FundClass February 1998 Opening Message
Grant Writing and Management: full opening message
Full opening message of FundClass Topic #10, February 1998
Our facilitator is Larissa Golden Brown
“Grantseeking can be a nightmare.”
Does this sound familiar? You're staying late at work the night before the proposal is due -- very late. Even the intern went home hours ago. You put on another pot of coffee and slog once again through the 20 pages you've written. Then you spend extra money on FedEx. You swear that after tonight you're not applying for any more grants. You just don't see how the few grants you get are worth the agony.
Or, maybe you have a staff person that handles grant writing. But they just don't seem to be getting that many checks in... or that many proposals out in the mail, for that matter. They're caught up in other development projects and their time is limited. You'd rather not bug them one more time about a foundation resource they're neglecting to tap into. You wonder whether it will ever happen.
Grants are a part of every not-for-profit CEO's life -- whether your organization receives dozens of them, or you are just beginning to wonder about whether you can get them. Grants can be a substantial and meaningful funding source for many kinds of projects and organizations. However, seeking and maintaining grants can become more complicated than it needs to be. And once it becomes complicated, it gets placed on the back burner while more easily-handled matters arise.
Whether you are writing grants yourself or you have a staff member doing so, you can make grantseeking an efficient part of your development effort. To do this, you or your staff person in charge of grants will need to create a system that keeps the grants process moving, guards against missing important deadlines, and helps you to develop relationships with foundation and corporate funders.
You will need to create a system that is best for you and your staff. But whatever system you choose, it will most likely be based on anticipating needs, deadlines, and questions, and being ready to act efficiently when opportunities arise. To get started, you can incorporate several simple but essential actions -- listed below -- that will help you get the best value out of your grant-seeking time.
each potential grant-maker the way you would a major donor. What is their capacity to give, and their average grant amount in dollars? Have they given to causes or projects similar to yours? Does anyone on your board know someone on theirs? Why did you think of them in the first place? What is your best approach? Create a form to use every time you work on qualifying a foundation as a potential donor.
the right program with the right funder. Research on the funder's past grant-making, and your own creativity, are the tools to do this effectively. With practice, this will become the most exciting part of grant-seeking.
yourself for success by only asking for grantworthy programs. Ultimately, that means those that match well with a grant-maker's purpose, guidelines, and capacity to give. In general, a grantworthy program is one that can be visualized as a finite program or project.
A grantworthy program often serves many people or makes a major difference in the community, involves partnerships with other organizations, and has some tangible component. It is most often limited in scope -- it can be viewed as a whole, distinct project. Grantworthy programs may include new projects or services, direct services, special one-time expenses, major expansions of existing programs, buildings, or technical assistance, such as needs assessments. Grants most often do not pay for staff time, conferences, travel, or general operating expenses, unless they are part of a larger, more interesting project. Resist the urge to waste time asking for the latter alone. Zero in on what is most grantworthy, then propose it.
information you will be asked for over and over, so you don't waste time writing the same thing over and over. Create base documents that literally form the foundation of every grant proposal. These documents most often include:
- a "one-pager" on your organization (described below)
- board list, with affiliations and phone numbers
- one-page bio of each key staff person and volunteer
- your 501(c)3 letter
- your current organization-wide budget
- your current financial statement
- your last two audited financial statements
- your anti-discrimination policy
- any great letters of support
- important newspaper clippings
- stories about people you have served
You or your appropriate staff should keep these materials up to date and have many copies ready all the time.
your organization on one page. Include:
- your mission
- a list or short description of your services
- your geographic service area
- founding date and major milestones
- name of CEO, with phone number
- name of board president, with phone number
- total annual budget
- where the money comes from
- where the money goes (small pie charts are an excellent way to provide these money statistics)
- how many paid staff and how many volunteers you have
Yes, you can get this all on one page!
the number of people who participate in the proposal writing/editing process. You will definitely want the CEO (yourself?) included at some point, whether it be throughout the process or just at the very end. You will also want key staff and volunteers involved. But grants need not go to your entire development committee and board, unless the funder requires a board resolution (very few do, and it will be in their instructions).
people of their part in the process. Write it out. Reiterate it at management meetings. No one should misunderstand when and how they will be called on to participate in grant writing. Use forms to remind people when their input is needed, for instance when you need some stories from a program director to include in a follow-up letter to a funder.
targeted questions of yourself and your staff, to get the information that is key about each new project for which you are writing a grant. Develop a list of questions to use every time.
your grant writing time into blocks. Rather than working all over the place, have a specific time for grants each week, and have specific times to work on research, writing, follow up, and filing.
yourself with a mechanism to remind you of deadlines. If a funder does not have a deadline, create one for yourself. Create deadlines for follow-up reports as well as for the initial proposal. Keep each deadline on an index or Rolodex card, so you can keep it in front of you as you work, and put it away for next year once you mail off your proposal.
everything twice. If a funder does not provide a checklist of what should be included in a grant, read their materials carefully and create one for yourself. Make sure that paper is bound, hole-punched, or assembled according to their instructions.
only the key information, and keep it accessible. Files need not include all your notes and phone conversations -- only the ones that contain vital information for later use. Once you have reduced all your grant files to only the essentials, they won't take up so much space, and it will be easy to keep them readily accessible to yourself and others. Filing alphabetically by funder is best, since it eliminates wondering. Codes or separate areas for different stages of proposals can only lead to confusion if someone is looking for a grant file when you're not there. You don't want to be the only one who can find these things!
the status of all the proposals you send out and answers you receive. Keeping this information on a single sheet is extremely helpful when it's time to apply to the United Way, report to the board, recognize donors, or create an annual report.
early and often with key others. They may include the person who opens the mail, the bookkeeper, the person who handles donor recognition, the program staff, the board...anyone who plays a role in the system you create. Brief reports to the board can keep them informed of received and pending grants, in case they receive phone calls from potential funders. Brief reports, or copies of your tracking sheet, can keep the donor recognition person from sending a form letter to a foundation.
your follow up activities. Once you have received a grant, create deadlines for yourself to send the funder quarterly reports, holiday letters, "What a Difference" letters, stories about people whose lives have been touched by their generosity, and any other materials you may find appropriate. Also, whether they require it or not, schedule a final report at the end of the grant period.
all the time for stories about people whose lives are saved or changed by your organization. Also be alert to unmet needs. These will become ideas for grant proposals or follow-up reports to funders. Ask your staff to keep photographs of people working together -- volunteers and those your organization serves. Include stories and photos in all grant proposals and follow-up reports.
And last but not least...
the grant more often, and further down the road, than you might think is necessary. Funders are impressed when you write to them five years after a grant was made, and tell how tremendously your organization has grown and benefited from their "investment" over the years. Remembering their role in your success just might encourage them to get involved with you all over again.
This opening message was originally posted by Larissa Golden Brown on February 18, 1998