As a leader in your organization, people rely on you to secure its financial position. Grants are important to the viability of your nonprofit, so it’s easy to think you need to apply for every opportunity that comes along. However, not every grant is worth your time and effort.
Your organization’s capacity is critical when determining a grant’s fit. Should small nonprofits, take on multi-million-dollar programs with specific project objectives somewhat outside of the organization’s routine scope? Particularly when there’s a large match requirement? Probably not. That being said, if your organization is uniquely qualified and/or positioned to do the work needed, and you have the ability to grow your organization to scale quickly – then maybe you should. Other factors when considering capacity include required staff credentials, licensure requirements, the state of your partnerships and your partners’ capacity.
Financial capacity to meet match requirements is another crucial consideration. It is important to review all grants for cash and in-kind match requirements. Can your organization meet the cash match? Some grants provide minimal funding for staff but require tremendous effort to meet all of the objectives. There are grants available with 10% caps on staff costs but huge case management, data collection, reporting and invoicing requirements. If you wrote and won one of these, your staff will have to leverage time paid from other funding sources to reach the objectives of this new grant. It’s important to solve these issues prior to putting pen to paper. This may be a grant that you can pair with another grant – but you need to be sure. Familiarize yourself with the rules governing match, and if you need help, contact both your potential and current funders for clarification,
Weighing the Pros and Cons
There are many factors that go into a grant decision matrix. Award minimums, maximums, the estimated number of awards being made, their geographic distribution, the existence of other current or recently funded grantees and their locations are all very important when determining if a grant is worth pursuing. You certainly wouldn’t want to apply for a grant making only three $5,000 awards unless your organization is specifically and perhaps uniquely qualified to do the work. But, you should apply for the grant that will fund work in your community that is broadly scoped and has some alignment with what you already do – especially if the award dollars are high and the total number of awards being made is high, as well. An opportunity funding 150 million-dollar awards is worth it. Pull together those partners, review those best practices, and get writing. You don’t have to write them all, but you owe it to your community to get your hat in the ring for awards large enough to really get to the heart of an issue, and turn things around.
Seven Questions to Ask
Heather Stombaugh, MBA, GPC, in a recent article in shared a “Decision-Making Matrix” for determining what grants to pursue. These are seven basic questions to ask yourself, and answer for your Board of Directors’ review and 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 ours 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 you can’t answer at least four of these questions with a “yes”, 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’ grant writing experience, we know how to help nonprofits thrive using their strategic pursuit of grant dollars. For a free consultation, contact us today!