As grant writers, most of us know that the proposal is only one piece of the funding puzzle. In fact, it is often the piece that’s placed last, after much of the work is already done … vision and mission development, strategy setting, program planning, execution and measurement, the building of strong boards and volunteer programs, engagement with the public so that they know both who we are and how they can best help us achieve a shared vision, and, of course, collaboration with other community agencies and organizations that create change in the lives we most hope to touch.
But if you’ve read books on grant seeking, or you’ve looked for coursework focused on building skill in grant writing, these elements – the ones that often pave the way to a successful grant proposal – are typically missing. This is not true of Best Practices in Grant Seeking: Beyond the Proposal, a recent addition to the grant writer’s library.
Saadia Faruqi acknowledges in her introduction to the book, “It is rarely enough to write excellent proposals and sit back, waiting for them to get funded. No matter how brilliant the writer, it is not the proposal that gets accepted – or rejected – but the program and the people who run it.”
In 2004, Ms. Faruqi engaged in a research study that clearly demonstrated:
- “Organizations typically do not provide sufficient support and involvement to the grant seeking process at the leadership level, leaving grant professionals to be researchers, relationship-builders, community advocates, program designers, reporters, and grant managers. Few organizations, regardless of size, create grant seeking strategies that include not just the writer, but programs and public relations staff, board members, volunteers, and even clientele. This is done in many cases for other fundraising activities, such as major gifts or capital campaigns and even special events, but almost never for grants.”
So where does that leave us? Often frustrated, because we can’t get the information we need from the people who have it, and burnt out, because no one seems to acknowledge that funding success is less likely without the same support afforded to other aspects of an organization’s fundraising.
Redefining the Grants Function
Major factors impacting grant funding, according to Ms. Faruqi’s research:
- 1. board relationships with funders,
2. positive community image,
3. successful site visits before the grant award,
4. non-soliciting contact with funders,
5. good reporting practices, and
6. well-designed programs.
Through her chapters on fostering internal relationships, developing community image, designing stellar programs, and uniting to do good, Ms. Faruqi helps us put into place the critical elements that come before the grant proposal. Her next set of chapters focus on organizing (and measuring) the grants function, knowing our funders, and crafting winning proposals. Section three focuses on site visits, the critical time between grant submission and grant award. The last two chapters focus on stewardship and relationship building.
Ms. Faruqi allows us to see the grants function in perspective and prioritize our time and talent accordingly. If you’re a grant writer that doesn’t get involved with board development, publicity, program development, program evaluation, and stewardship, you may only be doing part of the job. That’s assuming you want to be as successful as you can possibly be, and that grant writing is about more than just writing to you. Do you want to fuel some kind of change in the world? Most of us have chosen grant writing as our contribution to an effort.
Now, More Than Ever
It has become clear in this downturned economy that the touch points we have with our funders, the relationships we have built, have more influence on whether we receive a grant than ever before. When given a choice between someone they know and they’re comfortable with (someone who has already proven to be a good investment), and someone they know only a little about through their grant proposal, it’s easier, less risky, to go with #1.
More than ever, we need to understand all elements that influence proposal success and to do all that we can to engage our full organization in the pursuit and development of the relationships that make our dreams more viable.
A Note for Consultants
If you’re a consultant interested in supporting the work of new and emerging nonprofits, this knowledge is even more essential. Why? Because before we jump into any grant seeking campaign for a new nonprofit, we need to help them put the right elements in place to support that effort. We need to help them set the right expectations, to understand what things need to be in place to maximize their grant writing success. They entrust us with that.
Best Practices in Grant Seeking: Beyond the Proposal is an excellent investment. I give it my highest recommendation.