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Is it Worth my Time? Deciding whether you Should Pursue a Particular Grant

May 1

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Wednesday, May 1, 2019  RssIcon

By Chris LaPage

When developing a grant proposal, it often feels like at every turn there is a decision to make or an obstacle to overcome. However, a critical first question that many seekers fail to properly consider (but is perhaps the most important decision in the entire process) is – whether we should pursue this specific grant program or foundation funder at all? Beginners may not have the tools to adequately evaluate the “fit” of a given funding opportunity, while some more experienced individuals are instead guided by a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks approach”. Truly competitive grant seekers, though, are the ones that are intentional. Being deliberate and selective in the grant programs and funders that your organization pursues allows you to maximize your most precious commodity: your time. It also decreases the odds of rejection and risk of “giving up on grants completely” after multiple failed attempts.  With that in mind, we encourage you to consider the following before you decided to take the plunge on a given grant opportunity.

Square Pegs do not Fit into Round Holes

First and foremost, you must be sure that your project is a fit for the grant program and meets the priorities laid out by the funder. Too often folks are so eager to secure funds that they build a specific project around a funding opportunity instead of finding the right grant for your existing organizational priorities and key projects. This approach can lead to situations where the project may be a fit for the grant program, but it no longer matches the needs and capabilities of the applicant organization. Said simply, don’t try to put square pegs in round holes. Once you are sure you have a funding opportunity in line with your organizational mission and project ideas, you can tailor the project and proposal to meet the expectations of the funder. Anywhere from one-third to half of all grant applicants are rejected because their projects do not align with the priorities of the grant program to which they applied. Thus, ensuring project fit goes a long way towards making your proposal competitive.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Would you take a job where you make $200 per week, but it costs you $250 for transportation and related expenses? Of course not. Nobody would sign up for such a scenario where it costs you $50 more to work every week than you are earning! And yet, there are times when grant writers are tasked with finding external funding sources with no guidelines or parameters attached. So, they seek out every little pot of money they can find and put in an application on behalf of their organization. The problem is that sometimes grant programs may actually “cost” the applicant organization more than they realize.  Consider the effort required to submit a proposal, implement the project, and comply with any back-end reporting that is required if awarded. At the very least, your organization should conduct a bare-bones cost-benefit analysis on any grant application you are undertaking. When factoring in the cost of your time to develop the proposal, the effort of your colleagues that are contributing, and the staff costs associated with the reporting requirements, consider: is that $3,000 grant a boon or net loss for our organization? And don’t forget to think about indirect costs that may be associated with the effort, such as fringe benefits, gas and electricity, and office space that may not be directly reimbursable through the grant program.

Time Commitment

Grantseeking requires an honest assessment of your time, workload, and general organizational capacity. Federal grants can be quite complex and will require coordination among colleagues to track down information from various sources, both internal and external to the organization. There may be several potential grant programs open at the same time and people will stretch themselves to make sure they get a proposal in to every funder. In my experience, I would rather folks take the time and energy to knock one application out of the park rather than submitting four subpar proposals to different funders. In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Many grant programs are cyclical and if you don’t have the time to submit a quality proposal this round, then use the extended runway to prepare an application for their next cycle. If there are several grants open simultaneously where you can position competitive projects, then you could consider hiring an external consultant to assist with the grant writing. Just don’t forget to evaluate the costs of outside help as part of your cost-benefit analysis.

Due Diligence

Finally, there is no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and doing your due diligence on the grant program and the funder. Leverage the grant program guidance document, funder website, program contacts, as well as all other available resources to find out as much as possible about the funder and the grant opportunity ahead of time. This can only help your chances for success. One of the most important things you can do is check the past awardees of the specific grant program, or the funder in general. Make sure they are funding similar organizations to your own. For instance, a foundation may say they support education generally, but when you look at the list of awards, all of the awards have been made to institutions of higher education. If you are a K-12 school district, this may not be the best funding option to consider. Similarly, a large federal grant may be set up to primarily benefit safety in K-12 schools, but awards are made primarily to the local police departments that will be helping secure the school rather than the districts themselves. Program contacts may be able to give you a heads up on whether they like your project before you even apply, especially in the foundation grant space. In some cases, they may even be able to tell you how many applications they receive on average each cycle versus the number of awards granted to help you assess your chances of success.

In Conclusion…

The key to successful grantseeking is to be strategic. Before diving head first into a grant application, it is vital that you consider whether it is even worth your time. Evaluating project fit, funding levels, time commitment, and past funding history will go a long way in ensuring you are putting your best foot forward. More than that, you can rest assured that WHEN you win the award, the payoff will be worth the time, energy and costs put into the application and reporting.

 

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