Michael Wyland of Charity Channel, an online community for the nonprofit and volunteer sector, recently wrote the following response to a question about hiring consultants to assist with proposal writing:
“There is another factor in grantsmanship, and that is the readiness of the client to seek grant support. Do they have a good story to tell about their accomplishments and their prospects for the future? Can they demonstrate their capacity to be a good steward of grant funds? Seeking grants is a lot like seeking bank financing, and the typical grant application has, essentially, the same elements as a well-crafted business plan. If the client’s written plan would appear weak to a banker, it won’t look any better to a grant funding source.”
This quote speaks directly to the importance of preparation, an issue that some people overlook entirely as they plunge head first into the process of writing proposals with poor results. Like securing a business loan, obtaining a grant requires two things: (1) a solid plan, and (2) the ability to demonstrate that you can be trusted with the money.
Is your district philosophically ready to jump into the grants arena? Or are you simply responding to the fact that the school district next door just received a huge grant that was highly publicized? Have you spent some time examining the accomplishments your district has made, and do you have clear goals and strategies for the future?
Some of the best proposals I’ve read as a reviewer clearly show how the proposed project fits into the strategic plans of the district and how it will impact the future direction of the district. If you cannot make this connection in a proposal, you run the risk of appearing to “run after” the money, rather than approaching grant seeking in an intelligent, methodical manner.
It can be very tempting to ignore your district’s identified needs, craft a project idea, and apply for a grant based solely on the dollar amounts that will be awarded. It seems that the higher those figures are, the more tempting the grant becomes! However, it’s important to keep in mind that applying for a grant that doesn’t fit in with your district’s mission and long-range plans likely will result in a proposal that is not funded.
What does Wyland mean when he refers to being a “good steward of grant funds?” He is referring to the grants management process. Does your district have a positive track record of submitting programmatic and fiscal records in a timely manner? Are the reports you submit filled in completely and correctly?
The most important piece of stewardship is spending the money on what you indicated it would be spent on in the proposal. Avoid the temptation to channel grant funds into expenditures that were not included in your proposed budget but seem to be related vaguely to the project concept. I believe it is a wise idea to contact a funder in advance if you plan to make any deviations from the proposed budget, even in cases where the funder indicates that you can move a certain percentage of grant funds around to other line items. As the old adage goes, “Better safe than sorry!”