Hey, Can You Write a Grant for That?
Development Directors, how many times has a teacher or a member of the staff come to you with an idea or project that will happen in the next month and want grant funding to cover it? Development Directors have a super-human capacity for getting things done, but knowing both your limits and ways to grow successfully will help you and your organization in achieving goals.
As a development director for a small independent school, I wrote proposals and won grants each year from primarily small to mid-sized family foundations. Awards ranged from $2,000 to $25,000, and though those may seem like modest figures, they were transformative to the program in providing additional opportunities for students and teachers. Additionally, in winning each grant and promoting the grant benefits to the school, the excitement contributed to the culture of philanthropy.
By writing compelling stories about an organization for which you feel passionate, you have the basis for success as a grant proposal writer.
Here are tips to help you organize for a grant writing campaign:
Know Your Organization’s Strategic Vision. Attend board and staff meetings to understand the programmatic priorities for the following year. Arrange to meet with each department to understand their needs. After gathering information about priorities across the organization, confer with the executive director to further prioritize the needs.
Research. Use subscription databases available to you through the public library or a larger partner organization to research which foundations in your area might be likely to fund your organization or project. By using the subscription service, your searches will be much more fruitful than only using a browser search. Keep your organization’s database of prospective grant makers up to date and populated with deadlines for applications and reporting.
The Case for Support. Have you fully articulated the vision for the type of support you need? Are the staff, administration, and board all aligned in this vision? Have you written out the details of the need, the project, and the outcomes you anticipate? Have you prepared a project budget? Have you identified additional forms of support? No foundation wants to be the only source of funding, and most do not want to be the first one to commit.
Stories. Talk with staff and clients or recipients of your program to hear how your organization has changed the trajectory of their life or that of their loved ones. The more examples you have of moving stories that embody the life-giving forces of your organization, the better prepared you will be to write your proposal and to speak with the program manager of the foundation to explain your project.
Relationships. Think about the way you cultivate and steward relationships with leadership and major donors. Foundation leaders and program managers can be viewed in the same light. By developing a relationship with foundation leadership, keeping them informed as to the victories and challenges of your organization, and inviting them to events and programs, you are increasing the likelihood that when you do submit a proposal, it will be met with interest and excitement. Be sure to include your executive director and board chair in this relationship-building process. Ultimately, they will have a significant role in securing the grant award.
Don’t Chase the Money. Never create a program with the primary goal to bring in grant funding. For example, knowing that XYZ Foundation has a funding priority this year to support community gardens does not mean that your organization should start a community garden, specifically if that were not part of a broader strategic initiative. Look for funding that matches what your organization intends to do according to its published strategic vision.
Establish a Project Leader. Just because you are raising funds, does not mean that the development director is also the project manager for the use of funds. Only move forward with the proposal and project if you have a capable and dedicated leader who will responsibly oversee and carry out the plan as it's outlined in the proposal, and help you with the mid-term and final reporting to the foundation.
Establish a Timeline. Start the process a year ahead of the anticipated project implementation and be clear to staff and board members that you will not apply for grants last minute, or outside of the established priorities for that year.
Receiving grant funding is a deliberate and time-consuming strategy. If you have considered all factors and opportunities, grants can be an essential part of your fundraising program.