Lately, I’ve engaged in multiple conversations with fellow grant professionals and colleagues in the nonprofit space about the issues and challenges facing our country right now. From #MeToo to BLM to COVID-19 to the 2020 election, many things are changing and evolving in our world. And of course, that means changes to the nonprofit sector, too.
Sometimes, those of us who write grants see these changes first because they are reflected in the guidelines, giving priorities, and funding opportunities made available by grant makers. It then becomes our responsibility to make sure that our organization’s work is aligned with those goals if and when we choose to pursue these funding opportunities.
If you don’t also happen to be the Executive Director or CEO, sometimes getting everyone on the same page with this stuff is a tall order. And this is where my recent conversations with other grant pros comes in. The recurring threads weaving themselves through all of these conversations is…
- How do we get board and staff on the same page?
- How do we impress upon leadership the need to change the way we do things if we really want to be competitive for grant funding?
- What role should grant writers play in being agents of change within their organizations and communities?
Every organization and individual grant writer will have to decide for themselves what role they are comfortable with playing and how to best navigate the internal politics of their nonprofit while also fulfilling their professional responsibilities. But should you decide to elevate this conversation with your colleagues, here are some general suggestions for being a positive force for change:
Gather information on changes and guidelines in funding for recurring and current funders.
One of the best things you can do is make yourself an expert on what’s happening in your grants world. Get the lay of the land with important current and prospective funders, find out what’s important to them, and where there’s overlap with your organization’s mission, programming, and goals. I also recommend creating either a database ora document for this kind of information to help you keep it all straight and to help you present this information to other leaders on your team.
Make leadership aware. Don’t assume they know what you know.
Make supervisors and organizational leaders aware of trends among grant makers and how that impacts your work. The document/database I referenced above can help with that. But the bottom line is that if everyone doesn’t know what these grant makers are looking for and to what extent that ties into your organization’s competitiveness for grants, then you can’t expect any meaningful changes to be made internally.
Have a formal conversation.
Scheduling a dedicated meeting to discuss this is a good idea so that everyone can carve out time to really listen and digest what you have to say and how it affects programming and funding. This will help the whole team to integrate changes at your organization that help better align it with what grant makers want to see, what ‘s right, and what fits with the mission of your nonprofit. It will also help all of you dig up any relevant questions or challenges that need to be addressed early in the process.
If changes are needed, create a plan.
Not much gets done without a plan and even when it does, it could be better with a plan. So make one. What do you need to achieve within your nonprofit? Who is responsible for what? How will you execute this? Set measurable benchmarks with a timeline just like you would for a grant proposal and you’ll be on the right track. Many grant makers are starting to ask for a written plan addressing things like Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Planning, COVID contingency plans, and more. Having your plans written down means you can provide this easily and painlessly.
Communicate your plan to funders.
Part of your plan should also be how you are going to communicate these changes to current and prospective funders. How do you want to discuss it and frame it within the larger context of your mission? How can you show best show that your organization is committed to the long-term growth that most funders are looking for and which most communities need right now?
Get specific with it by gathering contact information for each funder. Decide how and when you will reach out and what points you want to cover in your conversations. Also decide how you will communicate these changes to your community, patrons, and partners. What platforms will you use? How will you engage them meaningfully?
Build consensus and buy-in among staff and board.
Last but not least, it’s critically important that you build consensus for any large-scale changes amongst staff and board. Without their buy-in and commitment to these changes (which often involve difficult changes to organizational culture), you may not get very far.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful and that it sparks some useful conversations about needed changes and the kind of culture you want to create in your org and in your community.
This week I am attending and speaking at the Grant Professionals Association’s National Conference and this topic keeps popping up. It’s on a lot of minds and it’s at the heart of a lot of discussions being had between grant professionals. And the general consensus is that grant writers are often in the best position to see not only what funders are starting to require, but the ways in which their own nonprofits need to evolve in order to be forces for good.