What do you do when you find a new grant opportunity? How do you handle those opportunities brought to you by program staff, board members, or volunteers? Are you applying for every grant opportunity that even slightly fits your mission, or are you seeking to be more strategic in your grantwriting efforts?
Below are five ideas to consider when your team finds a new grant opportunity.
1. Decide if you organization has the capacity to take on the potential grant award.
More funders are prioritizing new/innovative/cutting-edge (insert buzzword here) projects over the sustainment of already existing programs and activities. If your organization is looking at such a funding opportunity, are you certain that your agency can carry out the new project you sold as an innovative idea? Remember that it takes more than accepting a check and thanking the funder. Some grants require the hiring of new staff or the expansion of existing staff roles in order to adequately fulfill grant requirements. Especially for governmental grants, your financial and program staff may find more hours of their weeks eaten up by tracking and reporting requirements. For those organizations that staff wear twenty-seven hats and still could use fifteen hours at the end of the day, a new project may need more time and strategy in order to implement in your organization.
For those funders willing to fund existing programs or (*gasp*) general operating requests, you should still evaluate the potential impact on your organization’s acceptance of a potential award. Make sure expectations are well-understood before an award letter would arrive or, better yet, before the grant application is submitted. See #4 below for more on expectations and cost.
2. Can your organization submit an application worthy of the reviewer’s time and energy?
Nothing will turn off a review committee more than receiving an application that isn’t worth their time to review. Ensure that you and your team have enough time and capacity to create a narrative that is not only worth reading but worth funding. Make time for brainstorming so that your organization submits more than a simple copy/paste of your last application. Make time for Spellcheck and a grammar check. Make time for review by someone who didn’t write the narrative. Can’t make the time before the deadline? Perhaps you should reconsider this opportunity for now and table it for the next grant cycle.
3. Be unique in your narrative, and no, you don’t have to use every character allowed.
Like we alluded to above, your grant application narrative should not be a simple copy/paste from the last grant application you submitted, either to the funder in question or another funder altogether. This is not to say that an organization cannot reuse developed and vetted text that shares the impact of your organization and how your programs work. However, each grant application narrative should be edited to include language around how this award would not just benefit your organization but would also uphold the vision of the grantmaking organization. If you’re an early childhood education organization, for example, why would a foundation focused on economic freedom choose to fund you? One might say that early childhood education leads to stronger education throughout life, which ultimately results in self-reliance and being self-supportive through one’s own means. Not all grantee-grantor relationships will be this clear-cut, so it’s the challenge of your organization to find what defines a potentially life-changing correlation between your organization and the funder’s.
Also, keep it simple! Just because a grantmaking organization has a maximum of 3,000 characters per response does not mean they expect (or even want) a dissertation returned on why they should fund your organization. Spend the time to really be clear in what you’re asking for, how the grantor can help, and the impact that will be achieved through the collaboration of their funding and your programs.
4. How much will it cost your organization to apply and carry out the activities?
Whether it’s a new program or service to your organization or the continuation of a flagship program, what will it truly cost your organization to carry out the activities the grantmaking organization expects? We’re really talking (briefly) about ROI here- Return on Investment. If the application requires at least 20 hours of a grantwriter’s time, 10 from finance to compile a budget and supply required attachments, and 5 from program staff to review and contribute additions about the program for which the application is being written, that’s at least 35 hours into one grant application. If the potential award has a ceiling of $3,500, your organization is receiving approximately $100 per hour spent on the application, and that doesn’t include the cost of paying staff involved in the application process or all the hours that will follow in tracking and reporting for the award.
And, above all:
5. Do the mission, goals, and priorities of the potential funder’s align with those of your organization?
We don’t think we have to remind you of how important your mission is, so be sure your potential funders feel the same way about what you do. Not only does mission and goal alignment help funders in the decision-making process, but it also helps ensure that the grantor-grantee relationship is what it should be: a partnership. Gone are the days when grantmaking organizations, businesses, and other institutions simply drop a check in the mail and hope the agency does what it promised. For good or for bad, grantors are looking for the impact made through their funds and usually expect more than a simple phone call to let them know their award is doing good things. The grantor-grantee relationship is evolving to become a collaboration- a marrying of philanthropic dollars with philanthropic service. This is not to be discounted as another irritance that nonprofit organizations must “deal with.” Instead, this collaboration should be looked as a genuine interest to help provide good to those you serve. With any luck, the one-time collaboration of a grant award may turn into regular funding from an organization that sees and truly believes in the difference your organization is making in the world.