Under the best circumstances, grant writing can be a complicated and mysterious undertaking. It’s also an essential undertaking for most nonprofits. So how do organizations ensure they’re putting their best foot forward with every proposal they submit? They do it by creating a reliable and repeatable process that effectively manages the three phases of submitting your grant, or as we call them, the before, during, and after.
There are plenty of obviously bad ideas out there which are usually pretty easy to spot. You’ll also find plenty of bad ideas masquerading as good ones. Ideally, your good idea really is a good idea that deserves to be considered against other good ideas; but unfortunately that’s probably not enough. To really succeed, your good idea also needs the support of a good project. And a good project depends on good planning. So before you start writing your grant proposal, make sure your project is well defined. Because when it really comes down to it, good grant writing requires good project planning.
This all begins by defining who you are as an organization. What is your mission, vision, and values? Are you eligible for nonprofit status? What history does your group have of serving the community? Next, start defining your project. Ask yourself, why this project now? Who does it serve? Can we demonstrate a real need? You should also establish measurable outcomes and goals to determine if your efforts are bearing fruit. Consider how you’ll determine the best metrics to track and how you’ll gather that information. There’s also the important day-to-day factors to consider. What is your operating budget? How many paid staff will be necessary to make it all work? And perhaps most importantly, ask yourself if this project is sustainable. Or more specifically, how will it be funded years down the road?
These aren’t easy questions but as you work to find the answers, you’ll see your organization take shape before your very eyes. And once your organization is fully formed, you’ll be better positioned to share your vision with those who can help you realize it.
Now that you’re ready to start sending out proposals, you’ll be well-served to make it an organized and focused process. As is often the case, this starts by putting first things first.
Prioritizing: Getting your ducks in a row
So who do you contact first? Start with past founders or others you already have relationships with. Once those contacts a fully mined, then you can begin searching for new partners. The Fort Vancouver Library’s foundation center is a great resource for searching these out. As you’re looking, keep these items in mind:
Preparing: Pulling it all Together
Now that you’ve developed a list of target foundations and due dates, you can begin writing your proposals. Here are a few tips that will help you keep it all under control:
Submitting: Let it Take Flight
Your proposals are finalized and it’s time to submit. Don’t forget to stay organized during this last stage.
In a well-functioning system, this process will repeat itself time-after-time during the year. And the better you are at managing all the moving parts involved in these three stages, the more proposals you’ll send out every year.
Once your grant has been approved, your work isn’t done. Grant writers don’t manage the project, but they do manage the relationship with foundation. So it’s your job to keep a pulse. You’ll also be responsible for ensuring the foundation is properly acknowledged. Some foundations will have guidelines here and others won’t. If you’re making the acknowledgment decisions, view this as a way to continually build the relationship. Send out invitations to events or provide regular updates on your project’s status. Make the foundation feel like they’re a part of your success. And hopefully, when the next grant period comes around, you’ll be at the top of their list.
It’s also the grant manager’s responsibility to track deadlines for reporting. Every foundation will have different expectations here, so be sure you know what each one needs and don’t forget to communicate that information with the staff – especially with the person charged with tracking the measurables. Giving the foundations the feedback they need in a timely fashion is another key component of relationship building.
Of course it’s also possible that some of your grant proposals will be denied. Don’t lose heart! Sometimes a no just means “not now.” In these situations, it’s okay to ask the foundation for feedback. If taken seriously, this process can provide valuable insight that will make your next grant request that much stronger. And most importantly, don’t take it personally. Even in rejection you have an opportunity to continue building a relationship that could prove valuable at some unseen point in the future.
As we’ve shown, an effective system of management is the most important component of successfully (and sanely) managing multiple grant requests. The organizations who master this process and can repeat it again and again will get the best results.
If you’d like to talk more about managing your grant writing efforts or any other needs your organization might have, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us at (360) 750-3825 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to chat!