Thursday, March 6, 2014

Grants are noble business plans

Grants are noble business plans to achieve goals and objectives.

According to a report from the Foundation Center, private trusts and foundations in the US remit in excess of 88,000 grant requests annually and disperse in excess of $40 billion in grant funding every year. Add to that total grants from government entities and educational institutions, and it’s easy to see that grant funding contributes to the common good both in terms of money and opportunity.

I was reflecting on my upon my experiences writing grants working as both a contract writer and a non-profit administrator, inspired by a recent email from my college professor Earl Robinson.

Here are my insights on what to know when looking for outside grant funding:
  • As with any business plan, a grant should clearly define the reason why and explain the process in definite, achievable steps. If one was writing a business plan for a commercial/for profit business, it would include all aspects of the operation – administration, manufacturing, marketing and sales, distribution. Your noble business plan must include how similar elements are covered – administration, program services, public outreach and metrics on how to measure the program’s effectiveness. One grant I once read was more of an editorial on why the idea was so noble, but offered scant few details about how the funding would support the group’s work, how the organization was going to deliver on the promises or how this program would make a difference.  I was not surprised to hear that several funding sources all took a pass on the idea, despite the author’s hard work and best intent. 
  • A single solitary grant funder cannot and should not be the only source for funding for your idea.  Most grant funders I’ve spoken with like to see a coalition of resources come together to achieve the project or goal. The idea is best summed up in the old adage about putting all one’s eggs in one basket. Because budgets can change in the midst of a fiscal year, the diversification of revenue streams will insure that a program can survive should something happen to one source.
  • Don’t ever waste anyone’s time without doing proper due diligence on what the donor looks for from their grant requester. If there are specific criteria, always use it as the template to write the document and the check list before submitting your grant. Some grant funders like to fund programs directly, but prefer to avoid paying administrative costs. Some grant funders have geographic boundaries or mandates to target specific groups or areas of interests. Learn how a grant funding source works by reading an organization’s annual reports.
  • Grand funding resources and the people who with for them are often a community on to themselves. Heads of different foundations, alliances, organizations and institutions are often colleagues, peers and friends. Don’t ever condemn, criticize or complain around a failed grant attempt, because you don’t know who knows who. Look at the grant submission process as a learning experience on how to apply, not a judgment on the merits of your idea. 
  • If using the services of a professional from outside of the organization to write the grant, never tie payment to the grant writer to funding the project. Paying the grant writer is an administrative and business development expense of the operation, similar to paying electricity, copy paper or program materials. A professional deserves to be paid for their expertise, time and services. Budget the expense to pay at market place rates and have the money in place willing to invest before you ask someone. 
Grants provide needed funding for worthwhile projects and organizations. The key to writing a successful grant is to have the match of right idea, right grant funder, and providing a quality explanation which empowers both the donor and the recipients to achieve their noble business goals.