Are you grant ready? There is so much more to getting grants than just writing and submitting proposals. Chances are, you probably already knew that. You probably also know that competition for grant dollars can be fierce. But do you know how to be fiercely competitive in a way that gets you grants but isn’t nasty or cut-throat to your actual nonprofit colleagues?
If your organization is exploring grant writing for the first time or you’re receiving more rejections than you think you should, you may not be grant ready and you may be making some common mistakes when it comes to your grant strategy.
Don’t worry. As mentioned, lots of organizations do it and thankfully, it can be easy to fix. Below I’m giving you my 5-part recipe to overhaul your state of grant readiness and become a strong competitor. But first, a definition:
Grant Readiness: Grant readiness is an organization’s overall of state of being competitive for and able to manage grant awards. Grant readiness encompasses a variety of factors, including the overall structure of the organization, the soundness of its operations, program structure and sustainability, finances, impact, and to what extent it can measure and evaluate that impact.
Ok, with that in mind, read on for my 5-part recipe and targeted tips to get you in grant-winning shape. (Stick around to the end of the post. I’ve included an infographic for you).
Getting Grant Ready, Part 1: Staff & Board
Your staff and your board should function in partnership, supporting and advancing the organization’s goals and mission. In order to do that, you need passionate people in board and staff roles who can communicate your organization’s impact. They should all share a philosophy of being good stewards of the money and resources of the organizations; not owners or overlords.
They should also help to ensure that your organization does or has the following:
- Solid policies and operating procedures that can guide the organization
- Regular meetings of the board and staff, with subcommittees addressing special issues as needed
- Strong board governance policies that serve the organization well and its mission
- Clear expectations for staff and board roles and a way to regularly evaluate and coach the people in these roles
- Streamlined, efficient systems to manage finance and daily workflows
Getting Grant Ready, Part 2: Fundraising
Fundraising is a scary subject for many in the nonprofit world. A lot of seem to hate asking for money, and yet it’s a vital part of maintaining a great organization. So if you find that this is something your board and staff struggle with, commit to shifting your mindset around fundraising.
Rather than looking at fundraising as an ask, start working on getting everyone to see it as an opportunity to share the story and impact of your nonprofit. Tell the story and keep inviting current and potential donors to know, do, and experience more. Bring them deeper in with more ways to interact and several things will happen as a result: it will no longer be quite so scary to ask for their support because you’ve built a relationship and you may not even need to ask at that point. (Read: Fundraising Donation Request Letters: A Writing Guide)
A few other important things to note that great nonprofits have or do with their fundraising strategies:
- A variety of development campaigns offered annually with thorough planning and support from both board and staff
- At least one fundraising event to support other development endeavors and further engage the community
- A focus on relationship building with both donors and grantmakers
Getting Grant Ready, Part 3: Programming
I don’t need to tell you that programs are literally the lifeblood of what nonprofits do. Without them, you really don’t have a nonprofit at all. So with that said, it goes without saying that a lot of thought and care needs to go into how you set up, manage, and sustain these programs.
A few thoughts on what great nonprofits do to get their programming just right:
- Well thought-out and structured programs that are innovative and based on best practices where applicable
- Programs managed by dedicated, organized staff who do what you’ve told the program’s funders you would do with the money
- Strong evaluation methods to present data and results to funders as well as the community
- Programs must serve an identifiable need
- Programs undertaken by your organization should directly serve the mission. No mission creep!
Getting Grant Ready, Part 4: Community Engagement
If your community doesn’t support and love what you do, you are dead in the water. You know they need you (or else you wouldn’t exist), but a very important part of your job is making sure they understand the value you bring to the community.
Make the community aware of what you do, engage and delight them, and in turn their support will help boost your chances of receiving grants funds because when grant makers ask questions about the impact you make and the support you have, you’ll be able to tell them all about the army of advocates you’ve created in your own backyard.
There are a number of ways to engage your community, but here are some ideas to get you started:
– Media articles
– Public forums
– Direct one-on-one communication where and when possible
– Implementation of programs and/or changes to programs to fit the needs expressed by the community
– Engagement in community organizations that connect you with others who can help your organization as well as those you intend to serve (examples would include Rotary, Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, etc.)
Getting Grant Ready, Part 5: Vision
Finally, we come to vision, which is so underrated. I think most nonprofits can see the value of having a guiding vision, but so often it’s last on the priority list because they’re busy doing the daily things that keep their organization running, like running programs, meeting with donors, and doing admin-level tasks. But if you don’t know where you want to end up, you can bet you’ll get somewhere and you can bet it won’t be where you expected.
Grantors love organizations that have thought “what they want to be when they grow up” and created a roadmap to get there. They want to see that you have a plan and that all things serve the plan.
Here are some things smart nonprofits do when crafting their guiding or strategic visions:
1. Create realistic goals that stretch the organization and are based on a thought-out and planned-out vision for the future
2. Revisit and tweak this vision often with board and staff
3. The vision should always, always serve your mission and should always be in the best interests of your community and patrons
That’s it folks. If you follow my 5-part recipe for grant readiness and really dive into defining and developing action plans in each category, you will be a very attractive to grant makers. Here’s that recipe again in condensed form for you:
Staff & Board + Fundraising + Programming + Community Engagement + Vision = Grants
Scroll down to find an infographic I created that I think sums all this up nicely. Feel free to right-click and save it, hang it by your desk, and share it with colleagues on social media!
Ashley Cain is the CEO of Cain Nonprofit Solutions, a consulting agency offering grant writing, research, event planning, operational systems, social media management, and web development to arts nonprofits.