Grant writers by necessity must be able to keep a number of different balls in the air at once or risk ineffectiveness. Operating grants. Program grants. Construction projects. Equipment needs. And on and on and on. Whether you are a paid staffer at a single organization or you freelance for a variety of non-profits, you must be able to manage a diverse portfolio of grant projects.
Write things down. I know if I do not record what I am doing I am not going to remember. There is just too much going on to keep track of every detail. First, I have my lists of grant projects on which I am working. I try to keep that in front of my eyes at all times, as a visual reminder of what I must accomplish. Sometimes this list is bare bones, just listing the project. Other times, when the details are available, I will include deadlines and the funding source to which I will be applying.
Second, I keep track of my progress, in writing. I make detailed notes from interviews, telephone conversations, and research. Also, I write a weekly activity report on all my work over the past seven days, which I save so I can keep track of what I have done.
These written lists and progress reports can be done by hand or recorded in some format on your computer. The important thing is to find a system that works for you and record what you are working on. The memory can fade, but pen to paper (or computer to paper, as the case may be) is a permanent record of where you are going and what you have done so far to get there.
Organize. Okay, writing things down is great, but if you cannot find your notes they will not be much good to you. Again, each individual has to find a system that works for her, but my personal process includes making a file folder for each project. The projects I am currently working on stay in a desktop organizer that allows for them to stand upright, facing me. I cannot forget a project if it stares me in the face every day. Within each file I include notes I have taken on the project, progress I have made, contact information, and possible funding sources. These files come in handy while I am searching for funding for a particular project, and I have used them after a project has concluded as fodder for similar grants on which I am working.
Prioritize. What do you need to get done first? Years ago, when I was just a little grant writer, I asked the Vice President for Development (my supervisor) and the President of an institution for which I worked for help prioritizing a long list of projects they wanted grant funds for — yesterday. The President and VP started down the list assigning each item the number one. When we arrived at the seventeenth item on the list (again assigned a one), I interrupted. “Gentleman,” I said. “Something on this list has got to be a two.” Their compromise was to give the next item the assignment of “1B.”
I offer this story because it illustrates one of the problems so many grant writers encounter every day: the perception that every problem is a crisis and needs to be addressed immediately. Demand, if you have to, that those above you give you the top three priorities on their list. That is not to say that you will ignore the others, but a list of twenty items is unmanageable and sets the grant writer up for failure. Knowing where to start, with the top needs, helps you to address the most important issues your organization is facing and enables you to be more effective.
Insist on planning. The topic of prioritizing needs brings me to the issue of planning. I have worked for organizations that approached grant writing as if it were an emergency fund raising tool. I call this the Chicken Little approach to fund raising: The sky is falling… we better get a grant right away.
Those of us in the field know that planning is crucial to a successful grantsmanship program. Securing a grant takes TIME. In a Utopian grant world, the project would be planned out BEFORE the need for it is critical. Adequate time would be given to get the research done with regard to finding an appropriate funding source. Then, and only then, would the grant be written and submitted. I tell those who come to me seeking grant funds that it could take us a month and it could take us a year to get a grant for their programs. While there are grant funds out there for emergency needs, the best grant program relies on and has access to a quality planning process.
Economize. If you are working on several grant projects at once, try to batch your efforts to make the best use of your time. For example, let’s say you are writing grants for your annual campaign, a construction project, and seed money to start a new program and you need to research possible funding sources. Conduct all of your research at once, moving from one topic to the next until you have completed it. You are already in research mode; you already have your resources in front of you. Why not combine the effort and get the most out of your research session?
Communicate. It is vital that you keep all parties informed of what you are doing. When a client or colleague thinks that you are not working on his project — because he sees you are working on another one — he can become cranky. Keep all involved parties in the loop; let them know where you stand on their projects and what is going to happen next. This tactic reduces complaining (of course, it will never eliminate griping) and decreases the likelihood that anyone will think you are slacking.
Ask for help. Grant writes are often the lone wolves in their organizations, being the only person among their colleagues who does what they do. Look for opportunities to delegate. Can a secretary in the office assist you with organizing your files, making copies, or packaging grant materials? Can the person who asked you to write the grant assist by gathering background information or finding an expert to whom you can talk? Are you lucky enough to have a budget where you could hire a subcontractor to do some of your research for you? Finding assistance can help you better manage the workflow.
Grant writing can be at the same time frustrating and rewarding. The trick in keeping it on the positive side of that equation is to learn to juggle multiple priorities in an effective way. A grant writer who can master this balancing act will find her efforts will be more effective, resulting in a higher number of approved grants.