When I first started grant writing I took the “ready, fire, aim” approach to grant prospecting. Tasked with finding grant funding, I simply started researching funders and shooting out letters of inquiry (LOIs) hoping one would be a silver bullet and hit the right target. I soon learned grant seeking is extremely competitive and involves far more than “write an application, win an award, and receive money.” You have to be prepared. You need a map.
Back in 2004, The Foundation Center’s Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates revealed that two-thirds foundations received more than 50 proposals per funding cycle. That’s strong competition, and that was a while ago. Furthermore, only 38% actually funded half of the proposals submitted. These figures accentuate the importance of being prepared before undertaking a grant proposal.
Grant seeking is like going on a treasure hunt: there is hidden money out there to be found but a good map is needed to find it. Experience taught me to create a good map for my “treasure hunt.” There are many key elements. Here are four that I’ll discuss in this blog:1) Identify the needs of the population served
2) Develop programming to address the identified needs
3) Research potential funders
4) Build organizational involvement in grant seeking.
Indentify and substantiate need. Remember, a grant it is not just free money. Grants are awarded to an organization to serve a particular need in the community, and the money must be used for that purpose. A thorough assessment of the needs of the population being served is the basis for a “grant writing treasure map.” Given how competitive grant writing is, it is vital that funders find the proposed service being provided as pressing. The need must also be aligned with the funder’s priorities. During the needs assessment, prioritize the most critical needs. Provide statistical data—hard numbers—to support the need. A grant application must build a case that the identified need is acute and that the organization has the means, capacity, and commitment to successfully solve the problem.
Develop effective programming. Developing programming in response to the designated need is the next piece of the grant writing treasure map. Establish programming in response to a community need, while keeping in mind likely funding sources. Set programming priorities that address the need in areas that might appeal to multiple funders. Then conduct a more thorough grant search for specific sources. It is imperative to adhere to the funder’s grant making guidelines, and it’s also crucial that the programming is solving a pressing problem. This is a fundamental part of assuring the funder there is an organizational commitment to the programming.
Research funders. Building relationships with funders is ongoing. Your grant strategy and programming both need to take into account the likelihood of being funded. Your programming decisions will point toward some potential funders and away from others. After the programming planning cycle, your goal is to expand the pool of potential funders that are a fit for the priortized programming. A good place to start looking is in the list of funders in competitors’ annual reports. There is a decent chance those funders may also be a suitable match for the selected programming. Another good idea is to contact all of your vendors to find out if they may have foundations or funding available. Connections with those in the political arena may also be fruitful—the topic of a future blog. Finding sources is a vast field. You might be interested in two recent blogs about finding potential sources: What To Do When Funds Dry Up and Multiple Streams of Grant Income.
High-level organizational involvement. The Board of Directors and executive personnel should be involved in several ways. To expand the pool of potential funders, explore possible connections with the Board of Directors, management, and staff. More generally, grant writers should ask the Board and managers to establish grant seeking goals, set timelines to achieve the goals, and define roles for staff. The highest levels of the organization must allot sufficient resources to pursue funding opportunities. A vital piece in writing a successful grant is demonstrating that your organization has the resources and capabilities to achieve the goals presented in the proposal.