Why Grant Writing is Not All About the Writing
We need money!
I hear this a lot when I begin consulting for a new organization. Some clients think that grant writers can just wave their magic pen and win any and all grants they apply for. Yes, grant writers are responsible for having great writing skills and crafting a winning grant proposal, but they shouldn’t be writing at their desks everyday. (Gasp!)
When I hear “we need money,” I usually want to ask the organization what it has been doing to raise money so far. Raising money for a nonprofit should be viewed as a team effort of all stakeholders, not just the responsibility of the grant writers.
The fact is, the more support your nonprofit offers its grant writer and the more communication your organization has across all levels of management and staff, the more successful your organization will be at winning grants. Also, as a grant professional you should be reminding your organization that it shouldn’t be relying only on grants to raise much needed funds. But I don’t need to tell you that, right?
So how do you get everyone involved? Let’s look at each of your stakeholders individually.
Board of Directors/Executive Director
Consider forming a development committee to reach out to your board of directors and executive director. Then, ensure that members who have experience in, or are interested in learning about, fundraising are assigned to serve on the development committee that will work to support your grant efforts.
The development committee should:
- Be supportive of fundraising efforts by your development office and grant writers.
- Hold its board members accountable for their own fundraising efforts.
- Maintain open communication with the grant writers. This is key to the success of the overall atmosphere and relationship between board members and front-line fundraisers.
- Facilitate direct dialogue between committee members and the grant writers. This will allow the committee members to get a real sense of the grant writing process, including setting realistic grant goals. This will also allow committee members to relate key information back to the other board members.
- Help build strong relationships between foundations and committee members. As the grant professional, your grant writer should provide committee members the names of appropriate foundations and their board members’ names. Chances could be good that someone knows someone. Get them to contact the person they know to talk about your organization.
- Invite board of directors to take turns being at site visits when foundation representatives come to see the organization firsthand. This will give the board members the opportunity to answer and ask the representatives’ questions and get to know the grant writing process firsthand from the perspective of foundation program officers.
To ensure that program staff members are active participants in the grant writing process, you will need to:
- Work hand-in-hand with your program staff. Get to know the needs of your programs. Begin by personally observing or participating in some of your organization’s programs (whether it is a training class or serving meals to clients in need).
- Make sure you touch base regularly with program managers. Know what is changing about their programs and if new programs would benefit your organization in reaching their mission.
- Collaborate with program managers about collecting important numbers and statistics to document your organization’s effectiveness.
- Measure and report your programs’ impact upon the community and how your programs help your organization achieve its mission.
- Make certain you have measurable and meaningful outcomes in place and that you are effectively gathering needed documentation to verify your organization’s achievements.
- Communicate these results to your funders, since ultimately they will want to see their ROI (return on investment) for the grant funds awarded to your organization.
As the grant writer, you will probably not have face-to-face contact with many clients or program participants. However, your staff members do have ready access to them. So have staff record and share client stories with you. There is nothing more powerful than having a client success story to illustrate the impact that your organization has upon your community, and how it is successfully meeting its mission.
Additionally, you might consider interviewing the volunteers at your organization to capture their stories too. By weaving their personal observations and experiences into your proposals, you can show even more of the impacts that your program has upon your community.
To get your funders excited about your funding requests, you should:
- Contact their program officers before you mail in your proposals. A grant writer can learn a lot about what is needed to craft a successful proposal by asking questions in the early stages of the application process.
- Get to know them on a more personal level. Through phone and in-person contact, you will begin what hopefully will become a long-lasting relationship between your organization and the foundation.
- Always say thank-you (whether they awarded you a contract or not). This is easy to do. Simply send thank-you notes or letters, make personal phone calls, or even invite the program officer to lunch.
- Make sure your grant project administrator is a good steward of the foundation’s funds. Ensure that funds are spent in compliance with the conditions listed in your grant award letter or contract. Be certain that the funder will believe that its investment in your program was a wise choice.
As you can see from the lists above, grant writing is not all about the writing. While it is a large part of what we do (and is usually what we are hired for), winning grant contracts and awards is also the result of building relationships, collaborating, and communicating with funders.
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