by sharing your experience and sharing some of the keys of the most important things you’ve learned. That’ll help them avoid mistakes and help them try to do good in the world and leave the world a better place because there are people willing to help; there are funds set aside for good purposes. So, congratulations. Keep up the good work, Libby.

Libby Hikind: Thank you very much. And you too, Steve. I think that giving core values to people who missed out on them is a great thing.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you. To our listeners, thanks for joining in today. I hope that you picked up some ideas that can be helpful. I know I have, and I look forward to learning more and going on to your site. I want to subscribe. I think we can use it. I think the perspective it will give will be helpful for us. I’ll look forward to your book. We wish you the best, Libby, and thanks again. 

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best

CEO, Executive, Corporate Trainer, Entrepreneur, and Community Leader

Libby Hikind

CEO and Founder of GrantWatch

CEO and Founder of GrantWatch, Best-selling Author, Podcaster

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