GETTING IN THE GAME: TIPS FOR FIRST TIME GRANSEEKERS
Thursday, November 05, 2015
Throughout my near decade of grants consulting, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with thousands of organizations, many of which were having their first conversation about grants. In most cases, the people I spoke with were either new to their position, their organization didn’t typically apply to grants, or they knew that their organization received grants, but they weren’t historically part of the process. For whatever reason, there are some strategies and tips I’d like to offer those folks who are new to the process.
You must start by understanding your organization’s approach to grants. Is there a single department or person that is tasked with grants (centralized)? Or, perhaps, there’s a decentralized approach where individual departments are expected to apply for grants as their needs dictate.
In the case that there’s a touch point for grants, you’ll want to make contact with that person. It’s important to understand your organization’s grants history, what your organization’s policy for applying to grants is, and what you, as an interested grant seeker, have to do to initiate the process.
If your organization is lucky enough to have a “grant writer” or grant department they will be crucial in your grant seeking endeavor. Keep in mind that these individuals aren’t magicians. They can’t simply pull a grant out of their hat that will be the “silver bullet” of funding for your project, nor can they “make up” a project out of thin air, so it’s important to work closely with them throughout the process.
You will need to work with the grants team to identify what grant program(s) are available to fund your project.
Most grant professionals are well versed in where to find grants information, however, for those of you who may not have access to grants support there are numerous resources for information.
Some examples of sites where information can be obtained are grants.gov, the Foundation Center, and on your state’s website.
There are a number of factors you need to contemplate when considering what grant(s) are worth pursuing including: Eligibility, total amount of funding available vs. number of anticipated awardees (competitiveness), application burden (time needed to prepare the application), and award ceilings and floors (the minimum and maximum amount you can apply for).
If your organization is new to grants, it may be worthwhile to pursue smaller opportunities at the local, foundation, or state level first, rather than ambitiously gunning for complex applications from federal funders such as the National Science Foundation.
These smaller efforts will help you gain much needed experience which will allow you to build up to larger, more financially lucrative grant opportunities at the federal level.
Grant identification is merely the first stage, next comes the actual development of the proposal. You’ll need to provide, at the very least, an idea of why you’re seeking funding and what the funding will be used for. Is it equipment, staff, or general operating expenses? The grant professionals within your organization will need to know that information, as well as key staff involved with the implementation of the project, a project timeline, and a preliminary budget.
The more information you can provide your grants staff, the more complete, accurate, and competitive your proposal will be.
Whether you have internal grants support (centralized) or a decentralized grants process, you can utilize these strategies as you navigate the grants landscape either on your own or with the help of an outside grants consultant.
A quick note to those organizations with a decentralized process – it is highly advisable to explore the possibility of employing a more formal, centralized process. Having this type of process will ensure that projects are triaged in order of importance, receive necessary executive support, and grant seeking efforts aren’t duplicated. It isn’t a particularly time consuming or difficult task to employ a more centralized process, it simply takes some effort to determine what process work for your organization, to document said process, and, most importantly, stick to that process.
If you are tasked with writing proposals, but don’t have any internal support and are looking to acquire grant writing skills, I would suggest perusing earlier issues of FUNDED which contain tips for grant writers. I would also point to the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) which is focused solely on the advancement of grantsmanship as a profession and the support of its practitioners and their educational resources are nearly endless. They can also help you find qualified consultants if you don’t have the time or will to develop proposals yourself.
Writing grant proposals may seem a daunting task, however, with a little preparation and effort you may come to find that grant writing isn’t as intimidating as it seems.
With all the funding opportunities available for just about any project imaginable, mastering grant writing, whether with internal support or on your own, will benefit you and your organization well into the future