You probably know the oft-cited adage "What gets measured gets done"—a maxim that holds true for both business and the grants world. The following performance indicators can help you gauge, and thus improve, your grants performance.
Number and type of grant applications. Be sure to note which type and how many grant applications are submitted (continuation, competitive, formula, etc.) by your organization. Larger organizations should have this information broken down by department. Though it's not a direct way to measure grants performance, such information indicates the relative aggressiveness of an organization.
Win rate. Most organizations look for a sustainable grants growth rate that falls between 50 and 80 percent. For organizations with comprehensive services and a very aggressive grants approach, win rates might fall below 50 percent when stretching to pull in the most grants possible. If you're in this boat, you might look to improve your proposal quality. If your win rate is above 80 percent (first of all, congrats), you might consider being more aggressive in your grants pursuit.
Funding awarded. This is the measurement people typically think of when it comes to grants performance. Some tips and warnings: 1. Calculate based on awards, not expenditures. 2. Be sure not to double-count funds due to fiscal year timing. 3. Agree on the conventions for calculating multi-year grants: does a five-year grant of $250,000 count as $1.25 million or as $250,000 each year for five years? 4. Calculate your numbers for awarded funding with and without large funding sources (and while we're here, be sure to diversify so that your organization doesn't become dependent on one or two funding sources).
Utilization rate. Local governments fail to spend awarded funding for a variety of reasons. Sometimes this occurs for logical reasons: projects change, funding agencies alter requirements, or less funding is needed than originally projected. However, grant money is often not spent due to avoidable reasons: grant requirements were not fully understood prior to application, the funding was not necessary, or matching funds were not available. Sometimes organizations forget to spend the funds or cannot spend the funds before the expiration date.
Take all measurements into account. No one performance indicator should be analyzed out of its context. Take the following hypothetical: Suppose one grant writer submits 4 proposals and wins 3 grants worth $1,000 each. The total awards amount to $3,000, with a win rate of 75 percent. Now suppose another grant writer submits 4 proposals and wins 2 worth $5,000 each. The total awards amount to $10,000, with a win rate of 50 percent. Comparing these cases, the total amount funded of the latter case outweighs the higher win rate of the former. All other things being equal, the grant writer with the lower win rate and $7,000 more in funding at his/her disposal is more successful—at least in my opinion.
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