Cynthia Adams

  Cynthia Adams


Most organizations take the time to build membership development programs or major donor programs, but very few invest energy into a true grantseeking program. We often react to grant opportunities rather than planning our approach to grantseeking.

I’ve worked with nonprofits for years, helping find grant funds and focusing on building a program to keep the grant pipeline full. To build a sustainable grants program, it’s important to adopt a process and use that process consistently:

1. Develop a consistent approach to grants research.
2. Build a grant strategy around each project that needs funding.
3. Use a grants calendar to stay on point.

The Grants Research Process

To make your research efficient and productive, and to prepare for writing letters of inquiry, complete a project description worksheet for each program that requires grant support. For example, if you are planning a series of financial literacy workshops, develop a project description worksheet for the series. If you need to replace the computers, printers, hardware and software in your offices, that deserves its own worksheet.

The worksheet includes:
• Project name (working title)
• Contact person or team overseeing the project
• Proposed project (short, narrative format)
• Needs to be addressed/problems to be solved (narrative format)
• Relationship to larger projects or past projects
• Project budget, with brand names if possible
• Key words for research: geographic focus, areas of interest, target population, types of support

Once you have a worksheet completed, follow these steps for doing your research:
• Look for government and private sources
• Review background materials for each potential grantmaker
• Determine any questions you need to ask the funder
• Develop a script that you will use when contacting the funder
• Contact the funder via email or phone
• Build your grantseeking strategy for this project

As you begin your search, look for three distinct types of support: cash, donations of products and services, and technical assistance. Each type of giving can provide key leverage points in your overall strategy.

This research will generate questions on your part. Make note of these questions, so you don’t have to go back and revisit each grantmaker later when you’re preparing to contact them.

Building a Grant Strategy

Adopting an overall grant strategy for each project or program that needs funding, including general operating funds, will help keep you on task. Remember that the best grant strategies are always fact-based. This is where that research comes into play. Strategic thinking, however, is based on assumptions. You’ll make assumptions about who can give you what and when, extrapolating from the solid facts behind your strategy.

Stay flexible in your thinking. Consider multiple alternatives and a range of scenarios. Your strategy must be adaptable. A denial will shift the strategy, just as an award will.

Build enough funding into your strategy to absorb any denials, so the total amount indicated in your strategy will always add up to more than the amount needed for a specific project.

Creating Your Calendar

Each project description worksheet will have its own strategy identifying a set of grantmakers to whom you will apply. Each worksheet will also have its own calendar of tasks to be done to get that proposal submitted on time. Work backwards from the deadline date to create a work schedule that provides plenty of time to prepare each proposal.

Ensure the calendar highlights all important decision points or deadlines so that you’re not scrambling to get essential items together at the last minute. I like to then combine individual calendars into one large Master Calendar posted on the wall to keep me on track throughout the year.

I teach a webinar called Building a Powerful Grants Strategy with much more detail. Check our online education offerings on GrantStation’s homepage.

Cynthia Adams, President and CEO of GrantStation, has spent the past 40 years helping nonprofits raise the money needed for their good work. She opened GrantStation because grantseeking requires a thorough understanding of the variety and scope of grantmakers and sound knowledge of the philanthropic playing field. Her life’s work has been to level that playing field, creating an opportunity for all nonprofit organizations to access the wealth of grant opportunities across the U.S. and throughout the world.

This article is reprinted from Issue #8 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!

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