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DLB Hicks


Building a Balanced Grant Seeking Program, Part 1: Case and Content


Grant seeking is one of the most time consuming types of fund raising.  It’s like sport fishing: you have to have specialized gear (try hauling a 200-pound swordfish aboard with a tiny little Wal-Mart rod and reel!), a boat to take you to deep water, understanding of the behavior of the fish (if they are not biting, you are not hauling), good weather, good water temperature, and a helluva lot of patience and good luck. But when you land a good-sized catch, you can eat for a week or more and you have a great story to tell over drinks at the marina.

The take away here is that grant seeking, like sport fishing, relies on a balance of skill and good planning.   Building a balanced grant seeking program combines planning - which leads to a solid case for support and a qualified prospect list - with skill (including writing, research and the ability to engage and cultivate potential grantors). 

In this post, we will focus on case and content which leads off with planning.  For each of my clients, we set aside time near the end of each fiscal year to assess the mix of grants.  This might involve a series of meetings or even a planning retreat with staff.  Some questions we use to guide our conversations include:

  • Which programs have the most traction --attracting the most interest and have fundraising momentum?
  • Which programs appear to be stagnant —e losing grant income or seem to have attracted less interest?
  • Of our list of current supporters, which grant makers appear to have the potential to invest more?  What opportunities, results, messages might move them to the next level of support?
  • For the same list, which funders are likely to remain steady or perhaps not continue support next year?
  • Are there any emerging trends in the client’s programming that point to new opportunities to present to funders?
  • Are there emerging needs among the client’s constituency or community that need to be addressed?

These questions help inform our strategy for the coming year.  Strategic issues that surface might include:

  • The creation of new programs to meet growing demands and opportunities
  • Re-framing our case for support using new data, goals, objectives and outcomes
  • Assessing whether our case for support should focus on investment (significant growth/opportunity) or sustainability (maintenance/modest growth)
  • Creating new evaluation measures for reporting to grantors or meeting the evaluation/reporting expectations of new prospects

By looking at the bigger picture — what is working, where opportunities lie, what is evolving in the organization’s work —  we are prepared to updated our case statement both sustaining and investment levels of support. 

We must also build out content to support our case.  For each initiative, we engage the staff team to identify:

·       A defined goal(s) for the program and tangible objectives to get us there

·       Desired outcomes for beneficiaries

·       Outputs that will enable the program to achieve its outcomes

·       Tangible needs and challenges to be met during the coming year or so

·       Elements of program methodology to be undertaken with support from the funder

·       Staffing and resources required

·       Evaluation metrics and methodology to assess the program’s efficacy

·       Program costs and a plan to achieve financial sustainability moving forward

This information helps to refine out prospect list since we have a better understanding of the specific needs and opportunities to market to funders during the coming year.  In the next post, we will examine how to refine our prospect list based on current and emerging opportunities.