Friday, March 4, 2011

Picking a Funder: First of a series on writing successful grant applications

I'm no longer offering to write grant applications as part of my services, but I am teaching clients how to write successful grant applications as part of the editing and coaching I do. And that has made me think about how I write grants. So here is the first part of what will be a five or six part series on writing grant applications -- successful ones! Most of what I have to say is common sense -- but it's important to work with an experienced grants writer for a while before going it alone.

So -- starting at the beginning -- how do you decide whether to apply for a particular grant or respond to an RFP? Choose carefully. Writing grant applications is resource-intensive, and once you've picked one there may be another coming along at about the same time that you can't apply for. So you want to make sure that you're choosing the most likely funding source.

If you're looking at private funders like foundations, make sure that the program you propose is consistent with what the foundation wants to fund. The Foundation Center Library has a very useful Prospect Worksheet you can use to see how well your program aligns with the foundation's goals. It's available here. One word of caution: use this honestly, and it's helpful. Don't allow your vision to cloud your reason -- no matter how great your program is, if the foundation doesn't fund your kind of work, or won't work in your area, or isn't interested in serving your service recipients, you won't get the funding.

If you're looking for public funding or responding to an RFP, think about the program that's requested. Can you do all the work without straining your existing programs? There's usually a part of a proposal where you are asked to explain how the new program will fit in with your existing ones. If you're doubling your budget or staff, it's a signal to reviewers that you may be biting off more than you can chew.

Think about the type of program you are proposing. Are you replicating a model? If so, do you understand the premises underlying the model? Do you believe in them, so your staff will follow the model? Can you put all the elements into place?

A clear understanding -- of what the funder is seeking, of what you're planning to do, and how they fit together -- is key to picking what grants to apply for or which RFPs you should respond to. And picking well is a good foundation for successful grant writing.

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