As a leader in your organization you have tremendous responsibility in ensuring the financial security of your organization. Grants are important to the viability of your nonprofit so it’s easy to see the dollar signs and jump into writing an RFP for every grant opportunity that comes along. However, not every grant is worth your time and effort.
Your organization’s capacity is vital to determining if a grant is a good fit. As a small nonprofit, would it make sense for the organization to take on a multi-million-dollar grant program with a specific project objective that is somewhat outside of the scope of what the organization does paired with tremendous match requirements? Probably not. Other factors to consider within capacity are the required staff for the project and whether staff is something that is fully grant funded.
Financial Capacity to meet any match requirements is another thing that comes into play. It is important to review all grant possibilities for cash match requirements. Can your organization meet the cash match? Some grants provide minimal funding for staff but will require tremendous staff hours to meet all objectives. For instance, you have reviewed a grant with minimal funds for staffing but it has huge case management, data reporting and invoicing requirements. This means your staff will be designating time from other funding sources to reach the outlined objectives of this new grant. This may be a grant that you can partner with another grant if it is an endeavor that meets the scope of what your organization. However, for smaller organizations without those types of resources or partnering grant opportunities this grant would not be worth pursuing.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
Grant award ceilings, award floors as well as the estimated number of awards granted are also very important when determining whether a grant is worth pursuing. You certainly would not be likely to apply for a grant that only awards three eligible applicants a grant cycle for minimal award amounts unless your organization matches the award criteria to a tee so that the likelihood of your organization being considered for the very scarce number of awards is fairly high. Or, would a grant that requires three fully-funded staff but pairs perfectly with the scope of what your organization already does plus has a $5,000,000.00 funding cycle budget sound like a winner? Possibly? Be sure to consider all these factors when making those determinations.
Seven Questions to Ask
Heather Stombaugh, MBA, GPC in a recent article in Just Write Solutions LLC shared a “Decision-Making Matrix” for determining what grants to pursue. These are seven basic questions to ask yourself, and for your Board of Directors to review to make a thoughtful decision.
- Is your project a priority for your organization? Furthermore, how do you know? Is the project outlined in a strategic plan or other formal planning document? Clue: the answer should be yes.
- Does your organization have the capacity to implement the project? It’s fine to dream, but do you realistically have the staff, facilities, volunteers, cash, IT, etc. necessary to make the project succeed?
- Is your project based on national best practices? Or is it at least modified from a best practice or evidence-based practice?
- Is your project innovative? OK, it’s difficult to be completely innovative. But does the program use any new implementation methods? If so, why? Are the new methods replicable? Have they been tested for efficacy? If the answer is “no,” that’s OK. You don’t have to be innovative, but you do have to be authentic. If you claim a project is innovative, you must be able to back up your claim with evidence of a real innovation.
- How is your project different from others in the area? Do you know your competitors? Could you collaborate with them? Have you identified gaps in service? You must be able to discuss why your project is not a duplication of services.
- Does your project have the potential for replication? If you can answer “yes,” it is wonderful for your organization because it gives you the credibility to say, “Organizations like our should do it this way because our method is effective.” It means you must know best practices or evidence-based practices, how to test implementation methods, and how to measure outcomes. But it’s not enough to say you’ll replicate. Have a formal plan for replication.
- Have you discussed the proposal with relevant staff members? If you have not, you might want to hold your horses. Speaking with the people who implement the project on a daily basis will give you the information you need to paint the best picture possible for your reviewers. It’s also where you’ll get the human interest angle, which is so critical to telling a compelling story.”
If there is a majority of no’s when asking yourself these questions you may be reviewing a grant that is not worth pursuing. However, the experts at Resource Associates can help you identify the best grants for your organization’s size and goals. With more than 20 years of grant writing experience, we know how to help nonprofits thrive through the strategic pursuit of grants. For a free consultation, get in touch. What have you got to lose other than grant dollars?