Monday, September 27, 2010

What Is the Value of Grant Writing, for A Nonprofit?

During a discussion with a colleague this week, I considered an interesting question.  He wondered, generally, what the value is in grant writing.  He didn't ask, 'what's the point of grant writing', or 'is grant writing worth its weight in gold' but rather what is the value of it.

I thought about his question and then responded.  If you have any thoughts on this question, please "Comment" below, at the end of this post, and share them.

The value of anything is relative because there are certain pertinent factors that will vary, grant writing nonprofit to nonprofit.  What type of entity is attempting the grant writing, nonprofit or otherwise?  How well operated and managed is this organization?  How old is it?  How well does it execute the usual operations necessary for any nonprofit to grow, thrive, and succeed over time (i.e. programs planning, recruiting talent, strategic planning, leadership, fundraising, donor or volunteer recruitment and retention, etc.)?  What drives its programs and services: its beneficiaries and their current but as yet unmet needs or something else?  Does this organization operate ethically while also attaining the goal of its mission statement, regularly?  Who are the people involved in the applicant organization's operations (board, executive director, volunteers, and staff)?   Does the organization communicate with its public, regularly, sharing its mission, current programs, current goals, and most recent successes?  Why is grant writing being conducted?  How was the grant writing program planned and thought out (or was it even given any forethought)?  How long has grant writing been done there?  Who is doing the grant writing, what is their professional background?  How much real-world, current, professional, best practices does the organization's key leadership know about the grant writing process?

In fact, these questions and others in this vein are interesting because while they shape how you or I might respond to what the value of grant writing is to a given nonprofit, these also happen to be the types of questions that many experienced grant donors seek answers to through their specific grant application process (which applicants, of course, answer).

The value of a specific nonprofit's grant writing program (to itself) (whether realized, yet, or discerning its potential value) is directly related to the answers to the questions in the fourth paragraph, down (above).  This gets to the very reason that a grant donor attempts to discern the answers to these questions, when reviewing each application for a grant.  The question the grant donor is asking is, "Will this nonprofit use this money efficiently, be effective and achieve pre-determined quantifiable, verifiable, and relevant outcomes in what the money funds, while operating the organization ethically, and remaining driven in the organization's goals by the current but unmet needs of the organization's beneficiaries?" and "Is this organization capable of doing these things, realistically?"  If the answer to these questions, after an initial review of the application and applicant organization is "yes", then other questions follow, such as the what, where, who, when, why, and how of the specific reason the grant is being requested (a program, project, item, etc.).

If it isn't worth the grant donor giving the grant in response to an applicant, there may be one of a myriad of reasons why (everything from 'we wanted to but just can't this cycle, apply again next cycle', to 'the proposed project doesn't seem possible', etc.).  This is why it's best to apply for grants from the strongest possible operations and mission-focused internal culture possible (because, good practices aside, at a minimum other organizations will, whether yours' is or not and you need to be able to compete for the grant successfully); and it's also why it's good to follow up with grant donors, after your grant request is declined, and politely and professionally ask them why it was declined, and then hear what they share with you.  Based on their feedback, make appropriate improvements or listen to their suggestions, and then apply again.

The value of any grant writing is related to the nonprofit's real potential and the investment in understanding how professional grant writing is conducted that succeeds, how well run the organization operates such that it is an efficient and successful effort at its mission statement, how relevant its work is, how reputable the talent is that works for the organization, what the beneficiary's current needs are (in recent professional studies), and more.  In other words, the value in doing grant writing depends upon how serious the organization is about being successful at not just grant writing, itself, but the very reason it exists: the work of its mission statement.

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