Coffee Shop or Boardroom? How an Organization’s Culture Influences the Grant Process Written by Michele Ryan

Many times, being a grant professional feels more like an endless quest for information. We find ourselves at the mercy of those who create the programs and the individuals who hold the data. Navigating the twists and turns and the emphatic, “you need what!!??” can be daunting. Whether as a consultant or the grant writer on staff, our role puts us in the position of relying on others to provide us with the information necessary to craft a grant proposal worthy of funding. How this process unfolds is largely dependent on the culture of the organization and the way they communicate, plan, and process information.

Let’s take, for example, Tiny Tim Theatre Company. Run primarily by a volunteer working board, the organization has a long, proud history and stellar programs, but not much in the way of formal structure in place to ensure easy access to information. I think of this as the coffee shop style of communication. Their culture is warm and collaborative. It has flair and is always stimulating but doesn’t always result in data that fits neatly into a grant application’s little box. This can be tricky, but I have found that matching up staff and volunteers to key areas (i.e. Jane keeps the financials, John plans programming, Mary has a great mind for data) and then targeting specific questions is more efficient than addressing the group as a whole. By recognizing and respecting their style while focusing on who will be most valuable in helping me, I avoid frustration and most importantly, am able to secure the funding they need to bring their next program to life.

On the other hand, let’s consider Ivy U. The political hierarchy rivals Buckingham Palace. Each team member has a strictly defined role and responsibility, yet it isn’t always possible to reach them directly. Most often, there is a guard at the palace gate who holds the power. Befriending this individual and presenting very clear, organized requests is usually the best way to secure information. I have also found it enormously helpful to secure a seat at the table during important strategy sessions. This not only gives you firsthand access to information but offers a rare look at how decisions are made and the broader outcomes the organization is trying to achieve.

Of course, these are exaggerated generalizations and most often our organizations or clients lie somewhere in between. Common to all cultures as it relates to the grant process, is the absolute necessity to plan ahead. Whether navigating the coffee shop scene or the boardroom, allowing enough time to plan shows respect for the individual and gives us as grant writers credibility. Next time they see you coming with an “I’m going to need…,” you may find that the focus is where it belongs – on the greater purpose behind your request. Isn’t that why we do this in the first place?

Competency #2: Knowledge of organizational development as it pertains to grant seeking

Skill #7: Identify effects of applicants’ organizational cultures, values, decision-making processes, and norms on the pursuit of grant opportunities.