If you work for a unit of government or nonprofit organization, you already know that employees wear multiple hats. What is the scariest hat to wear? Hearing from your supervisor that you’re now the designated grant writer! When I think about the first time I wrote a grant proposal to one of the largest foundations in the world, I know how I felt...
At the age of 24, I was serving as the Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Voluntary Action Center in Flint, Michigan. One night, I went to a board meeting and our executive director looked crestfallen. When I asked what was wrong, she indicated that the Center had lost their grant for the community mental health suicide hot line. I asked, “How can I help?” Her reply was, "Get us a grant!” I had thought that grants were only for college. My knowledge base was at zero about grants for nonprofit organizations. Who awarded grants? How complex were the guidelines? How do I get started?
After a next-day trip to the public library’s reference department, I found out the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation was headquartered in Flint and that they awarded grants to the City of Flint and its nonprofits.
Now what? I made an appointment with the foundation’s director and picked up a copy of the proposal writing guidelines. I also made a point of telling him about the volunteer center and their dire need in the community. We shook hands and I went home to type out my proposal. Yes, there was a happy ending. The center received $100,000 a year for three years to expand and sustain the suicide hotline partnership.
Was I lucky? Probably! Today, finding grant funding opportunities and writing grant proposals (to foundation and corporate grantmakers) and applications (to government agencies) is not about luck. There are a lot of other factors involved in grant preparedness for any type of grant seeker.
What Do You Need to Get Started and Be Successful Today?
Obviously, times have changed since my streak of grant writing luck. Today, you need to understand grant readiness, grant research, and grant writing. Let’s take a look, in brief, at what these applied learning areas cover:
Grant Readiness: The capability to leverage grant-funded projects with general funds (or general operating budgets), fundraising revenues, other incoming grants, and restricted funds (designated for specific programs and expenses).
Ask your supervisor(s) the following questions about grant readiness:
- Do we have the ability to staff projects fully in order to implement successful grant-funded projects?
- Do we have the ability to manage funded grant projects and provide timely financial, quantitative and qualitative reports to funders?
Grant Research: The capability to budget and subscribe to grant research databases.
Do your homework before you select the best subscriptions for your agency or organization. Ask your supervisor(s) the following questions:
- What type of funding are you looking for, government or foundation/corporate?
- What type of funding are we capable of implementing? (Remember: staff, facilities, and collaborative partners are needed to make your project viable.)
- What type of funding are we capable of managing? (Rigorous reporting is required for all grant funding received.)
Grant Writing: The capability to read complex grant proposal and application writing guidelines and write highly compelling and competitive responses that beat out all other grant requests.
With no training, you will become discouraged fast. Some federal grant application guidelines are like reading an encyclopedia written in a foreign language. Ask your supervisor(s) the following questions regarding getting you prepared to write award winning funding requests:
- Do we have budget line item for training or professional development?
- Will you be able to send me or sign me up for Grant Writing 101 training?
Summing Up Your Likely Situation
Your future grant writing victories are fully dependent on your employer’s response to the above questions. Do they have the ability to provide internal staff support resources, funds for subscriptions and training, and encouragement for your success?