Grants: Do You Have a System in Place?

Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.


Charity Channel, always a great barometer of the world of nonprofits, recently posted a question from a member:

We are trying to put some numbers to a part time grant writer. We are a $35 million agency and have sporadically applied for grants. We are now trying to formalize our program. Any ideas on approximately how many grants should be submitted per week to justify the position? Any feedback would be much appreciated.

In my experience, it’s not unusual for an organization to completely misunderstand the grant proposal writing process and assign ridiculous productivity goals.

After all, if you’re writing a proposal for regional family foundations, you may well be able to crank ten of ’em out in one week’s time.

A proposal to Kellogg or Pew, on the other hand could take weeks . . . months!

Let’s examine a hypothetical situation.

Sarah is a recent college graduate working as a development director for a young nonprofit organization with an operating budget of $235,000. She sends out fifteen proposals within the course of her first six months of employment. Within the next six months, eleven proposals have been declined, one has been fully funded for $10,000 and another $10,000 request has been funded, but at $7,500, for a total of $17,500.

Sarah is the organization’s first development staffer.  Her supervisor considers Sarah’s performance in the area of grant proposal writing mediocre.

Sarah accepts a position in the for profit world. Her successor, Molly, also a recent college graduate, sends out ten new proposals to different foundations within her first six months, netting a total of $7,500 in grants in her first year. A $5,000 grant from Sarah’s earlier efforts comes in during Molly’s first week. The executive director deposits the check and thanks the donor, but forgets to pass the information along to Molly.

Molly has been given direction, through a board member’s vociferous intervention, to focus on events as a fundraising venue. Somehow, reporting on both the $10,000 grant and the $7,500 grant falls through the cracks as Molly invests time and energy in the organization’s golf outing, which ends up netting $7,500.

Does the scenario cited above ring any bells? I’ve personally witnessed situations such as this in organizations both large and small.

The problem is that the organization has not made a commitment to pursuing grants as a part of their overall development strategy.

Let’s take a quick peek at another hypothetical.

Sarah’s initial grant proposal to The Smith Foundation for $15,000 has been reviewed favorably by their program officer, who writes glowingly of the organization’s approach and recommends a first-time grant of $10,000.

Unfortunately, The Smith Foundation has allocated all of their resources in that particular program area, so Sarah’s proposal is declined, with a note made in the files to give her organization preference during the next funding cycle.

Of course, as you can see, because the organization didn’t make a commitment to pursuing grants as a part of their overall strategy, and didn’t have a grants system in place, Sarah’s successor, Molly, didn’t apply to The Smith Foundation the following year.

Grant proposal writing is a process – a process of building relationships and following up.

Without a commitment to this process and a systematic approach, an organization’s chances of winning consistent grant funding are slim.

For another perspective, read Tony Silbert’s excellent posts on Goal Setting and  How to Hire a Grant Writer.

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