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5 Steps to Apply for a Grant

5 Steps to Apply for Grant Funding for Online Community Builders

At the end of May, a business consultant forwarded me information on a grant and recommended that I should submit a proposal. 

The Cumberland County Recovery Grant application deadline had been extended to July 1st and so I thought I’d at least do some basic research on grant writing and think about how I could use my experience building online communities to support my local community in Pennsylvania. 

After identifying the concept of establishing a hub to serve 250,000 residents with mental health support groups led by certified and trained facilitators, I put together the basic project scope of work.

In a matter of two weeks, I connected with local community leaders, including one of the Cumberland County Commissioners, Jean Foschi, who gave her time to listen to my thoughts on the need for an online mental health support community. 

About the project

The grant application was written to apply under the Mental and Physical Health designation which aims to offer funds for projects that provide support to underserved populations and overcome the negative impact of COVID-19. 

The goal of this project is to create the Cumberland County Community Online Hub (CCCOH), an online mental health hub for all county residents (children and adults) featuring certified facilitators and access to virtual mental health group counseling in order to decrease suicides by 50 percent by 2025.  

The project will be coordinated through an existing organization(s) (yet to be identified) that will provide oversight through a board of directors. The CCCOH is expected to be open before September 2023 to serve the residents of the county.

The 5 Steps to writing and submitting a grant proposal

I’ll share a few steps I took to apply for this grant, which will not be awarded for a few months, so I can’t say that this is a “winning” strategy yet, but I’ll let you know. 

Step 1: Do research

It may seem obvious, but I didn’t know what services already existed in Cumberland County for the residents in regard to mental health. The county has a website that offers links to different public services and resources for residents and I sorted through these to find organizations that could be providers. 

A simple google search of “How to write a grant proposal” will yield lots of results, but I found this simple 2-hour course that I purchased which provided me with some key tips on grant writing. It was affordable and helped me gain a better understanding of the process. 

Here are a few key takeaways from the course: 

  • Align Your Needs with the Funder – Who directly can I serve

  • Treat funders as partners – They want to work with partners to implement the goals of the grant funds and how they will be used. 

  • Pay Attention to Funder Instructions – Read and provide the details needed 

  • Be Concise – Less is better, be very clear and to the point on the context and content

  • Avoid Jargon or Acronyms – Don’t assume, the same reading level as the local newspaper, define terms if needing to use them 

  • Balance the Head and Heart – Data and Case Studies (stories) 

  • Stay positive – Give potential and optimism with the stories and give good reasons for the funding so that the proposal will be received well 

  • Don’t Procrastinate – Do drafts, review, update, and do the research – Follow directions and have others review it 

  • Embrace change – Technology, society, or trends that change over time to adjust the messages, and processes 

Step 2: Build relationships

I started to reach out to people, through phone calls to the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation (CAEDC) and started to build relationships with members of the local Carlisle Chamber of Commerce, the West Shore Chamber of Commerce, and the Mechanicsburg Chamber of Commerce. In addition, I reached out to friends and colleagues who may be able to connect me with mental health providers, or community leaders. 

I asked for help since I had less than two weeks to find mental health providers to partner with for this project, I worked on identifying key leaders who could send me to otherwise hard-to-reach people that don’t know me, but with a “referral” I found it was so much easier to jump on a phone call with people. 

Step 3: Putting together a grant that is concise

On my first draft of the grant, I had 10 pages of resources, links, project work scope descriptions, lots of statistics, and case studies. 

After I worked with a few friends and family, I was able to narrow my proposal to concise, direct answers to the grant application questions. 

My best tip for this process is to make sure to keep things short and to the point. After getting so much data and information, I was able to sift through it and find a way to express the project goals, milestones, and reasons for which the project is needed. 

Step 4: Validating the idea with others

Through this process, I kept questioning myself if this community was really going to be of use to the residents of the county and if I was the right person to implement it. After talking with my business coach, another consultant, and some friends, I realized that it was an idea that others found interesting and that I personally was a good fit for this project, having had my own personal experiences with mental health illness and the fact that I’ve already done a similar project like the one I’m proposing. 

A study published by Springer Nature in February of 2022 found that online peer support communities positively benefit those suffering from mental health challenges and a public interested in evidence-based interventions. The findings support the research that supports online communities can play a key role in helping to better meet the needs of people living with mental illness. 

As the creator of Find Calm Here, LLC, (women-owned) I’m committed to partnering with a local mental health provider(s) to create an online community hub for Cumberland County residents (adults and children) to virtually connect with counselors, group facilitators, and resources to support them in dealing with mental, physical or emotional challenges. 

The Cumberland County Community Online Hub (CCCOH) will offer access to online mental health support groups with certified facilitators to decrease suicides by 50 percent by 2025 at no cost to the community members who use this service. The grant funding would provide training and support for building this online platform for future use to be overseen by a mental health provider(s).  

As a consultant in this space since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve created online communities for businesses, and recently a county in Colorado (Clear Creek County Hub) using CARES Act Grant funding. I became concerned about the increased suicide rate in our county, and I believe that a well-crafted online community with a focus on mental health would provide maximum benefit and impact to overcome the negative mental health impact of COVID-19. 

Step 5: Knowing the process is half the battle

At the beginning of this project, I had no idea how to write a grant proposal, or what that even looked like. I was unsure how I could serve the community with my abilities and experience, and I didn’t know anyone in my community because I’d moved to Cumberland County 7 months ago. 

Now that I’ve submitted my application, it’s time to wait and see how everything pans out, but no matter the result, getting the grant funds or not, I know that the process helped me get past my fears around applying for a grant and allowed me to meet members of the community whom I might not have met otherwise. 

What I’ve learned

Regardless of the outcome, I’ve gained experience, and that will allow me to help others when clients look to me for support in this area. The online community space is growing very fast. I’ve been leading a group of Community Consultants for almost a year, who are working to support business owners, organizations, non-profits, and large enterprise companies in building online communities to connect clients, customers, prospects, readers, podcast listeners, and fellow creatives who are ready to connect with others virtually. 

I expect that this service, writing grants for online community building, will become more widely known and needed in the future as we learn more about connecting virtually off of social media and in more intentional ways to communicate, educate, and inspire each other. 

Additional information

For more information about my project, see below for answers to the grant application questions 

Projected schedule and key milestone dates and project readiness*

With its current experience, Find Calm Here LLC is prepared to begin as soon as funds are awarded and anticipates the start-up phase outlined in the steps below to be completed within one year. 

Key milestones (Year 1) 

  1. Validation of services needed by residents through 1:1  interviews and surveys

  2. A town hall meeting to inform the residents and to get their input, answer questions 

  3. A board of directors established that will provide oversight to the CCCOH 

  4. Identify local partners to collect existing content, resources, and educational materials

  5. Consultations for community strategy, structure, building, marketing, research  

  6. Platform designer, web developer, graphic designer, allocating materials 

  7. Building an online community, training facilitators, establishing guidelines 

  8. Ensure project sustainability and establish ongoing support through hiring a community manager 

  9. Provide training and support for a community manager 

How will this project be sustained or maintained after the grant is expended?A board of directors would identify the resources needed and raise funds to continue to build, launch, and maintain the online community for future generations 

Please describe how this project benefits underserved populations?*

According to the American Community Survey, the number of children in poverty in Cumberland County has increased from 6 percent in 2002 to almost 10 percent in 2020. In addition, the county has 1 mental health provider for 460 residents of the county.  

The Cumberland County Community Online Hub is a FREE online community that brings together all county residents no matter their financial situation and will offer support for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, through online community initiatives targeted at underserved residents who are financially insecure and at risk for mental challenges during COVID-19. 

How will this project help to limit the spread of COVID-19 or assist in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic?

This virtual space will be a safe place to connect with local certified facilitators from the comfort of their own homes for free to be accessible to all, no matter their financial situation. 


Deb Schell is the Creator of Find Calm Here LLC — As a community strategist, she helps entrepreneurs and executives find calm in building, launching, and growing paid online communities. Deb’s combined experience as a journalist, copywriter, photographer, artist, and sales professional align to offer clients a streamlined experience that is fun! Inside the Find Calm Here Community, she brings together community-builders who feel overwhelmed and offers tools, support, and accountability.  As the Host of The Community Strategy Podcast, Deb shares conversations she has with community-builders who share how they’ve found calm in the process of building, launching, and growing their online paid communities. 

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It can be difficult to have a desire to want to lead an online community but not have any idea on how to structure it in alignment with your own goals, needs, and lifestyle. 

On Friday, August 12th at 12 PM Eastern, Join the Find Calm Here Community for a LIVE Interview with Allegra Stein, YouMap® Certified Coach, who leads Misfits to Maverick, an online mentorship community for coaches who want to start taking simple, creative, and transformative steps forward in their coaching practice.  Learn More

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