How to Win Grants in the New Funding Landscape
We know it’s coming: funding from the American Rescue Plan is still streaming down while the next round of government funding is inevitable. What is often unclear is what pools of funding will come and when; what guidelines, criteria and eligibility will be attached to that funding; what agencies will act as distribution channels; and what application processes, deadlines and local guidelines those distribution channels will implement.
This is the new post-COVID funding landscape: massive amounts of funding distributed through overwhelmed channels with shifting guidelines and due dates set as little as 10 days from release. Often, organizations most in need of funding are the ones already most affected by the pandemic. They are dealing with downsized staff, increased demand for services, reduced funding from other sources, and serving neighbors while respecting changing safety guidelines.
In this environment, how can your organization compete for funding? The fundamentals of good grant writing – determining best fit, telling a compelling story, and creating sensible metrics – haven’t changed. But, in this new reality, the time frame to create a quality proposal has been sharply condensed. Grant writing has become a bit like the TV show “Chopped” – complex tasks that typically take months of thoughtful planning are suddenly due in an impossible time frame and judged against highly qualified competitors by a team of experts who expect near-perfection – and with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk.
But what’s at stake isn’t just money. What’s at stake are some of the most pressing human dilemmas in modern history, like the widening technological divide, inclusion, and mitigating learning loss amidst extended school closure. What we do now, while long-ingrained systems are malleable, has the power to change paradigms well into the future.
So, what makes a successful grant proposal in this funding landscape? The truth is that funding isn’t always awarded to the organization with the most impact, that serves communities most in need, or that offers the best and most sustainable solutions. Funding often is awarded to the organization that is simply the most prepared.
We have compiled a list of ways to ensure your organization is one of those most prepared:
- Register for DUNS, SAM and grants.gov. DUNS and SAMS numbers are required for federal funding, regardless of what entity is administering the grants locally. A grants.gov account is a must to apply for direct federal funding. Don't wait until the need arises to obtain these! The processes are time-consuming, require a good deal of information, involve approval from multiple federal agencies and are not intuitive for new users.
- Create an organizational grants toolbox. Collect commonly requested items in a folder accessible to anyone who might need them. We suggest including your IRS determination letter; 990s or other business tax returns; organizational budget; audited financials; state business registration and licensing; articles of incorporation; bylaws, North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code; a list of board members and/or owners and their affiliations; a portfolio of services and programs; corporate structure; and demographics about your clients and service area. If you have specific programs for which you are seeking funding, include program information, budget, metrics and outcomes.
- Use technology to stay up to-date. Sign up for email updates and push notifications or set Google alerts to stay updated on opportunities. Contact your local municipalities and community foundations to ensure you are on their distribution lists for upcoming grant opportunities. In this environment, a day or two lead time can make a difference.
- Direct your energies carefully. Organizations, especially those new to grant writing, have a tendency to overestimate their chances of success, underestimate the importance of meeting grant qualifications, and misunderstand contextual language. In our experience, this is due to wonderful organizations truly believing in their mission and hoping that others who hear of their good works will “bend the rules.” For most grantors, applications that do not meet qualifications are not even considered. Put your energy into opportunities for which you are objectively qualified and for which your organization is a natural fit.
- Read every word. NOFOs (Notices of Funding Opportunities) and guidelines can be robust, with guidelines consuming dozens of pages. Read every word. Preview the application if you can, and review evaluations and reporting requirements, if available. Take time to review past recipients. While time-consuming, this is a vital step to evaluating your organization's qualifications and readiness; predicting project or program fit; and developing a plan of action to complete the grant proposal on time.
- Start with what you need from others. As you assess the workload to complete the grant proposal, highlight what you need from others, such as budgets or financials from other departments, registrations from other entities and letters of support.
- Build partnerships for future projects. Now is the time to build partnerships - with Ghost Writer, other partners, and other stakeholders. Envision what success would look like and work with your partners to sketch a plan now. There may be limited time for thoughtful planning after funding is released.
Feeling overwhelmed by the process? Ghost Writer helps you prepare methodically, stay up-to-date on opportunities as they present themselves, and manages the entire grants process allowing you to do what you do best - live your mission!