If you’ve worked on a grant proposal, you know there are a lot of moving parts. You need to collect information on your organization’s current and past projects, its financial history, and staff expertise. All this information, as well as background research on the funder, needs to be saved in a place that is easy to access and makes it easy to collaborate with others.
For larger organizations, Microsoft’s Sharepoint is often the resource of choice to save background research and serve as a collaborative workspace. SharePoint has a number of features that make it ideal for working on grant proposals. Using Sharepoint, you can store material in a variety of formats such as Word documents, PDFs, etc.; share calendars, task lists, and project timelines with colleagues; and allow multiple users to work on a document simultaneously.
The disadvantages of using SharePoint are that it is not intuitive to use and management of advanced features requires help of a trained SharePoint administrator. SharePoint is also not free. For small organizations, or organizations just starting out, SharePoint is probably not an option (and even if it is, it may not be the best option).
An option for information management for smaller organizations is Evernote.* In this post, we introduce Evernote, go over some of its key features and advantages, and present some ideas of how you might use Evernote for grant writing and proposal management. At the end of the post, you’ll find resources for learning more about Evernote's features.
What Is Evernote?
Evernote is a Cloud-based service that provides a space for individuals and organizations to store and share information. Unlike other popular Cloud-based storage services such as Dropbox or Microsoft's OneDrive, which store information in folders, Evernote uses a notebook concept. Information (e.g., a document, a picture, a receipt, or a business card) is stored in Evernote as a note. Related notes can be filed as part of a notebook, and related notebooks can be collected into notebook stacks. With its note—>notebook—>notebook stack structure, Evernote will feel familiar to most users because it mirrors how people tend to organize their paper files.
Although the note/notebook structure is a central feature of Evernote, Evernote is much more than a digital notebook. Through the ability to collaborate by sharing notes and notebooks—and create presentations from notes—Evernote can be your go-to tool for collaborating on projects and managing group task lists.
Setting Up an Evernote Account
Setting up an account with Evernote is easy and takes less than a minute. You can create an account using your email address or your Google account. After you establish your account, you can stay with the free basic account or opt for one of the paid subscriptions.
Here’s a breakdown of what you get with each Evernote subscription level (basic, plus, premium, or business).
If you’re not sure how much you'll use Evernote, it makes sense to begin with a free account. The one drawback of a free account is that you won’t have access to the features that make Evernote such a great tool, such as the ability to work offline or search for text in PDFs and Office documents. However, a free account is a good way to become familiar with the note/notebook structure, the layout of Evernote, its search capabilities, and note formatting options.
If you are interested in more guidance regarding which Evernote subscription level is right for you, the Evernote article “Which Evernote product is right for me?” is a good resource.
Getting Started with Evernote
The key to getting started with Evernote and understanding how it works is to add content to your Evernote account. Until you add content, from creating notes and checklists to uploading documents and images, the value of Evernote will not be evident and you’ll find yourself thinking, “I don’t get it!”
One easy way to start adding content to your Evernote account is to upload materials you’ve stored on your computer for future reference such as eBooks, web pages, recipes, etc. If you create an Evernote account and decide to wait to upload content, you may never use it. Instead, start moving content into Evernote as soon as you open your account. By moving content into Evernote immediately, not only will you have a compelling reason to keep visiting your account, but you’ll also learn Evernote’s features as you search for, and interact with, your stored content.
Another advantage of transferring content you've already filed on your computer is that it will be easier to visualize how to save the information to Evernote. The trick is to keep similar naming conventions as you move the content from one filing system to the next.
For example, if you have a folder on your desktop labeled “April Receipts" that contains multiple receipts saved as Word documents, you could create a note in Evernote titled “April Receipts" and attach the receipts to the note. In this example, the folder name carries over to the note name, and the individual receipts are stored as attachments to the note. If you wanted to create more layers to your filing system, you could create a notebook titled “Receipts” and store the April receipts note within this notebook. Another option would be to save each receipt as an individual note instead of attaching all of the receipts to a single note.
There’s no “right” way to file things on Evernote.
Regardless of how you do it, you’ll be able to find what you are looking for using Evernote’s powerful search feature. One caution regarding the attaching-many-things-to-a-single-note approach is that if you are using the basic (free) version of Evernote, you’ll need to monitor the size limits for individual notes. Under the basic plan, individual notes are limited to 25 MB.
Illustrating our example above, here's a short video showing how to move receipts from a desktop folder to Evernote:
There are numerous options for storing data in the Cloud and working collaboratively on projects, many of which could be used successfully for proposal development.
A tool we’ve discussed in the past, which can do similar things to Evernote, is Trello (see the post How to Use Trello for Grant Research and Writing). Trello is a great choice for managing projects, sharing tasks with colleagues, and is particularly well suited for projects with discrete steps. Trello’s virtual bulletin board design is also a good choice for people who like visual prompts of project stages.
Evernote is more content/search driven than Trello. Although its note/notebook structure creates the idea of a “virtual” notebook, it’s not essential to use notebooks in Evernote. What makes Evernote Evernote is its search capabilities.
Other reasons why Evernote stands out include:
- Free Basic Account: If you use Evernote regularly, you’ll want a paid subscription that offers more features and increased storage limits. In the meantime, Evernote’s free basic account is a great way to become familiar with Evernote’s interface and standard features.
- Offline Access: With the paid versions of Evernote, you can access your content offline. Having offline access is very useful if you live in areas that lack consistent internet access.
- Search Capability: Evernote has an amazing search function that removes the fear of losing something because you can’t remember how you filed it. With Evernote’s ability to search for words within PDFs and Office documents (a feature of the paid version), you’ll be able to find what you need simply by entering a word that appears anywhere in the note.
- Ability to Share: You can easily share notes and notebooks with others and allow them to view and/or edit the shared notes and notebooks.
- Save Everything: Evernote makes it easy to save everything, from web pages (see Evernote’s Web Clipper) to scanned documents, to notes created from your desktop or mobile phone. Many digital note-taking options allow you to generate bulleted lists. Where Evernote stands out is the ability to save and easily search attachments, documents, Excel files, etc. More than a digital note keeper, Evernote can serve as your digital file cabinet.
Using Evernote for Grant Writing and Proposal Management
Now that we’ve reviewed some of Evernote’s features and shown what it can do and how it does it, let’s talk about how to use Evernote for grant writing and proposal management. What follows is a high-level review to give you a sense of how Evernote could be used to facilitate the proposal process.
Before you can write a grant proposal, you need to do research. At the very beginning of the process—unless you already have a funder and specific call for proposals in mind—you’ll need to research different funding options. So you don’t forget what you’ve learned as you’ve researched funders, you'll want to have a system for saving what you discover. Your system could be as simple as using a Word document, or you may want to create an Excel-based table to track your research.
After you identify the opportunity you are going to apply to, your research will continue as you gather information in preparation for writing various sections of the grant application.
All of these pieces—research on donors, draft text, organizational history, etc.—can be saved to Evernote as separate notes or notes within a notebook.
As you prepare to respond to a proposal opportunity, your note/notebook structure in Evernote could look like this:
Notebook title: “Foundation XYZ_2018”
- Application Guidelines (attach screen shots or a PDF of the foundation’s guidance)
- Foundation Priorities (attach annual reports, web pages describing programs, etc.)
- Current grantees (attach a spreadsheet or type a bulleted list of current grant recipients)
- Organizational capability info (attach documents describing your organization’s relevant expertise)
- Staff Bios (attach, or type into the note, short bios of your organization’s key staff)
- Budget Info (attach documents required to support the budget application, such as your 501(c)(3) letter if your organization is based in the US)
- Proposal Calendar (you can create a proposal calendar in a note, allowing you to track key deadlines by week)
- Meeting Notes (you can create a standard agenda in a note, copying it each time you have a meeting)
- Templates (attach any templates you’ve created, such as CV templates)
Because Evernote is search driven, you don’t need to think too hard or long about what to attach to a note versus what to create as a separate note. You also don’t have to create a dedicated proposal notebook at all, although creating a notebook will make it easier to collaborate with others in your organization. You can easily share entire notebooks or single notes with colleagues (internal or external to your organization), giving them permission to view and edit the contents.
To streamline your processes, you might want to create templates to organize some of the information listed above. Templates in Evernote are a topic in and of themselves, but briefly, to create a template, all you need to do is create a note with the desired content (for example, a standard meeting agenda). To use the template, you simply copy the note and start entering the content. To see examples of templates, or to import free templates into your Evernote account, check out the template information on Evernote’s blog.
Evernote’s customizability is one of its greatest strengths. You can change note and notebook titles, you can reconfigure notes and notebook content, and you can create lots of notebooks and notes or consolidate information into just a few notes and notebooks. It’s up to you.
For grant writing and proposal management, the advantage of Evernote is that it gives you the flexibility to adapt your filing structure easily and quickly and as many times as you want. This level of flexibility is advantageous when you receive feedback that a note/notebook title is not intuitive and should be changed, or that a template needs tweaking. With other systems such as SharePoint, it can be a multi-step process to change file names. It can be even more cumbersome to change a file, which might require downloading a document, making the edits, and uploading it again (hoping all the while that everyone will know to retrieve the latest version). With Evernote, most of the changes can be done within the note itself, no downloading required, and anyone who has access to the note/notebook will have access to the updated versions.
Is Evernote for You?
If you currently do not use a Cloud-based system for storing proposal information, Evernote is worth trying. Regardless of the size of your organization--and even if you are a solo operation--you will benefit from being able to save information in the Cloud. Cloud-based storage allows you to access your information from any device (computer, tablet, phone) and from wherever you are. If you've ever lost a document because your computer has crashed, you know first-hand the benefits of having content stored in the Cloud!
Does Evernote do everything? No, it is not a word processing tool. You can take notes, but you cannot create a Word-document equivalent with Evernote. However, in the context of managing information as you build your proposal and manage task lists, Evernote fits the bill. In terms of affordability, Evernote is also hard to beat with a decent free version and $69.99/year for the premium version. In comparison, other storage options such as Dropbox are $99/year. If you try the free version of Evernote and don't like it, you can always move on to another system. However, if you do like Evernote, you'll have an affordable, flexible system that should meet your needs for years to come.
If you want to learn more about Evernote, a good place to start is Evernote's website. The website has useful articles and tutorials, including several interesting case studies of Evernote in action. You can also find video tutorials on Evernote’s YouTube channel.
In addition to Evernote, the YouTube channels below are a good resource for tutorials on Evernote’s features, capabilities, and benefits:
Another resource is the Skillshare course “The Complete Evernote Mastery Course - Become More Productive and Maximize Productivity,” taught by Matt Carano. To access this course, you must have a Skillshare membership. If you are not already a Skillshare member, you can receive two free months by signing up for Skillshare using this link: https://skl.sh/2J0ToMy).* *
* The Evernote link included in this post is an affiliate link. This means that if you decide to purchase a subscription to Evernote after clicking the link above, we'll earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you). You do not need a subscription to use Evernote, although we do recommend upgrading to a paid subscription if you want to rely on Evernote as one of your key organizational systems.
**If you use the Skillshare link, you will receive two free months of Skillshare, which will give you an opportunity to try it out and time to view the referenced Evernote course. You can cancel your subscription at the end of the two months without penalty. If you decide to subscribe to Skillshare, we will receive—at no additional cost to you—a free month of Skillshare.
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