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The #1 Step You Must Take To Improve Your Grant Writing

Many of my favourite memories, from working as a Program Manager at the Ontario Trillium Foundation, relate to meeting with potential grant applicants. I’ve sat in coffee shops, at kitchen tables, on park benches, and in boardrooms meeting with people who had ideas to transform the community. There were lots of laughs, a few tears, and incredible stories of resilience.

So How Can This Benefit Me?

For grant writers, there are many benefits to meeting with a funder before you submit your grant. Besides building relationships, the importance of which shouldn’t be underestimated, meeting with a funder provides opportunities for you, as a grant writer, to:

  • Check for alignment. Meeting with a funder gives you an opportunity to better understand their priorities. Through the discussion, you can make sure your program activities match with what the funder is interested in funding.
  • Improve your grant. Most funders have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of proposals. If you take the time to listen, funders can be a wealth of knowledge in terms of what you should and shouldn’t do when writing your proposal.
  • Save time. At an initial meeting, many funders will tell you whether your program appears to be a fit for what they fund. They obviously can’t guarantee your project will be funded. But, if you know upfront your project isn’t a fit, it will save you hours of time writing a proposal that will never be granted. This way, you can spend your time writing proposals where you do have a real chance.

Do you have to meet with the funder? No, you definitely don’t have to in most cases. There are some funders who won’t meet with you at all, and there are others that make it mandatory to meet with them.

It’s been my experience though, that meeting with a funder can help you write better grants.

If you’re not having success in grant writing, the number one step you can take is to meet with funders.

I’m Sold, How Do I Go About Meeting With A Funder?

  • 1. Do Your Homework

    Before contacting the funder, become well versed in their language and with their programs. Review their website and access any resources they may provide, including Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). You might be able to answer many of your own questions in this way.

  • 2. Prepare Your Questions

    Write down your questions before you contact the funder. This will help you formulate your thoughts in advance and will help you feel more confident, which will be noticeable to the funder. This will also show a respect for the funder’s time. The funder will receive many inquiries from many different organizations about granting programs. If you have spoken to them in the past, don’t assume they remember you or your program. This is not a lack of interest on their part, but rather a product of the volume of interactions they have.

  • 3. Reaching Out

    Different funders have different ways of interacting with potential grantees. The key is to determine the funder’s preferred method of communication, and then use it. If they say they prefer to use email, don’t phone them – use email! Here are some ways you can connect with funders:

    • Information Sessions. Some funders have information sessions delivered in person or online. If they do, it’s a good idea to start there.
    • Telephone. Set a time to speak to a funder on the phone. Remember, don’t just call them up and expect them to be able to talk. Making an appointment respects the time of both you and the funder.
    • In Person. You can also request to meet with a funder in person. This will allow you to meet at a convenient location and discuss your idea together.

    Set telephone and in person meetings through email or phone. I personally think email is better, because the funder can respond to your request when it’s most convenient for them. But, if you can’t find their email address, a phone call might be your only option.

Where Do I Go From Here?

It’s time to get started! If you have a funder in mind, review their website, prepare your questions, determine how to best contact them, and then connect.

Are you nervous about contacting a funder to set up a time to meet? Don’t worry, the GrantsEdge Email Contact Template For Funders will provide you with everything you need.

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Two Simple And Strategic Ways To Become A Grant Writing Superstar

Being a superstar is about being a “big deal,” being “the cheese” (yeah, it’s true, look it up), being a “hotshot,” and a “name.” Now, maybe you’ve never thought about being a superstar in the context of grant writing, but imagine what you could accomplish for your organization and your community if you did. And the reality is, it’s totally doable.

In an earlier post, I shared the Two Actions That Are Sabotaging You From Becoming A Grant Writing Superstar. In this post, I explore the two solutions that take you from saboteur to superstar.

By strategically implementing the two ideas outlined here, you’ll become instantly stronger and more successful in your grant writing. So what are the two solutions?

1. Start By Creating Your Program First

Start By Creating Your Program First

To experience success as a grant writer, it’s imperative to stay off funders’ websites until you have a program or project firmly established. While in pursuit of your vision and mission as an organization, you’ll naturally begin to think of and create new and different ways to serve your target audience.

Before you search for a funder, develop your idea, test assumptions, and establish the need for your program.

Once the hard work is done to create your much-needed program, it will be considerably easier to pursue funding opportunities. With your mission clearly in sight, the pursuit of the ultimate funder can begin. Your research will be more robust and your search will be more focused. With this type of approach, finding the right funders for your idea will take significantly less time and be much less frustrating.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Make the effort to find the right funder. Don’t bend your program beyond recognition just to fit funders’ priorities. Like a dog smells fear, many funders will sense the desperation in your proposal, and it won’t be funded.

By creating your program first, you can confidently begin to search for grants that fit. You’ll find funders whose mandate aligns with your mission and you’ll start to build strong, strategic relationships with funders. It’s win-win for everyone!

2. Build A Detailed Work Plan

Build A Detailed Work Plan

Making your way toward becoming a grant writing superstar may not be “rocket surgery” (thank you George Bush for your mixed metaphors), but it does take time, effort, and a good dose of planning.

Building a work plan and getting organized at the front end of a project can take some time. If incorporated properly, it can save you hours in the long run, can keep your hair from turning grey or falling out altogether, and can provide you with the margin needed to complete the grant with time to spare.

I’m going to show you how to build a work plan, so you can submit your proposal the day before it’s due – after having completed a full review and revision cycle too!

To build a work plan:

  1. Outline key phases. To begin, you’ll want to map out the key phases that need to occur to write and submit the grant. Phases are the larger categories of work that need to be completed. Examples of phases include, Conduct Research, Build Partnerships, and Complete Final Edit.
  2. Plan specific tasks. It’s important to determine the detailed tasks that need to be completed within each phase. The more detail you can provide in this section, the better. It will help you avoid last minute panic. For example, if the phase is Building Partnerships, tasks may include approach potential partners, meet to discuss partnership opportunities, and ask for letters of support.
  3. Set deadlines. Critical to a work plan are firm deadlines. They help to communicate expectations and ensure the necessary work gets done. Deadlines can include month, day, and year. For example, September 25, 2016 or 25/09/16.
  4. Determine accountability. Putting a name beside a task, gives each task an owner. It helps all team members identify the role they’ll play in the preparation and submission of the proposal. Only assign one person to a task in a work plan. When more than one person is assigned to a task, it’s too easy for the task to fall between the cracks. Everyone ends up thinking someone else will do it. Keep it simple, one person per task.

Work plans will change your grant writing forever. You’ll work with less stress and more focus. You’ll also write better grants and complete the process with time to spare.

I Know What You’re Thinking

Some of you may be wondering, “That’s it? That’s all I need to do?” Well, this isn’t absolutely everything you need to be a grant writing superstar. That would be the longest blog post you’ve ever read. But these two steps will be an amazing start!

Not approaching the right funders and writing grants without a plan are two mistakes I’ve seen result in a significant amount of wasted time and energy. Not to mention, rejected proposals. Yet, they’re mistakes that are so simple to solve.

Get Started Now

So, here’s what I want you to do. Start now. Implement the two foundational principles outlined in this blog. Add them to your toolbox. They’ll help you to achieve grant writing superstar status.

Use the GrantsEdge Work Plan Template to become more organized, than ever before, in your grant writing. Complete your next grant on time and stress-free.

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Two Actions That Are Sabotaging You From Becoming A Grant Writing Superstar

I can think of a number of times I wanted to be a superstar. In grade four, I thought I could be famous by rocking out on the recorder. I didn’t get out much at that point in my life. By grade six, I had plans of being a superstar comedian travelling all over the world telling my stories to stadiums full of laughing people. By high school, I was on my way to stardom as a major league baseball pitcher.

As I’ve matured, I’ve become a little more realistic and grounded. However, my early pursuits taught me an important lesson. Becoming a superstar, in any field, is a combination of what you do and what you don’t do.

Let’s dig in to what you should stop doing, if you want to become a grant writing superstar.

1. Stop Looking For The Grants First

Have you ever watched a child play with one of those shape sorter toys? If they match the shape to the right cut-out, it falls right in, perfectly. But, when they’re just starting, it takes them a while to figure this out. They spend a ton of time and energy smashing the plastic pieces against the toy, trying to find the right fit.

Too many organizations do this with funders. Organizations and grant writers look for funding opportunities first, then try to create a program, and ultimately a proposal, that fits the fund. In a haste to secure financial support, the appropriate effort isn’t given to researching the need, building the case for support, establishing collaborative partnerships, or exploring how to evaluate impact. The focus becomes trying to come up with a new program to be able to access the money available.

In many cases, the result is an ineffective project rationale, unreasonable project outcomes, and a proposal that doesn’t necessarily fit with the stated mission of the organization. Mission drift and burnout are serious effects of this type of grant writing approach.

When grant writing is done in this way, often the grant doesn’t get approved. As hard as we try to lead funders toward a yes, they quickly see through the proposal, and it gets a big, fat no.

SOLUTION: Start By Creating Your Program First.

2. Stop Writing Grants Without A Plan

2 Stop Writing Grants Without A Plan

It doesn’t surprise us anymore, at GrantsEdge, when we hear the stories of stress, and the grumbling and panic that sets in as grant application deadlines loom.

We know how busy you are and understand that your grant writing tasks are often done “off the side of your desk.” We know that for many of you, grant writing is not your primary responsibility. We get it. We understand the stress and we understand the angst. There always seems to be a lack of hours in a day or week to get this work done. The clock and the calendar really can feel like the enemy.

We’ve heard from funders that they frequently receive grants that have incomplete information or grants that weren’t checked for spelling and grammatical errors. We’ve also heard from grant writers about the fact that they’ve abandoned half written grants because they don’t think they can get it done on time or find the information they need to get it right.

All of these factors lead to frustration, proposals not submitted, and emphatic “no thank yous” from funders. In the end, this approach leads to zero dollars. This is definitely not grant writing superstar territory.

SOLUTION: Stop The Last Minute Dash By Using A Work Plan.

There has to be a much better way! For what you should do, wander on over to Two Simple And Strategic Ways To Become a Grant Writing Superstar.