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Expert answers for strategic grantwriting questions

I recently presented a webinar entitled "Grantwriter as Strategic Leader: Your Crucial Role." It covered a topic not often discussed in the nonprofit world: how can grantwriters assume a leadership role in their organizations? Grantwriters are actually perfectly positioned to be inspiring, confident and competent leaders who can help their organizations plan strategically for their grantseeking futures.

I got so many great questions, I thought I would share some of them here.

How do you communicate to your executive director and board that it's not just about the quantity (number) of grant proposals you send out, but the quality, too?

This is actually common, especially among folks with limited experience in grantseeking. You can compare grant proposals to resumes. It's not a good strategy to send them out in scattershot fashion, in the blind hope that something will stick. It's a better use of your time to really do your homework, and then plan out and customize each one. Competition for funds is stiff, and the better targeted your proposal the more likely it will get a second look.

How do you lead a grantseeking team that has constantly shifting program/vision priorities?

This says something about your organization. Without a clear programmatic strategy, your fundraising efforts will suffer. It's OK to want to get a full picture of a situation, especially for new or transitioning organizations. But at some point you will have to clearly tell your colleagues that program plans need to stabilize so that fundraising can happen. In fact, grantseeking usually takes several months (or even a year) before the funds come through. So you will need a solid strategic plan or logic model to work from.

To what extent should the grantwriter be responsible for evaluations and client feedback vs. the program manager who designs/implements the program?

While the grantwriter should not be designing the programs, he or she is serving as the eyes and ears of a funder snooping around. A grantwriter knows that evaluation is always going to be important to funders. That means that whoever is designing or implementing the program needs to find a way to measure results — in the short term and long term. A grantwriter can offer suggestions on how to go about that, but he or she is not in a position to make the final plans for evaluation (let alone carry it out). A grantwriter should also be asking how the evaluation results will be used to improve the program over time.

Client feedback and stories are also important to funders. They will want to know exactly how people have benefited from the program — and what difference that has made in their lives. Stories collected from throughout the organization should then make their way back to the grantwriter, as proposals should include some of that information.

What do you recommend for handling team members who do not want to contribute to grant applications?

Everyone in the nonprofit sector should know that at some point, they are likely to be part of fundraising (it's the nature of the beast). Most nonprofits are not set up like businesses with income-generating arms.

See if you can demonstrate how much better the grant proposal will be with the input of those noncooperative team members. After all, no one else has their expertise! Then try to make it as easy as you can for them to participate. For example, if time is the problem, consider drafting the piece with blank lines for them to fill out with the information that only they know. It's much easier for them to fill in the blanks than to start from scratch.

At my organization, the director doesn't see the value in having a full-time grantwriter. Thus, program staff does grantwriting. Do you have any advice for folks who are in that dual role?

Grantwriters are often not enmeshed in the day-to-day of our organizations' programs, so we can adopt an outsider's perspective. But even if you are involved in both program and grantwriting, imagine yourself switching hats so you can see things from both separate viewpoints.

As a new grantwriter with a small network, what are some ways in which I can find or network with new potential funders on behalf of my organization?

You definitely want to start out with doing as much research as you can to find potential matches in the funding world: the Foundation Center's database is a great first step. There are also many more resources online for ferreting out those leads. Once you have identified some good matches, go ahead and approach them in their preferred ways (email, phone, etc.).

I also suggest attending as many nonprofit fundraising events as possible. If you meet any funders there, try to learn about their interest areas, values and funding strategies. Keep your "pitching" to a minimum and try to understand where they are coming from. But be prepared with a few brief talking points to interest them in learning more about your organization.

And once you have some funders on your side, ask them for referrals to other contacts in the funding world. Know that networking is a long-term strategy that will pay off over time.

For more tips from Dalya Massachi, visit Writing to Make a Difference.

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MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Writer, editor, and writing coach dedicated to inspiring and equipping changemakers to use their writing to make a difference in the world