Sunday, January 17, 2010

How to Strategize About Which Grant Donors Your Nonprofit Will Approach for Which of Your Organization's Funding Needs

There are a few steps that a nonprofit can take to organize and best plan out which grant donor it should apply to for which of the various different funding needs the nonprofit has. Getting an organization's grant seeking organized is not only a good way to save money, time, and the leaders from headaches; it also can allow the nonprofit to go after larger grants for the bigger funding needs it has, for instance, without feeling pressure to find larger amount grant donors at the last minute.

Let's say that you and I are the grant writers at a nonprofit and we either have years of experience having written grants, or we took a few good grant writing courses at the local community college. We are clear about which programs and other funding needs we're applying for grants for on behalf of the nonprofit that we work for, we have researched which grant donors we're going to apply to for a grant (also called prospecting), and we are now sitting down to strategize about which grant donor we should apply to for which funding need, before we begin writing the grant proposal (or case) portion of the grant application (or before we sit down to edit an already existing grant proposal to tailor it to a specific donor's requirements).

When a nonprofit begins to submit grant proposals (or applications) to various potential grant donors it is a process. Each grant donor is its own unique organization. So, each grant donor usually has their own giving guidelines or instructions that explain which kinds of organizations may apply to them, and for what types of funding needs (i.e. programs, capital campaigns, but perhaps not overhead expense, etc.). The giving guidelines also describe how an applicant may apply to their organization for a grant. The giving guidelines also include all of the information that the grant donor wants to know about an applicant nonprofit (and sometimes also includes what they do not wish to receive or hear about in the proposal, i.e. 'no videotapes, no copies of newsletters, etc.'). Keeping organized helps not just the grant writer track the work being done, on behalf of the organization, but it also allows anyone else (e.g. the executive director, the board, the grant writing committee, etc.) to see where in the grant application process the organization is, for each potential grant donor your agency is applying to. The spreadsheet also helps get the grant writer organized, in regards to the nonprofit's own staff and leaders. All grant donors' application process is different and is of varying lengths of time (sometimes weeks, sometimes months, and sometimes nearly a year from the application due date). Tracking your organization's grant writing work on a spreadsheet (or in a grant management database software package) and in hard files will help you and everyone else keep on top of each application and each potential grant donor you're applying to.

Especially in today's economy nonprofits that apply for grants must be efficient, effective, well run, reputable nonprofits that are executing towards mission-based goals with excellent potential. There are even more 'tricks of the trade' (which are not really "tricks") that can help nonprofits increase the chances of getting any grant (above other applicant nonprofits that will be considered at the same time as your organization's application will be). In other words, it is powerful for a nonprofit to have positioned itself to be a likely grant winner. Make it easy for grant donors that receive your agency's application to give to you. Now, no nonprofit (no matter how excellent they are at grant raising) gets every grant they apply for. Having said this, though, there are attributes common to nonprofits that get many grants that they apply for. Getting strategic is one attribute that is very helpful.

Let's get back to our pretend scenario, with you and I working at a nonprofit as the staff grant writers. We have already prospected (researched which grant donors are likely to give to our nonprofit based on what causes the grant donors support, which types of programs or projects they fund, and which geographic regions the grant donors providing funding for). We determined during our prospecting work, based on our nonprofit's mission, programs or projects needing grant assistance, and where we serve the beneficiaries of our mission statement, a list of grant donors that our organization can apply to with some confidence that these grant donors, among all grant donors, indicate a likelihood to give to our agency. We have found, for the current year, the list of donors we will apply to for all of our nonprofit's funding needs that we plan to fund (even if only in part) with grants.

We can further increase chances, even still. By researching specific attributes of each grant donor that we'll apply to, we can further inform where our organization can best apply for our agency's various funding needs. The post, The Grant Writer's Little Helper: IRS Tax Form 990 Post 1 of 2 provides information necessary to help you and I understand where we can research this information (for each grant donor), and what we should look for (and where). The information that we extract for each grant donor can go into our grant spreadsheet, too, and should. It will become clear why, in another paragraph. We also read the post, The Grant Writer's Little Helper: IRS Tax Form 990 Post 2 of 2 further clarifies what can be gleaned to help us strategize and cautions what is not necessarily the end all, be all, of resources to understand each grant donor we'll apply to. Having gathered details on each grant donor that we'll apply to, and having entered those attributes to the grant spreadsheet (for each grant donor), we now can sit down together with a list of all of the funding needs that our organization plans to apply for grants for, and take a look at the spreadsheet, and compare the two before we begin to apply (or even write).

Keeping in mind that each grant donor is different from the next, we can take a look at our list of grant donors that we'll apply to and ask ourselves (while looking at the list of grant donors we'll apply to and their respective individual attributes):

1. Which grant donors typically give grants in amounts less than $10,000? Which give grants, typically, in amounts above $10,000? Which give grants in much larger amounts, typically (i.e. $50,000 and more)? Keep in mind, too, when comparing in what increments grant donors on our list give to what funding needs our nonprofit has that we only ask for amounts that in reality are needed, according to each funding goal's actual budget (i.e. maybe a program's budget or the budget for a new building, etc.). Every nonprofit could use $1 million but in reality donors only give amounts based in real need. If the case can't be realistically (and ethically) made for the amount requested, it makes the applicant organization look a bit questionable.

2. What does each grant donor give grants for (in total), or in other words, to which types of programs, projects, or for which types of items does each grant donor give?

3. What nonprofits, similar (or exactly) like your nonprofit has the grant donor given to recently (say, within the past two years), for what kind of program or project, and for how much?

4. Does your nonprofit (its volunteers, staff, or leadership, etc.) have any current or recent relationships with any of the grant donors (or their volunteers or staff, etc.) on the list? Do not assume that you know with whom (or what other organizations) everyone currently involved in your nonprofit's operations has relationships with. Relationships are powerful things, even the most minor seeming. It is worth asking the staff, ask volunteers, and ask the board (and others such as clients, as appropriate) if they know anyone volunteering with or working for any of the grant donors on your list that your nonprofit is going to apply to. I can not give you an exact percentage, but I urge you to check into this. I've rarely worked for or consulted with a nonprofit that, once it had a list of the grant donors we'll apply to, didn't have volunteers or staff that had relationships with at least one of the grant donors we were applying to. Note, for each grant donor, which of the people associated with your nonprofit has a relationship (and with whom) with the respective grant donor, and with whom within the grant donor's operations.

Now, we use all of this effort and information.

Let's look at the information, for each grant donor, we have for our question number 3, above, first. Looking over the list of programs that we're seeking grant funding for, and looking at which similar nonprofits (to ours') have received grants from different grant donors for similar types of programs as the ones we're needing funding for indicates to us which of these grant donors are likely to fund which of our nonprofit's programs, projects, or items. We note this on our spreadsheet.

Next, let's take a look at the information for each grant donor that we have for our questions 1 and two, above. Which of our donors give in smaller increments (and it's O.K. that they do - what nonprofit couldn't use $250, $500, or $1,000 for a program or project); and which give in larger increments (and it's normal to think 'well...if they typically give $100,000 or more but we don't have any programs that would need that much money', or 'they must give to larger or more successful nonprofits than ours'...then I say to you, hold on a second). If we have three funding needs we're seeking grants for this year, let's say: a new program, a long standing but newly revamped program, and twenty brand new wheelchairs and walkers. We need to ask each grant donor for a specific funding need (we can't realistically lump them all together and apply to each donor: we have to ask the donors that give grants for the single respective funding goal (of all of our goals) project, program, or item(s) we need (of the pretend three) that we have). If our programs each only cost $30,000 and $50,000 respectively and the 20 wheelchairs and walkers, combined, cost $10,000 then it may appear we don't need $50,000. Our nonprofit may create a new organizational goal, in this year, that will require grant applications be sent for large increments like $50,000 (it's good to have a current list of grant donors that give at all increment levels that seems to be interested in funding organizations doing what yours' does); or we can consider what two years' operating costs of the $50,000 program will be and apply to the larger increment grant donor for two years' expenses of this program (IF the specific larger increment grant donor gives multi-year grants and many larger grant amount donors do, by the way). We have our two programs and forty items to fund. We need to look, in our list, at which grant donors fund items for the handicapped, which give for brand new programs like the one we're starting, and which fund the revamped program's work (i.e. a counseling program, or a support program).

Finally, we need to look at what we learned for our question number four, above. If we know, for instance after asking our nonprofit's leaders, volunteers, staff, etc. if anyone knows anyone volunteering with or working for any of the grant donors on our list that two board members each have friends volunteering on the board of two of the grant donors then we need to make sure that either in initial conversations with the donor, or in the letter of inquiry (first step in the grant seeking process, typically), or in the actual grant proposal, itself, (or all three) that mention is made of the connection to each of these two grant donors' board or staff. As is always true of all business (for-profit or nonprofit) the old adage, "relationships are everything" holds true. Even nonprofits new to grant writing (or even start up nonprofits) have raised grants from grant donors in part due to an existing relationship alone (even seemingly small connections between people, if established and well regarded, can be helpful).

Once a nonprofit has completed its planning and prospecting, taking research on each grant donor that it is going to apply to further, and then utilizing the information that comes from that research isn't just worth the time and effort anecodatlly. Track time taken to do this kind of research, analysis, and to strategize. If, after the year's grant raising work is done, you conduct a Return on Investment (ROI) or cost/benefit analysis: I am willing to be that you'll find that the advantage the information gets your nonprofit, and how being strategic with that information, about which grant donor your agency applies to for what, is worth it.

No comments: