September and October bring a wave of back-to-back grant deadlines which hopefully lead to many year-end grant awards. In these busiest months for grant writing, it can easy to get caught up in the deadlines and lose sight of two key components of your work: 1) best practices that can set you up for fundraising success and 2) connection to the impact our grant writing efforts have.
Of course, these months are also some of the most exciting of the year. More open funding opportunities means more opportunity to secure resources for your mission. It is a great time to connect with your colleagues and stakeholders over their visions for programs in the future. So, as September approaches and with an eye toward impact, we wanted to share a few steps you can take this week to make the next few months of grant writing just a little easier.
1. Build a solid foundation
Starting a grant application from scratch is no fun. It’s worth the investment to create narrative on common grant application sections ahead of time: general information about your organization, programs, impact, evaluation, board, and more. At the beginning of each fiscal year or, better yet, as you’re nearing the end of your fiscal year, update your narrative so you have agreed-upon information that you can easily pull from to feed into an application with a tight deadline. This advice also applies for common attachments including updating your board list, major contributors list, in-kind donations list, and organizational and program budgets. Make sure your IRS determination letter (proof of 501(c)3 status) is from the last three years and request a new one if not.
Pro-tip: Get your narrative approved by leadership and program staff long before any grant is due. This will help you avoid back-and-forth wordsmithing at the 11th hour and the painstaking process of cutting characters due to a colleague’s wordy edits.
2. Alignment conversations
An often overlooked time-saver is calling a program officer to discuss alignment in advance. Well before the application is due, pick up the phone and pitch your idea to the program officer. This will help you avoid wasting time on opportunities that don’t fit with your goals and will put your organization on the foundation’s radar. Put this into practice and ultimately, you’ll increase your chances at getting funded.
Pro-tip: If you’re worried about the phone conversation, prepare a script in advance. That way, you won’t have to improvise and you’ll be able to make sure all your questions get answered. And remember, it’s program officers’ jobs to learn about aligned projects and provide mutually beneficial guidance – don’t be afraid to take a brief moment of their time!
3. Put a support system in place
At ZIM, we always say grant writing is a team effort. Even if you’re the only grant writer on your team, there are creative ways to leverage your coworkers’ talent to support you in the grant writing process. Have one or two go-to people for editing, being a sounding board, and as back up for submissions should you need to take emergency time off. Grant writing is a tough, oftentimes stressful job and it is okay to ask for help when you need it! Even better, ask for help before you need it, so your coworkers are on call and ready to support you.
Pro tip: On your busiest weeks, schedule out blocks of writing time in your calendar in advance, and treat them like an important meeting; if you have shared calendaring, let your colleagues know to respect these as unavailable times to schedule you. This will help you get into a writing flow free of distractions, keep your workdays to an acceptable length, and maintain your energy for creativity and productivity.
As the grant writing season ramps up, we know that organizations are working hard to secure the funding they need to serve their communities and deliver their missions. Though fast-paced, this work is endlessly rewarding, and we hope these tips will help you have a successful fall.
Allegra Mangione | Marketing Implementer
Allegra holds a B.A. in Human Services and International Affairs. Her experience in the nonprofit sector spans marketing, strategic communications, foundation relations management, program development, strategic planning, M&E, fundraising campaigns, and event coordination.