Recently while working on a large foundation grant application, my client remarked that she was so glad to be going through the grant writing process, because she realized that additional fundraising was needed for her organization’s project. Not similar or quite so happy, but important, is the Executive Director who, a few years ago, was speechless after hearing “If this doesn’t get funded, you’ll still get something out of it.”
We all want our projects to be funded, and it’s not easy to look on the bright side of the potential of not getting funded. However, there is still a lot of value in the grant writing process and in the product, regardless of the outcome – especially if your organization is committed to the project, no matter how much fundraising you have to do, how many politicians’ doors you have to knock on, or how many grants you have to apply for until you are successful.
A grant application is a project plan. Going through the process of preparing an application requires you to think about project details that you may not have considered when developing your project idea, which provides insights that help to develop, refine, and improve the project. In preparing a grant application, your idea is transformed from a basic framework to a detailed plan of action. Details that you may think about for the first time include:
- How much will this *really* cost? Developing a grant budget often uncovers hidden costs. Have you considered all the personnel who will be needed to implement or oversee this project or program? How much time will the Executive Director spend on this project? Have you accounted for expenses such as fringe benefits (this is not just health insurance!), supplies and materials, and new technology needed to support new staff? Do you need to hire outside vendors or service providers? Do you have vendor quotes to justify your budget?
- Where exactly will the rest of the money come from? If the funder doesn’t make grants that are large enough to cover your project’s expenses, how else will you pay for it? How will you pay for the project when the grant runs out, assuring the funder that their investment in your project and organization will continue to benefit the community? What will be the long-term financial impact of this project on your organization, and can you sustain that much growth? Hint: “We will apply for more grants” is not the best answer.
- Is the project’s timeline realistic? If you need to do a significant amount of additional fundraising before starting your project, does it make sense to tell the funder that you can launch the project immediately upon grant award?
- How will we measure and document success? How will you collect and analyze data to demonstrate that your project has addressed the problem you are trying to alleviate or solve? Do you have evidence, such as the success of similar projects in other communities, to support your idea? Is your plan the best approach for this problem?
- How will we involve the community? Who else is doing similar work, and how will you work with them? Are there any people or organizations that you will need to involve in some capacity to implement your project, and do they know about it? Will collaborators want a piece of the grant funding pie to work with you on this project (true story – this resulted in a former client having to return an award and not implement their program)? How will you get the word out to your target population about your project? Who exactly is your target population?
- What are some potential barriers to success? This is not hypothetical. I have seen this question on grant applications. Of course, your project idea is wonderful, you are qualified to do it, donors are sending you a lot of money to get it started, and you are sure that the results will be magnificent – but, what if not all goes according to plan? Are there any weaknesses in your plan? Factors that you cannot control?
Did going through the grant writing process yield any valuable insights for your organization? We’d love to hear from you!