Note from Diane: As we continue with our capacity theme, today’s post from Bethany is perfect! There are many times that we as grant professionals ask ourselves how to juggle or how to make sure limits are in place for juggling multiple grant deadlines.
More often than not I am balancing more than one grant application deadline at a time with each client and between my multiple clients. Certain seasons seem to have a plethora of grant deadlines. It is enough to drive anyone mad.
As the grant professional, it is my responsibility to keep the grant team on track to submit all those applications with all the necessary attachments on time. To do this, I have tips, tricks, and tools I use to help keep the grant team including me sane to share with you.
1. Grant Calendar: Have a grant calendar that everyone on the grant team has access to. Put all grant deadlines, grant report due dates, grant meetings, etc. on the calendar. Also, put the date you are shooting for to submit the grant. There are lots of tools you could use for your team’s grant calendar – paper calendar or whiteboard that hangs in a place everyone will see or an online calendar shared with the team like Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook Calendar. I personally use a Google Calendar. Find the one that works for your team.
2. Project Management System: There are lots of moving parts for each grant application. To keep track of all the different parts and who is responsible for them, use a project management system. Again there are lots of tools you can use from a spreadsheet to online applications. I personally use Asana. Find the one that works for your team. Sometimes when lots of things are piling up, I use good old pen and paper and make a list of all the things left on a grant application or which grant applications we are currently working on.
Whether you are an employee or a consultant, you likely feel like you are balancing your personal and professional commitments on a daily basis. Then summer rolls around, and the balancing act for your capacity professionally and the desire for some sun-filled self-care and unplugged time often comes to a head.
How many of you have scheduled your vacation around a large grant maker’s deadline that was announced with a summer deadline? I’ve mentioned before that in New York State, the Consolidated Funding Application process that is how funding is decided through the Regional Economic Development Councils has been early/mid summer *every* year since it was released. You could hear the mixed sigh of relief/groans as the 2017 deadline was announced for late July. I can guarantee that grant professionals throughout New York State planned the majority of their vacation time for August!
What is the answer to the balancing act for our capacity to write competitive proposals with our need to focus on self-care, relaxing with family and friends, and potentially even unplugging?
I don’t claim to have *the* answer to balancing self-care with professional demands. My own two children and spouse will tell you that. It’s definitely a work in progress, but I’m getting better at it each year.
As we continue a series of posts about the capacity of grant professionals, I wanted to tackle one of the capacity related questions that I am frequently asked by those that are new to the field. (Note: Did you miss Julie Johnson’s first post in this series? You can read it here.)
The question of “How many grants can a grant professional write in one year?” is a common, yet loaded question.
The answer is definitely, “It depends.”
But what does it depend on? Some of the factors that it depends on include:
- What the mix of private foundation, local/state government and federal government grant applications an organization plans to seek;
- If the grant applications are for new program/project ideas or are for the continuation of existing programs;
- If the grant professional is brand new to the organization or has been working for/with the organization for an extended period of time;
- How engaged the grant team is in supporting the pre-award information gathering and project design brainstorming (Wondering what a grant team is? Read our definition here.);
- If the grant professional is not only responsible for the pre-award work of grant applications, but also is responsible for some or all of the grant management and reporting for those awarded funds.
So how many proposals can a grant professional write in one year?
I recently spoke with a grant professional that was experiencing a success percentage much lower than they wanted, yet with a funding result that was meeting the budgetary needs of their small organization.
As we were talking through their best practice related questions, I came to understand that they were focused on the research of potential grant funders and skipping the relationship building and maintenance opportunities with grant makers they were interested in or currently receiving funding from.
As the conversation continued the grant professional shared that they were writing approximately 100 grant proposals per year. 100 proposals for a small organization (under $500,000 per year) is a huge volume. The organization would have stronger results to reduce their volume of proposals and instead spend extra time working to connect with grant makers prior to beginning an application and then keeping in touch with and enhancing relationships with grant makers that are currently funding their organization.
The lesson? Even if an individual grant professional *can* potentially increase their capacity to submit more applications in one year, without following the best practices of not just strong grant maker research, but focusing resources on grant maker relationships, the additional grant seeking efforts will necessarily not lead to the increase in revenue that the organization is looking for. In fact, the opposite. It will likely burn out the grant professional and create a churn and burn culture that will also decrease the way in which proposals are being customized for each grant maker to be the most competitive for *that* specific grant maker.
What other factors have you found influence the capacity of an individual grant professional in one year?
Note from Diane: We often get asked, how many grants can one grant professional write in a year? Or how do you best balance multiple deadlines? We are beginning a short series looking at grant professional capacity both from the consultant and employee point of view. Have a specific capacity question you want addressed? Drop me an email (email@example.com) and we’ll do our best to build it in to the series as it unfolds. Excited about our first post today that comes from Julie Johnson as it comes full circle to her post a few years ago about how she went about establishing her business plan. Missed it? Read it here.
As a grant consultant, I’m often advising my clients to realize their organization’s grant strategy and capacity. I found that it’s a question I need to ask myself as a consultant too. What is the grant capacity of my consultancy? How many clients do I have the capacity to serve? My business plan answers these questions for me.
Like the complicated moving parts of managing grants in an organization, the same can be true for a grant consultancy. The ebb and flow (think Gantt chart) of my workload timeline, shows some consistent, busy times and a few doldrum (think vacation) times of the year. With that said, a few moving pieces out of my control can quickly change my plans.
I found my capacity limit in a sudden overload earlier this year. First, a few of my current clients had government agencies change the deadlines for huge applications, and the new date was the worst timing for my clients’ event calendars. Next, a potential client that I had been speaking with for months received budget approval to offer me a retainer. Said client, as an absolute best fit for its order of grant needs, had to immediately pursue a very large, collaborative, assessment grant. Simultaneously, all the consultancies that I subcontract with were swamped with work too.
The result of this unforeseen convergence of work was me working six to seven days per week for several weeks. How or why did I work overtime? I did it because I knew it was temporary and my business plan laid out what to do.
My business plan predicted that I might reach capacity this year, my third year, as I want to remain a consultancy of one rather than building a grant team to oversee. To remain focused on the work in front of me, I referred new inquiries to other grant writers and I temporarily reduced the work I could offer in subcontracting. And, I hired more help in my personal life such as housekeeping, gardening, and food preparation, so I could solidly represent my clients during these converging deadlines.
I’m not saying this was a comfortable time. I felt fatigue like I imagined lawyers feel as they prepare and focus for a big case. Yet, having a plan in place helped guide me through the process. Managing grant client loads in a consultancy is like planning a grant calendar in a nonprofit. It’s a complex, changing process with multiple unknowns.
I would love to hear about your consultancy. What is your strategy? How has your business planned served you in crunch times? Do you work alone or have you built a team? Either way, what are some of the scheduling challenges that you’ve faced and overcome? What have you done in the opposite situation such as too little work or too few clients?
08 Jun 2017
Grant writing is not a creative writing exercise. Writing grant applications is like writing research papers for a college class. Each professor has their own set of instructions and requirements. If the student does not follow those instructions and requirements, the paper is marked down. Same is true for grantmakers. They each have their own set of instructions and requirements for their grant application. Some have many requirements. Others have few. And if you do not follow their instructions and requirements, your grant application might get thrown out.
To avoid this, you need to plan ahead and conduct thorough research before even starting to write a grant application.
The first thing to research is the qualifying requirements:
- Geographic Scope: where in the world does this grantmaker want to fund projects?
- Areas of Interest/Mission: what areas does this grantmaker want to fund?
- Type of Funding: what type of projects does this grantmaker want to fund?
- Amount Range: what are the typical amounts this grantmaker gives funded applications?
- Funding Cycle: what are the deadlines for this grantmaker?
If your nonprofit aligns with the grantmaker in these areas, then you can move on to researching the actual application requirements.
It is important to look at the requirements of the application. Always read through all requirements before starting a grant application and share the information with your grant team. By reading through beforehand, you can allow enough time to complete all sections.
- Is the application an online application, email submission, or a hard copy?
- If a hard copy, how many copies of the application does the grantmaker request?
- What are the page requirements of the application?
- What font and font size is required?
- What sections are required in the proposal? Needs statement, project description, budget, capacity, sustainability, etc.
- What attachments are required? – Letters of recommendation and/or support, Determination Letter (501(c)(3) letter), Operational Budget, List of Board Members and/or Staff, Project Budget, etc
- Do you need to have a partner?
Be sure to follow ALL requirements in filling out grant applications. Just like a professor will mark down a paper for not following all requirements, a grantmaker will throw out applications that don’t follow all of their requirements. This means no funding. So don’t give the grantmaker reason to throw out your application before even reading it.