As the year quickly comes to a close, it’s time to look at how successful your grant proposals were and, more importantly, identify how your organization can improve going forward. While no organization wins every grant it tries for, every application – whether it ends in an award or a rejection – offers valuable experience and insight that you can leverage to make future efforts even better and more successful.
As you wind down 2017 and prepare for 2018’s grant season, here are some steps you can take before closing shop for the holidays that will help you refine and improve your approach next year.
1. Take a hard look at your rejections. Put away any residual disappointment, anger or hurt feelings you may feel about rejected grant proposals you worked yourself to the bone on—and put on your surgeon’s mask and dissect them. You’ll probably find a variety of reasons that your proposals didn’t perform as well as hoped, ranging from obvious to subtle.
Time and distance often yield clarity. With a clearer eye, and without the pressure of impending deadlines, you’ll be able to identify weaknesses in your proposals, and sometimes, you might even find patterns of common mistakes that you can correct with changes to procedures, more intensive editorial reviews, or assistance from outside consultants. More than likely, you will see things during your review that will disappoint you, but it’s important to not use this exercise as an entryway to dwell on failures or, worse, to assign blame to team members. Rather than dwelling on weaknesses or shortcomings, instead use this time to consider how you will build greater capacity and skill in your organization. You may want to consider finding mentors who would be able to guide and rapidly build the skills and confidence of novice grant writers. Even if you have experienced grant writers on staff, another expert opinion can elevate the quality of both the grant proposals themselves and the skill of those who write them.
To apply the knowledge you’ve gained a step further, you can revise and refocus rejected grant proposals so that you’re ready to submit strong proposals when the grants open up again in the new year. If you’re not entirely sure where to begin with a rewrite, consider having an expert grant writer take a look. Technical rewrite services are very affordable and yield high rewards.
2. Consider the variety of your funders and the relationships you’ve built with them. How you prepare your grant proposal matters, but if it doesn’t go to the right people, or goes to the right people far too often — for example, if you find that a good deal of your programs and services increasingly rely on one or two funders — you could be leaving money on the table or burning out your most ardent champions.
It’s always a good idea to scan the horizon for potential funders, and the end of the year is a great time to do so. A Grant Opportunity Report provides a roadmap to which grants are the best fit for your organization. With a Grant Opportunity Report in hand, you’ll be able to plan and prepare for a winning grant season in 2018.
3. Determine whether your capacity matches your goals. The most successful nonprofits that rely on grants to carry out or expand their services and programs spend intensive time researching and contacting prospective funders whose purposes and missions line up neatly with their own. As the cliché goes, there is money to be had, but you have to know where to look for it and have the right skills to take advantage of potential funding opportunities. Take a look at how your grant proposals get written and who writes them. It takes a great deal of time, focus and expertise to produce a winning grant proposal. If you have limited internal capacity consider the benefits of outsourcing your grant writing. Not only will you free up the time of your valuable staff members to focus on the mission of your organization, you’ll more than likely increase your grant award rate.