I recently read an article in the Journal of the American Association of Grant Professionals that rang true in my experience as a nonprofit consultant. The article referred to the lonely pile of unsolicited grants on a foundation officer’s desk – the “stranger” pile (Lundahl, Journal of the AAGP, Fall 2008: Vol. 6, No. 1).
Odds of being funded from this pile are small to improbable.
If a foundation has no clue who you are, you have not done your homework, the upfront preparation that makes all the difference. It takes time. The message: plan ahead.
Grant writing is not about putting a proposal together, though that is an important component of it. I think of the proposal writing as the culmination of many steps that have taken place upfront.
- Clear definition of what your organization needs.
- Compelling justification that you are the one to fulfill those needs.
- Staff and/or partners have met to discuss the strategic goals and objectives.
- Research has taken place to identify a group of funding agencies whose mission is a bullseye for your project.
- Board members and staff are ready to visit or call the foundation, corporation, or government office when possible. When the investment in your organization is critical (usually capacity building or start-up) then a face to face meeting is really productive. *Investment in airfare and hotel to meet personally with a foundation clearly #4 in this list is well worth it. My experience is that it may take a year before it pays off. But they may fund you significantly and if you meet your objectives and the need is great you be funded over and over again.
Before you think of applying for a grant, ask yourself how you could get the job done without it. Can you trade services with another organization, share a staff member, charge a fee for service, partner with a group that will donate the services inkind? This should always be your question even when it is clear you’ll need grant funding as well. Most foundations are more certain of you if your project is recognized as worthy by other funding agencies.
So, the message is this: it’s not about a grant writer, it’s about a team and a grantwriter. It is about long range planning.