Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Declined Grant Request

If you have solicited grants you have received notice that some of your proposals have been declined. It is a part of the grant raising process to be declined, and more than once or twice.

You put all of that work into that grant proposal, and there is the response letter; "declined".

I know how you feel. All of us who write grant proposals do. You are not alone by any means.

May I suggest the following to you, your E.D., and board:

1. Be willing to apply for grants and forge relationships with grant donors imperfectly. In other words, do not try to put out THE perfect proposal only to be CRUSHED by a decline. Agencies that give grants place many factors into whether or not they give a grant donation and they are beyond their deciding whether your grant proposal is "perfect". Perhaps their coffers are low. Maybe they have outstanding pledges to grant before they can accept new proposals. What if their Trustee just passed away and the will is in probate, causing the foundation's endowment to be frozen? You don't know why a grant is declined sometimes, but call the foundation and gently, professionally, and kindly ask why. Yes, it's ok to do that. Lastly, be open to learning what you can do (better, or adjust, or on a different date) on your next proposal to that grant donor's organization and do it next time.

2. Be realistic. If a grantor doesn't typically give to the cause that your organization works towards, or if the grant donor has been rumored to be in financial straight; don't expect them to donate a grant to you any time soon. In fact, weight whether it's worth sending them a proposal this round or not. If it's more likely that they won't grant to your group this time, don't apply this round, and spend that time on a proposal to a grantor that is more likely to give.

3. Prioritize submitting proposals to grant donors that seem most likely to give to your organization. While you research foundations and others that would give to your organization; prioritize which grant donors are most likely to give to your group. For instance, a foundation that grants to organizations in your region, to the cause that you work for, typically gives grants in the dollar range that you are looking for towards the kind of programs/project that you are needing funding for, etc. is more likely to grant to your agency than one that gives to agencies like yours, but in another city or county. Work on the proposals to the most likely donors before submitting requests to entities that do not match up as well to your org.

4. A 'decline' is not the end of the relationship (or read "not the end of the world"). Your potential donor is communicating with you whether their response to your proposal is 'yes, we're sending you the $1,000,000 grant,' or 'while we appreciate the work your organization does, we can not donate a grant to your org, currently'. First, it is good that they have responded. Second, any communication is actually GOOD communication because it's an opportunity for your organization. Here's what I mean; any communication allows you to a) begin a file on that organization, always keep their correspondence, and have a history with them to follow, b) respond, c) understand what their organization's fiscal cycle, priorities, and preferences are to know for the next submission to their foundation and actually apply the next time you ask them for a grant, and d) to demonstrate that you, as your org's grant writer, listen to them, care about their position as donors, and can follow through by thanking them for their attention to your proposal (yes, even if they declined giving to your group). Above all, if they remain a likely grant donor for your agency in the future, absolutely submit another proposal to them when their guidelines allow you to re-apply. DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED. Grant making should not be taken personally, but rather appreciated for the information you get to leverage your organization and its next application.

5. Apply to enough potentially likely grant donors so that you statistically will probably receive enough grants in the fiscal year to fulfill the grant budget goal. Remember that word "probably". When any organization deals with any donor (and I mean, even if that donor has given $1,000,000,000,000 to your org every year since 1901) never assume you'll get the donation. You know what they say about assuming. It makes a donkey out of you and me.

6. Remember that every organization that solicits grants receives responses regretfully declining requested grants every year. Your org is good but so are thousands of thousands of others. Grant donors can't give to us all always. We could all use a slice of humble pie now and then. Unfortunately, maybe we could use less humble pie some times of the fiscal year than others!

7. Research those grant donors that you are about to send proposals to beyond just looking at their giving history, IRS form 990, and their website or publications. Look to see if there is recent news on them. Has one of your colleagues at another agency recently applied and heard back from them? Find out what they told him/her about their current giving and the current state of their foundation. Has someone just passed on in their board of trustees? Is their giving being questioned by a professional association (i.e. a question about their ethics)? Is the IRS looking into them? Consider the answers to these kinds of news items and ask yourself, is your organization still able to apply to them (given your org's Development Plan and ethics)? If no or maybe, then decide what priority that grant donor should be in the line of proposal you'll write. If, yes, then go for it! If you can, know what is going on lately with the donors you approach.

8. Ask your colleagues who are grant writers for other causes to share any leads they find and do the same with them. Since I've been a professional grant writer I have sent to colleagues who work for different agencies (i.e. working for causes different than my org's or are in a different financial position than the org that I work for) leads on donors and the associated information. It's good business. Why? When I help them with a lead, they will respond and send me a lead. It has worked like that for me, and frankly, it helps my organization's cause and others'.

9. Get over the fact that we are "competing" for grant dollars. It helps you help your colleagues who can reciprocate and help you. Only organizations who apply to a grant donor for the same type of cause, and the same project/program, in the same grant period are really competing for grant money. That's the only time. Just the same, make your relationship with the grant donor a communicative one; work for an organization has a successful, long, mission-completing history; and be a good donation recipient and the competition falls away.

10. Continue to be open, listen to others, and learn whenever you can.

Finally, don't use the word "rejected" when referring to a potential grant donor who says they can't fund your request at this time. You, your organization, your proposal, and your project were not rejected.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

What Are The Steps To Hiring A Grant Writer?

Let's say . . .

Your agency has been receiving about thirty percent of its annual income from individual donations. A community agency has been supporting your group for about ten years, annually, thus providing about twenty percent of your org's annual income. Forty percent is raised each year through five different special events, and the remaining ten percent is raised by your board members.

You and your board know that the two new programs that you want to provide require more money in the budget. Besides, your agency has never gone after grant money. It's an untapped resource that you want to begin to tap. Why leave a potential donation stream to your agency untouched? Your board and you agree. It's time. You are facing hiring a grant writer. How does that work?!

To raise money you will have to spend money. Sounds crummy? You have already been doing this. To raise donations from your donor base you send them newsletters complete with donor envelopes, or you mail them annual appeal letters, invite them to special events, and solicit them. The solicitation cost time and money to create, design, print, mail, and manage. These costs are part of the cost of raising money for non-profits. Hiring a grant writer is no different. Lastly, it is unethical to pay a grant writer a percentage of any grants your agency may receive. Why? No grant donor is giving the grant to an agency so that you can pay your fundraising staff. They give grants to connect with successful programs that fulfill a given non profit's mission. They give grants to the program or project that the grant was requesting funds for. That money is expected to be spent on only what the grant proposal asked money for. Your agency could get a reputation for spending grant money less than ethically and that would be the kiss of death for more than just fundraising grant donations. Lastly, a grant is not received based on whether a grant writer writes a good proposal or not. It is received because that foundation wants to be a part of completing your mission. A good grant proposal is just part of the equation. Your agency's track record and reputation are equally as important as to whether a grant is received or not.

So, budget for your grant writer. Don't have room in the budget to hire one? Add a one time, only, fundraiser to the year and raise the money to do so. Expect the grant writer to be paid by the hour (may not be the case) and expect them to want to first, get familiar with what information is already pulled together to write a proposal, to prospect for grant donors to apply to, to get familiar with your agency and history, and to write, submit proposals, and end of grant reports, etc. Keep in mind, too, that foundations typically meet once a quarter or less. It is usually best to mail a proposal for a project at least four months before the project is going to start so that you have time to hear back from the potential funders for that project. When you meet potential grant writers, ask for the time they estimate that is required to do the grant work that your agency needs done. Ask them to include a price quote with that.

An agency may want to begin its grant program internally and recruit from within someone who will take on extra hours and become the agency grant writer. This is a common occurrence, except the extra hours are not usually given to the 'chosen' grant writer, and this person doesn't usually have grant writing experience or know how. This means that this person will have to learn how to write grant proposals and how to find potential grant donors. If your agency can invest the time and money into this staff member AND give him/her the proper extra time more than what they're already doing for their 'real' job at your org; then great - do that. Your staff member will be familiar with your org when sitting down to write, they'll know where to find information necessary for a grant proposal, and they are already invested in your agency's mission.

If an organization would rather pay someone who already has the skills and expertise to write grant proposals sooner than later it's good to hire a consulting grant writer or consulting firm. Firms that specialize in fundraising and non profit organizational management can either provide grant writing services or direct you to colleagues who do. Similarly, look for local grant writing or fundraising (or Development) association in your area; they're likely to have a listing of local consulting grant writers, too.

Get a feel of the average cost of grant writers in your area. Ask colleagues who they use for their grant writing and how much they cost. Ask who they really felt did a good job and why. Arrange for a few grant writers to come in for interviews. Ask for their time and cost estimates based on the scope of work you're hiring for. Pay attention to whom you click with and communicate well with and who you don't. Much of grant writing is back and forth; learning about the agency, understanding the mission and agency's work, going over proposal drafts, etc. It is a close working relationship and you want to hire a grant writer who you can work with. Ask them for references and check them.

I have heard people who are hiring grant writers say that they want to hire a grant writer who gets at least 50% of their proposals that they send out funded. Or, they want to hire someone who has raised $150,000 or more in grants in the previous fiscal year. Also, I've heard of agencies hiring grant writers and telling them that they want the writer to mail at least two proposals a week. When an agency hires a grant writer and focuses only on the money - it's a warning to grant writers applying for the job. These are potential clients, in our eyes, who will not be invested in the process of grant writing, which requires time, quality, and relationship building. It will be high pressure and that pressure will be unrealistic and unfair. Eventually, these potential clients won't be happy with 'enough' and the grant writer will have 'failed' their agency.

Consider understanding the following:
You want to be able to return to a grant donor and receive grants again and again in the future.
(This requires time, relationship building, and ethical accounting and procedures).
You want to receive grants based on your agency's ability to meet its mission and meet it well.
(This requires that foundation staff, when they talk to other foundation staff, speak highly of your agency, staff, and organization's work).

You don't want a high turn over rate in your fundraising department. The time it takes a new employee to get situated and really underway is called a learning curve and it is expensive for an agency to have to keep paying for. (The benefit of a grant writer that stays working for your firm is their knowledge of your agency, their knowledge of your grant program, consistency, and their dedication to the mission).

After you've hired your grant writer work with them and remember that your responses to their questions, or your proof reading, or getting the documents that they need back to them is as necessary to the grant writing process as the grant writer sitting down to write. The grant writer is a part of grant raising but he/she is not responsible for it, alone. Working together is how it's done.

To know what to budget for a grant writer or what is a reasonable fee/wage read Pricing Grant Writers - What Should We Pay for A Grant Writer?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Coordinating Office Colleagues' Grant Needs

My colleagues, in this office, are social workers. Their days are filled with meeting clients, checking the safety of clients' homes, filling out paper work, attending meetings, and much more.

Because we ask for our clients' feedback, annually, we receive a 'reading' from the local community about what needs exist, what needs we are meeting, which we are not meeting; and from there we make plans for new programs, changes to current programs, etc.

Our mission and the community's needs determine the new costs this agency will face. The costs could come from new programs, new staff, new capital needs, or costs to re-do something and update it, etc.

Our social workers are the 'front line'. They know our clients and they are designing the new programs and determining what is needed thus leading to new costs (or expenses).

I have developed an intra-office process so that the agency's new programs receive grant funding. Over the past two and a half years it has worked well.

My policy? It is simple.

1. My door, e-mail In Box, phone extension, and In Box are all always 'open'. I remind my co-workers of this at staff meetings and in conversation. I always say to them, "let me know what you're planning for in the future", "let me know what is going to need money", and "give me more than four months' notice before you're implementing the first of the new program/project/etc."

2. After I receive notice, I make a thirty minute meeting appointment with key staff. I ask for and note the basic details, and then hand them a form that I have used for a few years which requests all of the pertinent program info that I do not know, but they do. I agree on a due date for their completed returned form with them and then explain to them the timeline for the particular foundation that I'm approaching for their project (I'll have figured out, before the meeting, which foundation(s) I am going to approach).

3. When I sit down to begin writing I have the foundation all researched, I have my notes from my meeting with the new project key staff, and I have the completed info form from the key staff. All of this helps me populate the proposal with pertinent information.

4. After, I ask the key staff to review the proposal before I mail it, looking for any project information corrections or updates. I also let them know how likely it is that we'll receive that grant, and the anticipated timeline - how often that foundation meets to review proposals, and if the grant is awarded, when it's expected.

After a grant is received, I sit down with the key staff, again, and suggest (based on each foundation's preference) whether the staff should thank the foundation on the new project's brochures, at programs, or in the press. I might also suggest that they invite key foundation staff or Trustees if that is appropriate.

Otherwise, I always ask the key staff to follow through with their program evaluations and when I need results by, so that I can mail a final grant report to the foundation on time.

If it's difficult to work a process out with your colleagues, ask them for their suggestions as to how to work with them to gather information necessary for the grant proposal. Remind them that you're trying to get pertinent information so that their project can be funded. Keep meetings with them short, to the point, and clear. Also, make it easy for them to give you the information that you'll need. The request for information form that I use only requests one or two line answers and is clear and easy to understand.

This simple process has worked. I suggest it!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Where To Put "Overwhelmed" On the Calendar?

We all know this feeling.

You're up fifteen minutes late Tuesday morning. Your cat needs to be let in and the dog that you adore could use a fifteen minute walk. Your partner is getting the kids ready (AGAIN).

You remember what calls need to be made, how much of that proposal you were working on yesterday is left to finish, and you somehow, during all of the thinking, got from home to work.

You hit your desk and get back into the work rhythm you were keeping yesterday . . .until . . . .

Pick one:
A. One of your Board members stops by to "just talk for fifteen minutes" which winds up lasting forty-five minutes.
B. You realize that the date that you thought the proposal that you're finishing was due next week, and it's actually due that day.
C. Your child's school called and little Ralph has a terrible tummy ache and needs you to pick him up and take him home.
D. Or, all of the above.

I've gone to sessions at conferences that deal with this topic. I've heard friends, colleagues, and family discuss their solutions.

Some are:
1. Actionable items lists
2. Agency-wide project management software
3. Internet intstant messanger programs for instant/constant communication
4. Palm pilots (especially those that coordinate with your computer)
5. Etc., etc.

Life is full; can move fast; and requires us to complete tasks; if not also wonderful; fulfilling; difficult; challenging; etc.

The fact is, we each have been organizing ourselves and our worlds (work, personal, etc.) up until right this moment.

What has worked for you? What actually really does not work for you? Prioritizing? Scheduling? Communicating with others? Giving up wanting control over someting? Listening? Staying open to others' ideas and letting your insecurities down for a bit?. What could help? Be honest with yourself.

We all know that changes could be made to our efforts, and yet, we are getting the work done. Start with basics and considering changing one thing about your planning, prioritizing, scheduling, or general organization and really stick with it for a work week. IF it works for you; great. If it doesn't; fine, but try something new.

It may actually help.

[Note: if you would like the grant program spreadsheet you need to e-mail me by clicking on my Profile in the upper right hand side of this web page, and following through.  I will not respond to requests that I e-mail it to you, posted here, in the Comments section below.]