Grant Writing Overview

Living amidst the turmoil of our economic, social justice, climate, and public health crises, it’s still possible to apply for grants and receive funding for your organization. The best place to start is to contact previous funders, if applicable, and see what’s possible going forward. If your organization has modified operations, you may need to revisit your mission, vision, and values and determine what you can reasonably accomplish in these uncertain times. And perhaps your organization can turn current challenges into new opportunities. On a positive note, in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article by Dan Parks, “Sixty percent of foundations expect their giving this year to exceed budgeted 2020 levels, with an average increase of 17 percent, according to a new report examining how grant makers are responding to the health and economic crises.”

My philosophy of grant writing is play to win. If you decide to pursue a grant opportunity, plan ahead so you’ll have ample time to develop a competitive proposal. Programs should be innovative and well designed, and proposals need to be well written. Partnering with other organizations on a project makes a stronger case for funding as well. 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 a grant seeker and funder.

The Fund Development Process
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.

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.

Grant Research
Grant research is an important investment for every organization seeking funding and especially for an organization in their first year of grant seeking. This research consists of searching on funding databases of private-sector funders and public-sector funders (state and federal agencies) as well as a careful review of the potential funder’s funding areas and guidelines on their Web sites. A careful review of the fine print on a funder’s Web site can often reveal disqualifying criteria. In addition, giving trends in 990s found in databases are reviewed and analyzed to determine an appropriate Ask.

The grant research is captured in a spreadsheet with the name of the potential funder, contact information, target dollar amounts, and deadlines. For a new organization, there may be 20 potential funders identified for an upcoming year. Depending on the organization and/or program, potential grantmakers will be a combination of U.S. federal agencies, state agencies, private foundations, and corporate giving programs.

Cultivating Relationships
Relationships can play an instrumental role in grant success. 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. Whenever possible executive directors should establish contact with program officers at foundations and public agencies to introduce the organization and discuss the proposed project or funding need. This contact is not only a way to vet a project but also serves as a relationship-building activity. 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. That said, cultivating relationships isn’t always possible, as in the case of smaller family foundations that have a small staff.

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 (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. Some funders have moved their LOI process online and may be more extensive than a two- or three-page letter.

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.

Contact Cass for a 30-minute complimentary consultation to discuss your fund development or communications projects.