Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Intra Office Communication and Grant Writing

Grant writing is, as you know, a form of communication. In writing a grant proposal your organization is requesting some form of support and promising to deliver that support, through your organization's work, to a need that your group is meeting in our community. The agency is using the application as an opportunity to involve a local foundaiton in its work, and to raise investment in it. To do this, the application requires that specific details and documents be provided (as outlined in the foundation's application directions or guidelines).

In order to write a thorough, honest, and strong grant request you must work with others in your organization. Consulting grant writers must also receive the assistance, support, and team work from staff or volunteers, for the proposal to be successful. I have written in this blog before, that if your organization believes that it can hand some dream dollar amount to your grant writer, and you expect her/him to raise the grants all on their own - you're kidding yourselves. Any grant writer will need to provide attachments. These documents could be (and often are): the current fiscal year's budget and last fiscal year's, audited, Year End Balance Sheet; a current list of all of your non profit's Board Members and their current professional jobs or where they retired from; a current budget for the project, and more. This short list of hypothetical attached agency documents requires that your grant writer be able to either get documents from, or work to develop the requisite documents with, key non profit staff or volunteers WHO HAVE AND WILL GET THE CURRENT AND CORRECT INFORMATION TO THE GRANT WRITER, IN A TIMELY MANNER. Looking back over our list of hypothetical attachments, above, if you are the grant writer for this organization, you will likely need to get documents from, or work to create these documents with, this non profit's bookkeeper, the staff/volunteer person in charge of the project/program that you're requesting the grant money for, and the Board President or the Executive Director. The grant writer can not work in a vacuum.

Besides needing required documents, when the grant writer is writing the case statements, or main portion of the grant proposal (that usually only changes information quarterly or annually); he/she will need the historical program success, agency history, and program statistics information, to write a strong proposal. Only key staff or volunteers will know or have this information. How can a grant writer be successful if the staff and volunteers don't work with him/her?

Every time I meet with a potential client I explain that I am responsible for the quality of the overall grant proposal, BUT the quality of the information in the document requires a team effort. I make it plainly clear that in order for their organization to raise grant donations, they will have to work with their grant writer in an honest, timely, and thorough fashion. So, if I request three different financial documents for a proposal that is due a week from Wednesday, and today is Monday, I will need the bookkeeper to get me those current and complete documents to me by this Wednesday morning; before I begin to proof read the final proposal draft.

The success of any grant program also requires that key agency leadership develop potential donors. Actually, all potential major donors should be developed (i.e. personal donors, corporate sponsors, grant donors, etc.). When key leadership develop a donor, your agency's Board President, and/or Board members, and/or Executive Director is/are the person(s), on behalf of your non profit, who is/are the donor's contact. Your non profit executive representative should also be talking to non profit and for profit leaders in your local community every week; just sharing your agency's name, mission (or work), and successes. Not only does this help potential donors learn about your non profit and its work, but it will also help forge relationships with other non profits in your region, to perhaps collaborate.

In order for the grant writer to know what new programs and projects are on the non profit's horizon (and be timely in planning what grant proposals will be needing to be written in the future) your agency's project managers must be communicating with the grant writer. For example, let's say that you work for Ponytail Hairdos Are Ok (PHAO), and you are a social worker at this agency, who assists anyone who is having a difficult time wearing a ponytail hair style. PHAO's social workers know of three different educational programs that they are going to offer the public. They don't want clients to have to pay to attend. They know that they have to keep their fundraising colleagues, at PHAO, in the loop. So, the social workers set a meeting with you. You four discuss what the educational programs will be, what the budget and needed funding is for each program, and who will be attending. You find out that the three programs will happen in the fall, winter, and summer of next year. As you sit with the social workers and listen to the kind of educational programs they're going to provide, you think of at least four local foundations that you will research to write grant proposals to. You know that two of them require the proposal be submitted at least 3 months before the project/program that the grant money is requested for, begins. The other two require six months to process and accept or decline a grant proposal. As the project managers of these educational programs knew that they had to give the grant writer ample time to research potential grantors, they knew to let her know as soon as possible what their funding needs are.

This leads to a final point. Your non profit's grant writer also must communicate clearly, thoroughly, honestly, and in a timely manner. He/she must inform staff and volunteers how the grant writing process works; the time required to successfully submit a strong grant request, the information needed, the team work required, and anything else that will help get the grant, and on time. Your grant writer must be organized and knowledgeable enough to manage the grant writing process and educate everyone as to what's required.

Successful grant writing is a team effort, that only works when everyone involved in the non profit's work, including staff, volunteers, consultants, and leadership, communicate with the grant writer.

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