What to Expect When You’re Prospecting by Leah Hyman

What to Expect When You’re Prospecting

Or: What to Know About Working with a Consultant

A scenario: your small nonprofit organization has been in operation for several years now, thanks to the generosity and trust of individual donors and supporters. You have generated some promising outcome data from your programs, have a clear direction, and are making a positive impact on your target population. You feel you’re ready to move on to the next step in your organization’s growth: diversifying funding streams by adding in some grant dollars. But you’re busy running programs, your board is stretched thin, and you’re just not sure where to start.

Choosing to seek outside assistance from a grant professional is a big step for an organization. The combination of a very small staff (or perhaps even a one-person shop), a small pool of invested donors and volunteers, and the amount of time, energy, and resources spent in getting a nonprofit off the ground can make this a deeply personal decision. An outsider consultant who suddenly asks lots of specific questions about your policies, competitors, and finances might feel a little intrusive (at best) or downright offensive (at worst).

But wait! That consultant means well. They’re likely trying to gauge your organization’s grant-readiness and capacity for managing different types of funding opportunities to determine the most effective and efficient next steps. Here’s what to expect as you enter this new relationship.

The Basics

First, a grants professional will want to know a basic rundown of your organization to get a good picture of what it is that you do. If they’re familiar with your area, the grant pro’s brain will likely be excitedly populating a list of potential funders, opportunities, or partnerships while you speak.

  • Who are you? Are you a 501(c)(3)? Who are your key staff members? What are their backgrounds?
  • What do you do? What is your mission statement? What core programs or services do you provide?
  • Where are you? Where are you located? Does this differ from your service area?
  • Who do you serve? Who is your target population? How many individuals are you serving?
  • Why are your programs necessary? How did you determine the need for your organization? Does anyone else do what you do in your area?

The Nitty Gritty

Most of those basic questions can be answered by digging around on an organization’s website (if one exists) or social media; it’s public information, for the most part. So, this is the part that can start to feel a little personal. A good consultant will want an accurate assessment of where you are as an organization – structurally and financially – to gauge your grant-readiness.

With that goal in mind, a consultant will ask to see a copy of your organization’s…

  • Most recent budget (organizational and program/project). They may also ask for a comparison of budget vs. actual income and expenditures.
  • Most recent audit, if you’ve had one.
  • Board roster, including demographic information. And while on the subject of organizational leadership, do you have an equal employment opportunity policy or cultural competency plan?
  • Strategic plan. Does your organization have a current strategic plan, and if so, how far along in the plan are you? Has the strategic plan ever been updated?

If you read that list and gulped, thinking, “Oh no. We don’t have those things,” you’re not alone! Lots of organizations that are doing great things in their communities are in that very boat. Maybe you track your income and expenses, but professionally formatted budgets just aren’t your forte. Maybe you have a board roster, but you’ve never requested demographic information. Maybe you know your programs inside and out, and your staff and board agree on a clear direction, but you’ve never written a strategic plan. None of this means your organization is bad or a poor candidate for grant funding. It just means that you might have a little legwork to do before you pay a consultant to prepare a proposal… only to find out a week before it’s due that the funder requires an audit and, well, your organization hasn’t had one yet. So just be honest, and don’t be afraid to ask why the consultant is requesting a particular item.

It’s also important to note that not all funders require all of those items. Very generally speaking, the higher profile the funder and the bigger your ask, the more documentation you’ll need to produce. By asking those direct questions up front, the consultant is considering your level of grant-readiness. An experienced grant pro can likely help you prepare some of those documents to build your organizational capacity and ensure that when you do go after a prospective funder, you’re ready. And because your consultant asked the right questions, that prospect is such a great match that you know you’re spending your time, efforts, and money wisely.

Two-Way Street

Just as you want to make sure a funder’s priorities and mission align with those of your program, you want to make sure the consultant you’re considering is a good fit, too. After all, when you’re in the thick of a grant cycle, you’ll likely be communicating with this person a LOT. In those initial conversations, you should feel comfortable interviewing them, too.

  • What is their level of experience in working with nonprofits and funders in your region?
  • Have they ever worked with a client to build organizational capacity and become grant-ready?
  • How do they prefer to communicate? If you strongly prefer phone conversations and face-to-face meetings – you know, outside of a pandemic – will it be okay if the consultant prefers email and Zoom? And, of course,
  • How much is this going to cost, and what deliverables are we getting for our money?

Don’t be afraid to ask for references or writing samples. A good consultant will be happy to oblige.

Grant professionals understand that nonprofits must be careful with every dollar they spend. If the organization chooses to invest in an outside consultant, that consultant will want to be a good, efficient, and honest steward of the organization’s investment. Sometimes, that can mean pausing forward progress on grant-seeking until the organization is poised to be a prime candidate for funding. So, as you embark on a grant prospecting relationship with a consultant, know that the more straight-forward, open, and comfortable you are with one another, the more likely you’re on the right path.

Want to learn more about how Assel Grant Services can help your organization become grant-ready? Contact us here.