Ready for Reset? So Is Your Grant Strategy by Tracey Diefenbach, GPC

It’s January. Are you ready for a reset? Better yet, is your grant strategy ready for a reset? I am just hunching here but with a year like 2020, I think the answer may be “yes” (and probably in many more ways than just grants)!  There are many different tools and tactics to reset your grant strategy. My process starts with gathering essential materials including: (1) Last year’s grant calendar, (2) Agency’s updated annual budget with grant revenue goal, and (3) Updated agency strategic plan. From there, the steps I take are:

  • Review agency/client goals and any updated strategic plans. Whether working as a consultant with various clients or as an in-house grant professional with one agency, I begin my process with the same strategy. I review strategic plans and updates and write down high-level, overarching goals at the top of my grant calendar. This helps me stay focused throughout the year and ensures I am maintaining alignment between grants and programs and agency plans and strategies.
  • Review current funders. The next step is to take a look at current funders to identify who we can re-apply to, check and update deadlines for the new year, and determine relationship and cultivation work that needs to be done with each funder. Is it a phone call to discuss a new project idea or a quick email to let them know we will be applying again? Whatever the strategy is, I want to get this relationship work into my 2021 grants calendar with deadlines so that I can be ahead of the game when it comes to application time. This is also the point where I want to look at grant calendars over the past two to three years to identify those funders that may require more than 12 months between applications or funding periods. This can also capture any lapsed funders who I have not applied to in the previous year. I am using this information to update 2021 deadlines, review amounts requested and secured, and putting proposed ask amounts into the 2021 grant calendar. As I go through this process, I am thinking about each of these funders individually and things like which funders I can potentially ask for increased funding, which may be reducing their funding amount, what program we applied for, and whether the funder wants new, expanded, or enhanced grants. I want to ensure that I am pursuing those grants and programs best aligned with agency goals and strategies.
  • Review denied grants. I have often heard – and I believe – that rejection is, many times, the first step to funding. I look at which funders have said no over the last few years, whether or not it makes sense to re-apply, and how I can work some of these relationships. The goal is to make sure I understand why the grant didn’t get funded to so I can either improve the proposal or eliminate it from the grant calendar. Ideally, I am doing this throughout the year with each rejection letter I get (hey, I said ideally). However, the beginning of the new year is also a great time to take a look at rejections again and craft out a plan as funders may also be setting their strategies and priorities for the new year.
  • Identify gaps and new grant opportunities. Once I have reviewed current funders and rejected applications and laid them out in my grant calendar, I then begin assessing the total proposed ask amount for all grants in the calendar compared to the agency’s 2021 project grant revenue to identify the gap or surplus (but more likely, the gap). With this, I can then begin to identify how much is needed in new grant funding and craft out an intentional, strategic research plan. For instance, if I have a $100,000 gap, I will look at prospect leads I have and their potential funding amounts. It might look something like – I have identified ABC Foundation as a prospect and they typically fund $50,000 and XYZ Foundation with an average award amount of $25,000. From there, I know that I need to identify at least $25,000 additional in new grants. Given that rejection rates are often higher that award rates, I like to identify four times the amount of funding I need (i.e. $100,000). This process gives me a more calculated approach and may help eliminate funding prospects that may not be worthwhile (like the $1,000 grant that takes hours to write and requires board signatures and letters of support).

So, if you are like me and ready for a reset this year, I urge you to examine your grants strategy and use these ideas or your own tactics to start fresh. And don’t let this strategy go stale throughout the year – keep looking at where you are with grants and where you want to go and aligning with agency strategies.

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

Skill 2.4: Identify values, mission, and goals of your organization’s overall strategic plan as it relates to the grant process/grant seeking.

Competency 7: Knowledge of practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant developers.

Skill 7.3: Identify strategies that grant developers use in building social capital to benefit their communities and society at large.

Competency 8: Knowledge of methods and strategies that cultivate and maintain relationships between fund-seeking and recipient organizations and funders.

Skill 8.2: Identify strategies to determine funder-relation approaches that suit fund-seeking entities’ mission, cultures, and values.