PSE Simplified: Determining if your project is a PSE change or program

PSE Simplified: Determining if your project is a PSE change or program

Wholespire provides grant opportunities to communities across South Carolina for implementing a policy, system or environmental (PSE) change project. It’s a concept that can be challenging to explain and understand. To prepare you for any upcoming grant opportunities from Wholespire, we want to help you determine if your project is a PSE change or a program. We also want to help you save time before applying for a grant that will not get funded because it is considered to be a program.

What is a Program?

Programs typically occur over a short period of time and only focus on individual behavior change. They are often considered health education rather than community health improvement. Hospitals and health centers often provide programs that teach people living with chronic diseases how to manage their condition through diet and exercise.

What is PSE Change?

Policy, systems and environmental change make healthier choices more practical and readily available to all members of a community and influence community health and well-being. They are often part of an ongoing project or plan. PSE change reaches more people and leads to more impactful, long-term changes in community health.

Characteristics of PSE and Programs

PSE Change + Programs = Greater Success

Wholespire focuses on whole community health through PSE change, while other organizations focus on individual behavior change through programs. We support the use of programs to reach individuals because programs and PSE change complement each other and can lead to even greater success than a stand-alone program.

Scenario 1: One-time Event

A municipality receives a Wholespire mini-grant to create a paved walking trail in a local park. They host a ribbon-cutting ceremony on opening day that features exhibitors offering health education information and giveaways for community members. The one-time event is a tactic to get community members to the new trail.

Scenario 2: Traditional Program

A community health needs assessment shows eating fruits and vegetables is important to community members, and they don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables because they don’t know how to prepare and cook with them. The local health coalition chooses to host a free Cooking Matters program to teach individuals how to cook with fresh produce. To supplement the classes, the coalition partners with the local community garden. Garden organizers donate produce from the garden for the cooking demonstrations and give free produce boxes to participants.

Decoding Jargon: 6 essential Wholespire terms to know

Decoding Jargon: 6 essential Wholespire terms to know

Have you ever left a meeting thinking, ‘I have no idea what they said’? Maybe you started working on your grant final report and don’t understand what’s being asked. That’s probably because of jargon—language used by people within a particular profession, culture, or social group.

When we work in complex fields, we revert to jargon because that’s what we know. We’ve trained our brains to use words associated with our work. At Wholespire, we understand that the people we are in contact with come from different backgrounds. We are continuously attempting to change the language we use. We want to explain some of them because, in addition to jargon, some of our words mean something different in other environments.

1. Technical Assistance

When the average person hears this word, they might think computer help, but that’s far from what we mean. Technical assistance (TA) is a non-financial form of help like connecting coalitions to funding sources, sharing information, providing training, consulting on projects and leadership coaching. Read more about technical assistance on our blog.

2. Community

We use this word in its traditional sense. A community is a group of people with a shared geographic location. It also means a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. When Wholespire talks about community, we often mean the town, city or county as a whole, but there are times when we are addressing other types of communities, like:

  • Schools,
  • Religious centers,
  • People with disabilities,
  • Early child care centers, and
  • Worksites.

3. Community Engagement, Youth Engagement

Community and youth engagement means involving community members and youth in the decision-making, planning, and evaluation of projects. It’s getting their input, perspectives and active participation to make sure that projects and policies are relevant, effective, and have long-term solutions. It often leads to an increased sense of community, empowerment, and inclusion.

4. Sustainable, Sustainability

When we provide technical assistance or open a grant application, we often ask if the project or idea is sustainable. We ask this because we want to invest in policy, systems and environmental change projects that are continual over a long time. It’s important to think about how the completed project will be maintained and who will be responsible for keeping it in safe, working order. Here are three examples of sustainability:

  • For a community garden, sustainability means creating a plan for who will pull weeds, harvest vegetables and prepare the beds for the next season.
  • For a park, sustainability could be what organization is responsible for keeping the grass mowed and the equipment safe to use.
  • For a trail, sustainability includes a plan for keeping the trail cleared of brush, fallen limbs and litter.

5. Leverage, Leveraging

Here’s another jargony word that can leave you guessing: leverage. In finance, it means something completely different. At Wholespire, leverage means using something you already have to achieve something new or better. On our grant final report, we ask, “How did you leverage this grant?” We want to know how you were able to make the project happen after you received funds from Wholespire.

We also ask this question to find out if the mini-grant had an impact that was above and beyond the initial project. Did a recipient of a grant, for instance, use donations to expand from one garden to three? Alternatively, it’s possible that the city noticed a park improvement and offered to update another park. There are many ways you can leverage your project:

  • In-kind donations are contributions of goods or services, other than money. This can be volunteers, employers lending employees on the clock, heavy equipment use, or dirt. Yes, dirt!  
  • Funding from other sources is a great way to supplement your budget. Apply for other grants, conduct a fundraiser, ask for donations or host a silent auction.
  • Leverage your existing partnerships. Leaning on partners is a great way to share information, learn from each other and accomplish goals together. Plus, partnerships can lead to additional funding opportunities.
  • Social media marketing can help raise awareness about your project, get the community involved, and collect donations. Social media also contributes to community or youth engagement because you’re reaching parts of the population that you may not have touched in newsletters and other forms of communication.

6. Implement, Implementation

Implementation is more than just completing the physical work of making your project happen. It’s the process of turning your project plan into a reality by following the action plan and making sure it’s successfully completed. Key components of implementation include:

  • Making sure the funding, personnel, equipment and materials are available,
  • Coordinating and organizing volunteers,
  • Monitoring and tracking progress,
  • Making adjustments to keep the project on schedule,
  • Communicating progress and challenges with the funder and partners,
  • Reviewing the process to identify lessons learned for future projects , and
  • Promoting the completed project to the community.

Leveraging the community for 20 tons of dirt

In 2021, Wholespire funded GoForth Recovery in Spartanburg for a basketball court project. Initially, the plan called for clearing enough land for the basketball court, but the vision soon grew to clear an entire lot to make room for future additions. The mini-grant only funded about half of the total project cost, so the executive director needed to secure full funding. News of the project reached various community members, businesses, partners, and associates. As the challenge was being faced, the old courthouse in Spartanburg was being demolished. Upon hearing about the need, officials donated the extra dirt. Project organizers estimated that 30 truckloads were delivered at no cost to them.

Tips to consider when writing a Wholespire grant proposal 

Tips to consider when writing a Wholespire grant proposal 

Funding your organization’s mission isn’t always easy, especially for non-profits. A lack of direct income means you often have to rely on external funding sources to support your work. This is a good opportunity where grants can help.

While working with a grant writer can help boost your chances of an application being funded, it isn’t always possible and organizations must then rely on their own staff. While grant writing is multifaceted, it’s very much a learnable skill. When people ask me to explain what I do as a grant writer, I’ve often replied that it isn’t rocket science, but organization and attention to detail are critical.

When people ask me to explain what I do as a grant writer, I’ve often replied that it isn’t rocket science, but organization and attention to detail are critical.

If you don’t have a lot of experience in developing grant proposals, here are a few tips to help your application stand out to reviewers:

Follow any formatting instructions provided on the application.

Pay attention to formatting specifications: Does the application ask you to use a certain font or to only submit as a PDF or Word document? Is the narrative (or any other section) supposed to be in paragraph style or bullet points? Is there a word count or other size limitation to your answers? Write as briefly and concisely as you can, and only give the information the application is requesting.

Describe your project in detail.

Arguably the most important part of a grant application is the project description. Ensure that you have narrowed your focus and that your project aligns with the mission of the funder. Projects that are too broad in scope will often not be funded because there either isn’t adequate time or money to successfully complete the project. Here are some things to consider when writing your project narrative:

  • Why is the proposed project needed? What problem or opportunity will you address? Statistics and solid numbers will help enhance your proposal even more.
  • How will you accomplish the proposed activities and objectives?
  • Who will the project benefit? Be as specific with numbers and characteristics as you can, particularly if your project will serve disadvantaged groups such as low- to moderate-income, minorities, at-risk youth, or people with special needs.
  • Is your proposed project part of a larger project? Many grants are used to move along or complete a larger project. Funders like knowing they are playing a part in a greater effort, but be specific in what phase of the project these particular grant funds will go toward.

Offer relevant background information.

Sticking to a 300-word limit project summary while also being specific is not a simple task. Other sections in the application, such as asking for information on your organization’s mission and activities, are where you can fill in the gaps and expand on details from the project summary. Here are some examples of helpful information to include:

  • Demographics of the community being served.
  • Project outcomes: how the proposed project will benefit the community or audience of focus and how you will measure your success.
  • Sustainability: how will the project continue beyond the grant cycle?
  • If applicable, a description of the larger project and what stage you are in. 

Develop an accurate budget.

Most grants will maintain a maximum amount you can request in funding. Always make sure your budget falls at or below this number (unless you intend to fund the rest, which should be noted with a funds-commitment letter from the head of your organization). When putting together a cost estimate, it’s always better to have line items provided by a professional contractor, online pricing, or other verified means rather than figures you have assumed yourself.

Sometimes a funder may want to see your previous fiscal year’s organizational budget or bank statements to ensure you are operating at a profit and will have some available funds to continue your project. Be sure to include this information if requested.

Define community engagement efforts.

Community support of a project reinforces that a need exists within your area. Explain how input from your community led you to focus on this particular issue. This is also an appropriate section to describe key partnerships. What organizations and groups are you collaborating with, both by way of financial support and in-kind or volunteer efforts? How do you leverage other resources in the community?

Most community coalitions conduct community health needs assessments to determine what’s important to community members and what they need most to lead a healthy lifestyle. Specifically for Wholespire’s mini-grants, use this information to prioritize policy, systems, or environmental projects and include it in the grant proposal.

Often times, your local government may also have administered a community needs assessment that you can request. If, however, an applicant does not have a needs assessment to rely on for direction, there are other ways to evaluate the community’s opinions and needs. Online surveys and community meetings are easy and low-cost alternatives.

Make sure to proofread!

Don’t let spelling and grammatical errors take away from an otherwise strong grant proposal. These types of careless oversights can lead to a reduction in scoring. Make sure to take advantage of spelling and grammar check tools before submitting your proposal.

It’s also a good idea to ask someone else to help you proofread your application. You’ve read through the application many times, so you may inadvertently skip over some errors or not have provided enough detail in a certain section. A second set of eyes could catch something you haven’t and can offer feedback to any clarifications needed.

Wholespire’s mini-grants (and non-profit or foundation grants in general) are very competitive, so give yourself enough time to write a quality application.

Wholespire’s mini-grants (and non-profit or foundation grants in general) are very competitive, so give yourself enough time to write a quality application. Reviewers can tell how much effort you put into your application and the proposed project by the information you submit. Allow yourself the time needed to submit your application prior to the due date.

Adrienne Patrick is the Director of Development at MPA Strategies, a statewide marketing and public relations firm. She is a certified Grant Writer and has successfully secured over $3 million in funding for MPA client projects including local infrastructure, non-profit programming, city planning, and community parks. Adrienne has years of experience in event planning and fundraising for both non-profits and political candidates, including serving as Governor David Beasley's Finance Director for his United States Senate Campaign. She is a journalism graduate of the University of Georgia.

Adrienne Patrick is the Director of Development at MPA Strategies, a statewide marketing and public relations firm. She is a certified Grant Writer and has successfully secured over $3 million in funding for MPA client projects including local infrastructure, non-profit programming, city planning, and community parks. Adrienne has years of experience in event planning and fundraising for both non-profits and political candidates, including serving as Governor David Beasley’s Finance Director for his United States Senate Campaign. She is a journalism graduate of the University of Georgia.

Making a Difference by Getting Involved in Community Initiatives

Making a Difference by Getting Involved in Community Initiatives

It’s safe to say that most of us would like to see some sort of change in our communities and the world at large, but maybe most of us don’t know how to make that change happen.

While community betterment work may seem daunting, who will do it if you and your neighbors don’t? Plus, making a change where you live is one of the most fulfilling things any person can do.

There is a famous quote about change. Margaret Mead reminds us to “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

If you’re looking to make a difference and create change in your community, read on for some inspiring ideas.

The Best Ways to Give Back

There are many ways for you to give back to your community and help to improve it, and all of them involve one or more of the following three things: Time, effort, and generosity.

Whichever you feel you have or can give the most of, start there. For example, if you’re able to, donate money or resources to a local charitable cause. If you have extra time on your hands, get involved in grassroots advocacy or volunteer your time to help influence policy and create systemic change. Below are some more ideas for getting active in your community.

Youth Engagement Programs

Perhaps the best way to create positive change in your community is by reaching out to its youngest members and offering your knowledge, skills, and experience. If you can influence the youth of your community, you can influence the future of your community.

Community Health Initiatives

Nutrition and physical health have a direct impact on mental and emotional health. The consequences affect all the individuals in your community as well as your community as a whole. Seek better community funding for health initiatives, engage in food insecurity advocacy, or advocate for better community training. These are just three examples of how you can address systemic issues in your community and help make a difference.

Community Celebrations

Few things bring people closer together than tradition and celebration. If you can help organize a celebratory event for your community, you may open the door for more serious work to get done.

No one way of giving back to your community is necessarily greater or more effective than another. What’s important is that whatever you choose to do speaks to you.

The Ripple Effect of Trying to Make a Difference

When you take the time to engage with your community and make a difference, you inspire other people to do the same. Those people will then aim to “pay it forward” and make a difference themselves, and so on and so forth.

You may only be one person with limited time and resources, but the ripple effect of the good you do will reach far beyond yourself. Start that ripple effect today and get involved in community initiatives.

If you’re ready to get involved, contact us today and we can connect you with a community leader!

Why do we use the mini-grant model?

Why do we use the mini-grant model?

Depending on how long you’ve been keeping up with Wholespire, you may be aware that we award mini-grants to community coalitions and organizations periodically. Our application process is competitive, meaning we weigh various health outcomes, population, and demographic data to help determine the most need. However, what you may not know is why we offer mini-grants, rather than large chunks of money. In this post, we’ll explain the history of our mini-grants and the reason we use this model.

What is the Mini-Grant Model?

Mini-grants are grant awards that are relatively small amounts of money and typically have short implementation periods.

Since 2018, Wholespire has been offering mini-grants of up to $5,000 to community coalitions, schools, local government, faith-based groups, and other non-profit organizations. These mini-grants can be used to implement a policy, systems, or environmental change that addresses healthy eating and/or active living. To date, 45 mini-grants have been awarded for projects like:

  • Add signage to an existing walking loop,
  • Add fitness stations to parks,
  • Create community gardens,
  • Include bilingual signage at farmers’ markets, and
  • Start new HYPE teams to lead civic action projects similar to the ones just listed.

Why Wholespire Adopted the Mini-Grant Model

Before 2018, Wholespire awarded large grants with a longer implementation period to help a small number of communities work on multiple improvement projects. Our hope was there would be a greater health impact. But that didn’t happen with all of the communities we funded.

Some communities experienced challenges, while others didn’t. Receiving a large amount of money can be overwhelming. It isn’t always easy to choose how to spend the money and what areas to tackle first. Sometimes it’s difficult to reach a consensus, while other times, you get so bogged down in a couple of strategies that the other strategies and the money get lost.

After evaluating these instances, Wholespire noticed that even when coalitions have large amounts of grant funding, they tend to spend their money in smaller increments like $5-$10,000 rather than spending large amounts of money at one time. We concluded that change needed to happen. We needed to look internally and adopt a different approach to grantmaking. So, we began using the mini-grant model to help grantees manage their awards better.

Successes Related to the Mini-Grant Model

We found that the smaller mini-grant investments led to a domino effect of momentum in communities. Oftentimes, the mini-grants led to investments by community partners as well as in-kind donations. Adopting this model meant we would be able to give more coalitions and organizations the opportunity to apply for these small grants.

In addition to being able to reach more coalitions, it gives community coalitions and organizations a chance to implement a project without the burden of managing large amounts of funding or committing to a long period of time. Coalitions can organize and work on community action plans without the time constraints of a grant and then apply for a mini-grant when they are ready to carry out their plan of action.

why the mini-grant model works

Our experiences have shown that many community coalitions and organizations are looking for a few hundred dollars to complete a project that fits our mission, while others need seed money to get a project moving. Wholespire provides funding opportunities, when available, for not only these reasons but ultimately to reduce health disparities, improve health equity, and increase access to healthy choices.

Are you interested in learning more about our funding opportunities? Visit the Community Action page on our website or contact us.

What is Technical Assistance?

What is Technical Assistance?

As pioneers of policy, systems, and environmental change in South Carolina, Wholespire has provided technical assistance to hundreds of community coalitions and partners over the past 15 years. It’s a service we provide to help build the capacity of and sustain community coalitions, strengthen community-based projects, and improve the likelihood of better health outcomes.

Oftentimes, technical assistance is provided to partner organizations and addresses other areas of our work, like advocacy, youth engagement, and marketing. In this post, we’ll define technical assistance, show some examples, and tell you how you can take advantage of our technical assistance services.

What is technical assistance?

Technical assistance, also known as TA and commonly referred to as consulting, is the process of providing specific support to a community coalition or organization with a development need or problem. It is an effective method for building the capacity of any community coalition or organization.

Technical assistance can be provided in a variety of ways. It can be one-on-one consultation or small group facilitation. It can be provided in person or by phone, email, or other online methods. In addition to being referred to as consulting, TA is also known as coaching or mentoring.

At Wholespire, TA applies to our areas of expertise – policy, systems, and environmental strategies, advocacy, coalition development and sustainability, The HYPE Project®, and marketing and communications. The range of subtopics is almost endless. The only area our TA does not cover is IT support.

Why is it important?

Technical assistance is important to any community coalition or organization, no matter the stage of development and operations. When you don’t have expertise in a specific area in your coalition or organization, leaning on consultants is often used to learn more about the issue, the needs of the community or group, develop action plans, the actual implementation of those plans, and any steps needed after to sustain the effort.

Ten years ago, when Wholespire was responsible for creating a youth advocacy strategy, The HYPE Project®, we leaned on experts at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. We also sought information from other youth-serving organizations and youth advocacy programs. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help.

Technical assistance can lend to the longevity of your coalition or organization. It’s called capacity building – the process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes, and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt and thrive in a fast-changing world (United Nations).

What does it cost?

At Wholespire, we provide free and fee-based technical assistance services. Free technical assistance is provided to Wholespire chapters and grantees. TA can range from organizational structure and partnership development to advocacy/policy development and project implementation. Another example of free TA is when a mini-grant applicant needs guidance on the application or requests, input on their project idea, or needs help getting over unforeseen hurdles during their project. TA also includes connecting our grantees with other existing local community health initiatives that can complement their project, open up doors for future collaboration, lead to other funding opportunities, and, ultimately, make communities healthier and more equitable.

Fee-based TA is a contracted service provided to partners and other organizations that request assistance. This service addresses similar areas as our free service; however, they’re typically more specific. An example is partnering with Healthy People Healthy Carolinas to help their grantees with achieving their goals. Another example is providing an advocacy training series, resources, and tools to the SC Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance to help them understand and begin advocacy work.

Remember, technical assistance plays a key role in developing and sustaining community coalitions and organizations into the future. It’s a way to use expert help to assess current capacity, build on strengths, and address underlying needs. If your community coalition or organization is interested in learning more about our technical assistance services, contact us at