Have you ever watched the TV show “Doomsday Preppers”?
It was on the National Geographic channel from 2011 -2014 and showcased American families who believed that Doomsday (or at least hard times) were coming and were preparing accordingly by building fallout shelters, water filtration systems, and stockpiling supplies and gold. The larger prepper movement is led by people who want to be able to survive completely on their own, off the grid, in the event of a catastrophic event or government failure. Thus the name “preppers”. They were prepping (shorthand for ‘preparing’) for a coming event.
Now, I’m a grant writer, not a prepper. But the TV show was entertaining and if you like bad TV as much as I do (hey, we all need our outlets) then I thought it might be fun to draw a parallel here. I don’t think you need to build a fallout shelter, but I wholeheartedly support you enthusiastically prepping for grant seeking so that the process is as stress-free and successful as possible. And so that you are prepared for any grant writing scenario to raise its ugly head.
So, without further ado, I hope you enjoy this blog post: “Preppers – Grant Writing Edition”.
Let’s walk through you our 5 simple prepper steps, one by one. By the end of this post, you’ll have a full-blown prep plan that will set you up for grant-writing success.
PREP STEP 1: TAKE AN INVENTORY
This step is pretty easy. You need to take an inventory. No, not of how many rolls of toilet paper or water purification tablets you have on hand. Take an inventory of your funding needs, instead. What programs or projects need to be funded in the next 12 months? Do you need operating funds? How much? Do you have a large capital project coming up in the years ahead? When will it start, when do you need to start fundraising, and how much (if any) needs to come from grants? List out everything you want to fund in the foreseeable future along with funding amounts (or your best estimate).
PREP STEP 2: GATHER INTELLIGENCE
Now that you know what you want to fund, you need to gather up all of your intelligence on those items. Nope, you won’t be spying on neighbors or local politicians with high-powered binoculars or sifting through government dumpsters while wearing camo. Instead, you’ll systematically lay out each funding need and then go gather all the recent, relevant information you can on them.
If you need to fund an education program, you’ll want to talk to the program director to assess challenges and triumphs from the past year, what the program’s true needs and costs are, and to gather all the data you can to show funders how essential and amazing the program is.
For operating, you’ll want to gather more general information on the needs, challenges, and successes of the organization as a whole. Collect data that shows how effective the org has been this past year in accomplishing goals and serving the community.
Make sure you also start collecting data that supports the need for your organization’s work as well as general data on the populations and communities you serve. You’ll need both for successful grant-seeking.
Gathering this type of grants intel this early into the process has an added bonus, too: it will help you clarify and fix any issues with your programs, projects, or issues facing the organization which grant funders would look at with a critical eye. This means you have time to adjust or fix things or to do additional research to back up your approach to these challenges, which will help put funders at ease.
PREP STEP 3: MAP OUT A STRATEGY
In terms of prepping, this step may conjure up images of poring over an actual map, charting escape routes out of the city through the sewer system, or marking safe points in your neighborhood. Luckily, we aren’t really preparing for doomsday. For our purposes, we’ll be mapping out a strategy to ensure our project, programs, and operating needs have the best chance possible at receiving grant funding.
That means that this step actually has a few sub-steps to it. They’re all essential if you want to create a strategy that’s rock solid. Here they are:
- Create a list of potential funders (use grants databases, google, lists of funders who’ve given to similar organizations, and your own knowledge of local funders to create this master list)
- Eliminate unlikely prospects from your list. This means funders that don’t accept unsolicited proposals, deadlines you can’t meet, funders whose eligibility criteria you aren’t a great fit for, funders who give to the same orgs every single year, etc. etc. – they all get the axe.
- Research the crud out of the remaining prospects to make sure they’re a strong fit for your funding needs. You’ll use their 990s, websites, press articles, personal knowledge, and any connections you have to people who work for these funders to assess their compatibility with your needs. Ultimately, you want funders whose missions are aligned with yours, who will make good partners, who fund the types of grants you need, and whose requirements you can fulfill.
PREP STEP 4: CHART A TIMELINE FOR EXECUTION
Don’t worry, you won’t be counting down to the apocalypse in this step or frantically gathering bottled water before some looming emergency. Rather, by now, you should have a list of funding needs, a wealth of data and information about them and your organization, and a list of potential funders which has been pruned down to only the most likely suspects. Which means that it’s time to create a timeline that will tell you exactly what to work on and when throughout the year.
Start with the funders that have hard deadlines. Put them all in order. You will likely have at least a handful of funders who have revolving deadlines or quarterly deadlines. You can plug them in between the hard deadlines.
Now you should have a timeline for how your entire year will be spent prepping, writing, and submitting these proposals. Be sure to block out time for all of this on your calendar, let colleagues know what their deadlines are for getting important pieces of information to you, and always set your submission deadlines earlier than they really are in case you run into complications, delays, or unforeseen disasters.
PREP STEP 5: CREATE ALLIES
Just like in the apocalypse, you’ll need allies to survive. However, for grants, this is more about creating a plan to cultivate your funding allies. You see, once you’ve identified the funders you want to approach, you actually have more to do than just preparing letters of intent and grant narratives. You must also cultivate a relationship with these organizations, turning them from strangers into true mission allies.
I like to make plans for this before I ever start writing a single grant and it’s something I coach my clients on, also. How will you make initial contact? How will you introduce yourself and your org and its work? How will you stay top-of-mind with them after this first contact? How will you follow-up in the event that they decline your proposal? How will you follow up, recognize their contribution, and continue growing the relationship if they do award funding?
Make a plan before you ever start writing, schedule time for each point of contact into your calendar, and creating allies that love your organization and want to continue funding it will be a breeze!
And there you have it, folks! Follow this 5-step plan and your nonprofit will have a catastrophe-proof roadmap to grant seeking success that you can use year after year to fulfill your mission.