New Year on the Horizon: Preparation is Key By Maryam Gilmore, JD

As grant professionals, many of us know that our workload tends to ease up a bit during the last month or two of the year. Yes, yes, the holidays are here as well, but this is no ordinary year (e.g., pandemic, racial tensions, etc.). What has felt to some people like a decade’s-long timespan (i.e. 2020), is FINALLY coming to an end. (Ok, ok. ‘Some people’ is me. I am ‘some people.’) But if you’re like me, you’re determined to remain cautiously optimistic about the upcoming year; having faith that things will ultimately be ok in the end. So, this is an ideal time to seize the moment and maximize your efficiency by preparing for the year to come. While there are many things a grant professional should do to be ready for an upcoming year, we’ll talk briefly about a few of the key ones.

Year-End Update to Funders

When I was an in-house grant professional, this was one of the things I most enjoyed doing: showing funders the impact of their giving. Some agencies conduct visits during this time or drop off a thank you gift. Others compose a year-end update letter (or a hybrid combination of a letter and gift). You can think of this letter as the agency’s chance to write to funders and supporters about the agency’s accomplishments and thank them for contributing to those successes. It doesn’t have to be fancy or too time-consuming. You can even use a generic letter and load it up with photos, data, and if possible some quotes from the people you serve. Collectively, this helps your agency stand out in the funder’s memory and is a great way to exhibit your agency’s transparency and gratitude.

Grant Research

We’re always researching throughout the year, looking for opportunities to fund the agencies we serve. However, when this research is occurring amidst back-to-back deadlines and other obligations, it’s often a very quick, specific  attempt to meet an immediate need. Now that you have slowed down, schedule some time (perhaps a few days) when you can really dig in and assess your agency’s gaps (meaning, which parts of the agency’s budget need to be funded by grants and what the organization’s strategic priorities are for expansion or new projects in the coming year). Then, use that as a compass to target deeper research towards those specific needs.

Grant Calendar

Once you have any additional research completed, you’re ready to put together a comprehensive grant calendar for the new year. Likely, you’ve kept a rolling list of opportunities you want to consider for the upcoming year, but you haven’t yet organized it into a grant calendar. Take the time to organize these funders and deadlines, based on the budget gaps and needs you have identified, into a grant calendar so you can budget your time accordingly throughout the year. This will also help you ensure you don’t inadvertently miss out on a funding opportunity.

Spruce up the Old Case Statement

Hopefully, if you’ve made it this far in the blog, you know what a case statement is. But in case you don’t, a case statement is a concisely written document that outlines the most important information about the organization. (Think: the need, how you meet the need, what you could achieve with additional resources, etc.) While not everyone utilizes a case statement, they have been invaluable to me. They serve as a foundational tool, with lots of narrative that can be easily transferred into a grant application. Sprucing up an existing one is relatively simple, although final data components (like year-end totals for the population served) will have to be plugged in after the new year. The good news is that doing this now accomplishes an important task that will save you time later. Take the time now to make a list of new data points you will be needing for next year. This can help you stay on track and helps you communicate those data needs sooner. Communicating these needs to staff earlier will hopefully help you circumvent the last-minute rush to get data when you need it in January. If there have been any program changes, you’ll want to discuss those in your new case statement as well.

Start Building Your New Attachments Folder

Now is the time to gather the documents you know you’re going to need for grant submissions next year. Specifically, I’m talking about the ones that change from year-to-year like your agency’s most recent 990, audit, annual agency budget, etc. Start asking your finance folks for these things now so that you’ll have them by the time you need them in January.

By utilizing the slow time before the new year to get prepared, you might just be able to maintain a calmer pace in 2021.

GPC Competency #1: Knowledge of how to research, identify, and match funding resources to meet specific needs. Skill 5: Identify methods for maintaining, tracking, and updating information on potential funders. Competency #2: Knowledge of organizational development as it pertains to grant seeking. Skill 8: Identify best practices in grant seeking that match organization’s needs with potential funding opportunities. Competency #8: Knowledge of methods and strategies that cultivate and maintain relationships between fund-seeking and recipient organizations and funders. Skill 1: Identify characteristics of mutually beneficial relationships between fund seeker and funders.