Grant Writer Overview

Grant Writer Overview

Grant Writer Overview
My philosophy of grant writing is play to win. Grant funding is more competitive than ever. Since the economic downturn, more nonprofits and businesses are applying for grants, and there is less money to go around. The recession also created new societal challenges such as poverty and unemployment that prompted many funders to change their funding priorities to help those most in need. In addition, as a belt-tightening strategy, many foundations have decided to work only with organizations they have funded in the past and are not making new commitments. Moreover, many federal agencies have fewer grant rounds per year.

Programs have to be innovative and well designed and proposals have to be well written. Choosing to partner with other organizations on a project will make a stronger case for getting funded. Despite today’s scenario, if you have a worthwhile project that serves a need in your community, then I believe that getting funded is a matter of having the right project for the right funder at the right time. These challenging times require optimism, perseverance, and creativity.

Grant Writing Is a Storytelling Activity
A winning grant proposal tells a compelling story of how you will provide a solution to a problem that concerns a potential funder. A good story will appeal to the funder on an emotional level and should be backed up with current research. Fresh perspective from a grant writer can identify blind spots your organization may have in telling the best story you can. Your story should also highlight the accomplishments and accountability of your organization so that a potential funder will have confidence in your organization and is not taking a great risk. You need to show that you are the perfect candidate to be funded and will be successful in carrying out your project or program. You also need to convince potential funders that your project not only fulfills your organization’s mission, goals, and objectives, but theirs as well. Ultimately, a grant writer’s job involves making a strong case for a perfect match between grant-seeker and funder.

How I Work
The grant-seeking process requires a grant team often consisting of an executive director, program staff, and the grant writer. Please note that your proposal will not be competitive without input from a variety of players.

Prior to working with a client, I will determine if the organization is “grant ready.” If they are not grant ready, then I will provide them with a list of things they need to do.

After the first meeting, I will write an outline and the first draft for review. Based on my client’s feedback, I will write a few more drafts. Sometimes my client and I will work on a grant together in Google Docs, which can work very well.

Please note that I do not work on a fee contingent basis. This practice is considered unethical and is prohibited by leading professional groups, including the Association for Fundraising Professionals and Grant Professionals Association.

Prospect Research
Although time-consuming, prospect research is an important investment especially in an organization’s first year of grantseeking. This involves researching on databases and reviewing websites of potential funders. The information on the website is often more up-to-date than what’s found in the databases. And a prospect may look like a perfect match but after reading the fine print on their website, a single criteria can cause an organization to be ineligible. This research is captured in an Excel spreadsheet with the name of the foundation/agency, program areas they fund, upcoming deadline(s), contact information, and the Ask (targeted dollar amount). If not found on the website or in the databases, additional research may be required to determine an appropriate Ask, gleaned from a funder’s 990 in Guidestar. I also rate the prospects as “A” – a perfect fit; “B” as mid-list, and “C” as maybe. From this spreadsheet, I prepare an annual grants calendar with abbreviated information from above and arrange it in date chronological order — for grants to pursue going forward. This research takes from 20 to 40 hours.

Cultivating Relationships
Relationships can play an instrumental role in grant success especially with foundations. If you’re seeking funding from a foundation, it’s an excellent idea for an executive director to call the potential grantmaker and discuss the proposed project. This contact not only ensures that the project is indeed a good fit, but also serves as a relationship-building activity. Program officers at foundations often encourage dialog with an organization’s executive director; they want to be an engaged partner in moving your organization forward rather than simply writing a check. Some grantmakers may also want to arrange a meeting with the executive director and organizational staff; this is called a site visit. Keep in mind that it’s not likely that foundations will send a check to an organization if they’ve never had contact with them. However, some smaller family foundations do not have the staff to take phone calls.

Writing the Proposal
Depending on the amount of money involved, writing a grant takes time. If you are asking for a lot of money, then the application will be both longer and more complex. Two months for a federal grant proposal is a good amount of time to work on this kind of grant. There is a lot to think about and a lot of information to pull together. Anything short of two months makes this an absolutely frantic activity. And a short timeline does not lend itself to success. Foundation proposals are not as rigorous, but there are exceptions out there. I recommend preparing a template proposal for each of your organization’s programs or projects. Then when you see an imminent grant deadline, you have the proposal nearly ready. Federal funding announcements generally have very little lead time, usually just a month or so.

The Letter of Inquiry or LOI
Many grantmakers prefer that organizations submit a two- or three-page letter or mini-proposal as an initial approach for funding. These letters provide the grant writer and an organization with the opportunity to focus on the journalistic 5 Ws and the H (who, what, when, where, why, and how). Consequently, they focus on the essential details of a project without a huge investment of time. If a grantmaker likes your Letter of Inquiry or mini-proposal, then they will invite your organization to submit a full proposal, however, this invitation is not a guarantee of funding.

Submitting the Grant
My clients are responsible for the final grant submission to foundations, state agencies, and federal agencies.

Final Reporting
If your organization receives funding for a project, the grantmaker often requires a final report that documents how the monies were spent, and if you were successful in accomplishing your goals and objectives. Keep careful records of your project activities.