North Lawndale is getting a facelift with help from several not-for-profits, but what if a low-income community doesn’t have the knowledge to apply for the appropriate loans and grants? Affordable consulting businesses are guiding community members through the process.

Davis Consulting Services was recently honored by Harris Bank and the North Lawndale Community News as North Lawn dale’s small business of the month for May. The service offers grant-writing assistance, non-profit startup help and business plan support, among other services. Since its April 1 opening, founder Natalie Davis has already received 16 clients and she said the community will reap the benefits.

“They don’t have the know-how but they know they need the funding,” Davis said. “For a novice who has never written a proposal before your chances of having a proposal that would get funding is slim.”

Community members largely support the revitalization in North Lawndale because of the neighborhood’s commitment to redevelopment without displacing area residents. Davis said not-for-profits and neighborhood organizations are a driving force in North Lawndale.

Community members and organizations, however, may only get a fraction of the return from city grants, she noted.

“You may have a school that only gets $100 but Chicago Public Schools get $12 million,” Davis said. “When the city gets [grant] money, they select and categorize the way they want the money to be funded.”

Hope House is a not-for profit organization run by House of Prayer Church of God in Christ that provides interim housing and homeless shelters for North Lawndale residents. After losing a 10-year city grant because of a sloppy proposal, Hope House now puts its trust in professional grant writers like Davis to ensure grant approval.

“The city told us that they were closing out shelters from the 10-year grant but they later told us that we didn’t get approved because the proposal wasn’t right,” said Clarola L. Scott, executive director of Hope House. “It’s very important because we’re trying to build our community to revive jobs for the residents.”

According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the most common mistake that organizations make when writing grants is unclear and unintelligible writing.

“It takes time; you have to know the right lingo; the right terminology,” Scott said.

The Steans Family Foundation is a private organization that provided more than $2.5 million in grants in 2005 to redeveloping the North Lawndale community, according to its ’05 annual report.

The foundation also provides grant-writing consultation to grantees and workshops for area residents.

“We want to increase their capacity to get more funding from other sources,” said Wendy Harvell, the grant foundation’s associate manager.

Harvell said unsolicited requests are the biggest mistake that organizations make when sending proposals, but the foundation takes all proposals into consideration regardless of who wrote them.

“As long as they have the simple tools needed to write a proposal and their purpose matches our goals, most likely we will work with them.” Harvell said. “I think what makes a good proposal is to have all the components of whatever foundation your working with.”

Top 10 grant writing mistakes

The estimated costs for the proposal are inaccurate, incorrect or inflated.

The proposal contains typographical and grammatical errors.

The proposed budget doesn't match the narrative or there are costs in the budget that are not mentioned or explained in the narrative.

The objectives are too vague and open to individual interpretation.

The proposal was hastily assembled.

The proposal is filled with jargon and acronyms.

The proposal is full of buzzwords and clichés.

The writer ignores instructions.

The proposal doesn't match the funder's objectives.

Courtesy of the National Association of Elementary School Principals