The grant readiness process can be stressful and the competition fierce so let’s have some fun and compare it to playing the children’s game of Chutes and Ladders. Anyone can play and has the opportunity to start on the same starting line. Land on a good deed (submit your grant application by the deadline), you can shimmy up a ladder, but land on the wrong spot (forget to include a strategic plan or project budget in the application) and you’ll slide down a chute (no longer be considered as a worthy applicant). Will your application, when compared alongside the competition, send you down or move you up, up, up?
Some organizations get so close to the finish, but then shoot down the chute because there was just one little thing that they forgot to include. The level of grant preparedness an organization can demonstrate can lead an organization to the top of the application pile (meaning grant-makers will read your application with interest and seriously consider you for funding) or shuffle you back down to the bottom.
You become grant ready by uniting all the necessary conditions and requirements to be an interesting, attractive, and powerful grant applicant. You make your case, and increase your rate of success, by addressing with quality the two big components of the grant universe, the project narrative and the administrative documentation:
- The Project Narrative: this should be emotionally compelling but logical, rational, and coherent at the same time, using the smallest number of words possible (I know, it’s not that easy which is why so many people hire professional grant writers). This is your “elevator pitch” to explain what you plan to do with the money and why (and how much) you need to do so in a way that encompasses many criteria including:
- Necessity Statement- why do you need money, what is the need or problem you are trying to solve?
- Project Plan- what you want to do to fill the need and how (implementation plan and timeline)
- Goals, Outcomes, Expected Results and how to measure them
- Population Served- who are you serving? How many lives will you improve directly? What are their demographic characteristics?
- Administrative Documentation: this must be able to show and prove how healthy, robust, and trustworthy your organization is. There are 20+ administrative documents you will need to collect and update if you want to be grant ready and it will sometimes feel like a never-ending, overwhelming, time-consuming task. A few examples include:
- Strategic Plan
- Program Plan (1 or 2 years)
- Two Year Projected Cash-Flow for the project
- Project Budget
- Financials: annual reports, previous fiscal year organization budget and statement of financial position (balance sheet), year-to-date statement of financial position and activities (income statement), next fiscal year organization budget, etc.
- Past performance documentation
Grant writing requires a combination of analytical research, critical thinking, keen writing, and effective planning to meet deadlines, and often organizations do not have the time or staffing to devote to such a large task. The demand for grant writers and grant writer skills is high because “free grant money” and “anyone can apply” sounds simpler than it actually is.
The next step of grant readiness would be to determine if your organization has the time and skill set to devote to preparing a quality product or whether it would be more cost effective to hire a grant writer whose accumulated experience with writing and navigating the application process might prove to be more economical in the end. Regardless, the goal should be to elevate your application up the “ladder” and show those grant-makers how you cannot only make a big impact but can show results and deliver on what you promise. Your success would also be their success and they want to protect and enhance their corporate image by betting on the best investment (application). Just as your application will be assessed by a third-party, a good practice in determining grant readiness is to also have a third-party, like TWG, conduct an assessment and help you be the best you can be.