Sunday, August 15, 2010

How Does A Grant Writer Go About Acquiring Buy In?

I received a question, this week, from a Seeking Grant Money Today reader asking how does a grant writer, as the grant writing work first begins, acquire and achieve buy in among the organization's leadership.  It's a good question because buy in is not always just automatically there, existing, before a grant writer starts a grant writing program up.  Also, even at a nonprofit that has a long-existing established grant writing program, if there have been questions among the leadership about how potentially effective (successful) the grant writing effort can ultimately be, there may exist buy in issues, here, too.  So, a new grant writing effort or not, acquiring buy in from key leaders and staff can be difficult for grant writers.

I've experienced many variations of this very situation and while it may seem off-putting or even become a confrontation between the grant writer and some number of the organization's leadership; it is actually (and don't roll your eyes) an opportunity.  Why?  Whenever anyone launches a new program at any professional operation there are natural aversions (it's even normal and healthy) because it's something new (and that new program costs money to conduct plus everyone wants to see results).  Also, people are usually anxious when a fundraising method needs to have raised $X or $Y by such and such date.  It isn't always a question of whether it can be done or not (but sometimes it is); rather, it's often just anxiety as a certain amount of funds must be in the door from this one fundraising avenue and the natural questions arise causing insecurity ('...will we do it?', '...what if we come in less than or very low?', etc.).  There maybe some general concerns about the specific organization's ability to fundraise at all (whether grant writing or another form of fundraising such as appeal letter response, or a raffle, or whatever) and this has less to do with grant writing, specifically, and perhaps more to do with the organization's recent public relations, recent low success rates in response to the agency's fundraising, or worse (and this is an organizational operations issue and likely deeper and larger than just the purview of the grant writing program).  Finally, as is often the case with adversity or anxiety, there maybe a simple solution to the lack of buy in.  Perhaps all that is going on (or maybe even just part of what's causing the lack of buy in) is that the key leadership does not actually understanding the grant writing process and how it works or they misunderstand (or have it altogether wrong) about how it works, and its potential for the organization to succeed.  Any one or number of these potential causes to adversity to grant writing as a fundraising method can be overcome.

First, the grant writer (like anyone who works with other people) must "pick your battle", and wisely.  Personalities come in to play at work and it's always wise to be conscious of the people involved in the situation, their personalities, and what politics are involved, as well.  It just helps to step outside of the situation as objectively as one can, to observe the entire picture trying to see it, too, from others' perspectives (not just seeing it from your own) in order to: in your own thinking get a little mental and emotional distance from the situation, be able to get a bit objective, understand what in total is at play in this situation (i.e. sometimes there are already existing personality or political issues at play between others involved that frankly, maybe just aren't worth your getting involved in, over this issue), and in order to as objectively as possible try to perceive some of the real causes for the adversity, come up with possible solutions, and deduce what can be done to alleviate the situation.  None of this is easy or a terribly fast or succinct process, and is often trial and error: attempting one thing, seeing the result of that attempt, and finding another new idea is necessary, so you return to the drawing board.  And you and I have gone through this political problem solving before, I'm sure, so this is no different, here.

As a result the organization may do any of the following: 

_ not understanding how a nonprofit affords to pay for a grant writing program (i.e. the overhead costs, staff, etc.)

_ micro-managing the grant writer out of anxiety about needing the grant money (a too hands on approach)

_ thinking that the only fundraising a nonprofit need do is grant writing (though sometimes this might be enough for the time being, depending…)

_ assuming that grant writing will reap a lot of money right away

_ not understanding the entire grant writing process (including initial discovery and then initial prospecting) and the time involved in each step, and then total in order for a truly viable grant program to launch

_ assuming that they can just hand the grant writer some organizational documents and the grant writer will go off and magically cause grants to begin to appear (a too hands off approach)

In practice, in order for a grant writer to create buy in, she or he can: begin by demonstrating their professional capabilities such that the client becomes comfortable and confident about that grant writer’s experience, knowledge, and capabilities; clearly explain (and then explain again and again as this is really a learning curve to summit) what the entire grant writing process actually is, what is normal at each stage and why, what they should expect at each point along the way, and what the realistic time line will be for the entire process; demonstrating (by example of your work or other nonprofits’ successes) how effective grant writing is once a program is initiated by a nonprofit and up and operating (and then conducted going forward so that the upfront costs are lessened by the eventual success rate (acquiring grants)); encouraging anyone involved who is skeptical, critical, anxious, etc. about the grant writing program, process, or prospects to talk with you; and continually communicate regularly and often about the state of the program and process, what has been achieved, what is pending, and what the next action items are (and when they will be completed).  Encourage them to ask their friends and colleagues working for other nonprofits what their grant writing experiences have been, what the process is, how long the process takes, and what the results or outcomes have been.  Encourage them to educate themselves (from professional reputable resources) about the grant writing process, too.

Again, none of this is easy, obvious, or just something that any ol' grant writer worth their salt should just know how to fix quickly, accurately, and to some perfect end.  Every situation is different.  This kind of situation, no matter one's profession, where anyone works, or what they are doing 'right', is a challenge.  But, it is a challenge that can be overcome with some patience, empathy, dedication, and time.

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