Sunday, February 12, 2006

Death of a Rhetorician

It would be easy to overlook the obituary for Norton J. Kiritz, which appeared in today's Los Angeles Times. Kiritz was an innovative writing teacher, but he worked outside academia, training nonprofit organizations in how to write successful grants. He was a veteran of President Johnson's war on poverty, who saw that many worthy causes were often unable to articulate the specfic reasons they merited particular types of funding and thus were often passed over in favor of splashier, better-connected projects. His no-nonsense bible for the nonprofit field, Program Planning and Proposal Writing, sold over a million copies and was even translated into Chinese. This book and most of his publications had cover prices under four dollars.

For three decades, Kiritz's approach was decidedly low-tech. Think three-ring binders, a rolodex, and index cards. It's not surprising that the no-frills website for his Grantsmanship Center is currently down. Nonethelss, Kiritz understood the importance of writing with a purpose, unlike many other writing gurus, and he spread that message widely as an agent of social change. His obituary explains the success of his bestselling book.

The heart of the document addresses the need to clearly state the reason for the grant proposal, what Kiritz called "the problem statement." It also outlines other requirements, including defining the goals of the proposed program and methods for attaining them, a plan for evaluating results, and projecting a budget.

Along the way it offers much practical advice, such as avoiding extravagant bindings or covers for the proposal, which Kiritz said could suggest a tendency to waste money.

He often used humor to make a point. On the question of how long a proposal should be, for instance, he wrote: "Just long enough for you to clearly communicate your message, but not long enough to produce a stupor." He implored grant writers to write in plain English and not "demonstrate your mastery of bureaucratese."

He also urged them to maintain a positive tone. "Writing for grant support is not like writing home from college for money," he wrote. "You don't have to apologize. You're an applicant, not a supplicant! Don't beg!"

These principles formed the bedrock of grantsmanship, which Kiritz simply defined as "never having to say you're broke."

How different this grassroots approach is from current trends toward Social Marketing!



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