Simply put, there are three main challenges that nonprofit leaders face when trying to write grants: time, time and time. If you’re in a leadership role, you know that I’m only partially kidding! Grant writing – when done right – takes time, and I’ve never met an executive director or other nonprofit leader that thought they have enough. This is especially true for small- and medium-sized organizations where nearly all of the functional responsibilities are handled by the executive director. It also applies to organizations of any size that don’t employ a development staff or, at a minimum, a staff grant writer.
During my 3½ year tenure as the general manager of a community symphony, I found that carving out time to research funding opportunities and write proposals was an ongoing challenge. Thanks to a supportive board and a couple of willing and experienced volunteers, the organization went from securing less than $1,000 to more than $10,000 annually in grant revenue.
What are the keys to successful grant writing for a busy nonprofit leader?
Start with your board. Most boards are more than willing to support efforts to diversify income sources, but it’s important that your board understand that you will be spending time – sometimes significant time – on grant writing.
Make sure your board understands that “grant writing” is more than just preparing an application. It includes searching for and prioritizing potential funders, gathering or creating required attachments, and preparing and submitting the proposal. Ultimately, your board may need to allocate additional hours in the budget for your time spent on grant writing. If that isn’t an option for your organization, but your board places a priority on grant seeking, they will need to lighten your responsibilities in other areas. Board members may need to volunteer their services or help find volunteers to take over those functions.
Approaching grant writing in an organized fashion will result in better proposals and greater success. Create a system – either paper or electronic – for grant documents. I prefer an electronic system, so each proposal gets a folder on my computer, e.g., Target 2013. This is the funder folder. Within the funder folder are my working folders: RFP and Templates, Data and Correspondence, Working Documents, Final Proposal, Award Letter and Contract, Reporting Data, Reports. Whether paper-based or electronic, a system like this will allow you to quickly find the information you need, especially when it’s time to prepare interim and final reports.
Accountability and Scheduling
It’s easy to continually push grant writing to the bottom of the to-do list. One way to hold yourself accountable for progress is to add grant writing to your regular board report. Tell your board on a regular basis what you’ve applied for, which proposals you will be submitting during the time between your board meetings, and be sure to celebrate successful applications with your board. This helps your accountability will likely increase your board’s support of these efforts.
Finally, and most importantly, schedule time for grant writing. Finding new sources of revenue for your organization is an important task; it may even be critical to your organization’s survival. It deserves your dedicated attention. Grant writing requires concentration - the fewer interruptions the better. Block time on your calendar at least twice a week for at least two hours at a time to focus on the grant writing process. During the time you set aside for grant writing, don’t schedule meetings, turn off your cell phone, and close your email. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish when you dedicate just a few hours each week to grant writing.
If you follow these suggestions and still struggle with finding time to pursue grants for your organization, contact a grant consultant. A grant consultant will talk with you about your current process, the programs you want to fund, and the specific areas where you need help. Most are willing to handle your entire grant writing process – from funding searches to writing proposals to preparing grant reports – or help with part of the process. For example, you may have time in a couple of months to start writing grants, but you really want a list of funders and a grant calendar ready for you at that time.
Shelley Loethen, GPC, is the owner of Encore Grant Services, Inc. Encore Grants provides a full range of grant consulting services including funding searches, grant calendars, program planning, proposal writing, reporting, and training and mentoring. Assel Consulting and Encore Grants frequently collaborate to provide nonprofit clients in Kansas City and across the nation with the highest quality in grant writing services. From federal grants to proposals to local funders, Assel Consulting and Encore Grant Services, Inc. can help with your grant seeking efforts.