Top 5 Things To Consider During Grant Writing Season
While Summer is in full swing and we are enjoying time with our family and friends, it’s time to get geared up and start preparing for Fall grant application season. Below are 5 Top Things to start thinking on now before Grant Applications and Requests for Proposals are released.
- Deadlines – Even those of us with the best intentions sometimes miss deadlines. In the grant funding world, if you miss your deadline you miss your opportunity to be considered for funding. Get application deadlines on your team’s calendar and also send out an email to the entire team letting them know what grant proposal(s) is/are due when and what the deadline(s) is/are. Identify the person in your organization or on your grant writing team who is a pro at project management and work with them to help push your team through the application drafting process so you are not scrambling at the last minute to draft as the submission deadline clock starts counting down. Always expect technology and other glitches and when possible, build in lead time to finish your application ahead of deadline.
- Instructions – Before you start drafting, read the application in its entirety and read the instructions and eligibility criteria. If a funder is soliciting grant applications for specific projects and you submit a grant application for unrestricted or general support funding, chances are that your proposal will not be funded because you did not follow the instructions or meet the eligibility criteria. Read the instructions and make sure that your entire team is on the same page before moving forward to the drafting stage so that you don’t waste and lose time. If the application requires attachments be sure to assemble them and upload or attach to your application as instructed.
- The Ask – While you do need to be specific in your written and even verbal pitch, do not use acronyms or industry-specific terms and jargon that the grant application review team may not be familiar with in their day to day work. It’s true that you may be limited by characters or words in the application, but you’ve got to consider your audience: do not overwhelm them with paragraphs or pages of industry-speak, and do not assume that the application reviewers are experts on what you are proposing. Start with a basic foundation and build from there as you draft. Be sure to cite your fact and data sources, use the most recent data available to describe the need, be realistic in what can be accomplished during the grant period, and most importantly be authentic. Do engage your entire team on the drafting and review and editing of your application before you hit the submit button.
- The Budget – Some folks on your grant writing team may find this part of the application process a struggle. Do read the instructions: is the funder asking for the operational budget of your entire operation, just a budget for the proposed project, budgets for both the organization and a break-out budget for your proposed project, or something else. Unless the instructions indicate otherwise, do include your overhead costs in your budget request. There is a cost to provide services that are in addition to staff salaries. Most funders understand that there are necessary overhead costs to keep the organization running like: rent, utilities, insurance, travel, professional development, and other costs. Some funders may cap what you can request in overhead expenses either in a dollar amount or as a percentage. Some funders may not allow overhead costs to be included in the funding request, however the funder would still like to generally know what your overhead costs are. Do not wait until the last minute to put your budget together or calculate your overhead costs and engage your budget and/or finance team early on in the grant application process.
- Deliverables and Outcomes – Grant funders and philanthropy, generally, are split on what they require from grantees mid-way and at year-end of grant periods. Some funders recognize that it may take up to 3 years (or more!) for grantees to effect change through the societal interventions they are proposing and they also understand that failure is part of both community learning and systems change. Other funders expect their grantees to essentially produce widgets with an easily calculable return on investment. When drafting your proposal remember that Outcomes tell your audience the difference that was made by the Outputs. Outputs do not measure the value or impact of your services for your clients. Output examples include the number of clients served. Telling a funder that you propose to serve 200 clients in a 12-month grant period does not tell the funder anything more than that. Your proposal must answer the funder’s So What question – so what that you are going to serve 200 clients, what does that mean for those clients and their community? An Outcome could be: of the 200 clients we intend to serve through the proposed project, at least 85% will report that their goals were achieved. Outcomes on the other hand are both quantitative and qualitative. Outcomes measure change and reflect results, experiences, and perceptions between the grantee organization and the communities it serves. Civil legal aid providers can learn more about Outcomes from the Legal Services Corporation’s Outcomes Toolkit.
Finally, do not be afraid to have conversations with current and potential funders to find out what the expectations are before you begin drafting your grant proposal. While you may be inclined to speak to the Executive Director/CEO of a funding organization, you’ll be better served to open a dialogue with Program Officers and/or other program staff who manage the grant programs that meet your organization’s mission and vision. Program staff are the folks who are on the ground and are in positions to support grantees and to provide guidance and clarification. Most Program Officers see the funder-grantee relationship as a partnership to success that results in uplifting communities. Some will tell you exactly what to write in your funding proposal and others will give you broad guidelines. Whatever the case, you have to be able to succinctly (and sensibly) tell the funder what you expect to achieve during the grant period, what impact your organization will make, why your organization is *the* organization that should get funded for the work, how you will collaborate within and across sectors, how your proposal aligns with the funder’s mission and vision, why the services proposed are not duplicative of other providers, and how you will evaluate and measure success.
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