Discern the Costs and Benefits of Grants

Stop!  Before you respond  to that grant opportunity you just read in your inbox, take a few minutes to discern if you should apply or not.  As I discussed in my blogpost, “Top 3 Grant Writing Tips,” just because a grant is available doesn’t mean it merits your time and resources to apply.  So, be selective.  The costs may outweigh the benefits.

Quick Feasibility Test

Before you invest time in applying for a grant, answer these three critical questions to help you discern the costs and benefits:

  1. Is your organization an eligible applicant?
  2. Does the grant’s purpose align with your organizational mission and vision?
  3. Does the grant support one or more of your program goals or initiatives?

If you answered YES to all three questions, the grant holds potential and is worth further consideration.

Strategic Considerations

Developing grant proposals is a time-consuming task, especially if you commit the time needed to be successful.  And, based on my observations, staff time at the typical nonprofit organization is a limited resource.  Consider the following questions to help you choose grant opportunities strategically:

  • Has your organization received support from this grantmaker in the past?
  • Is the proposal aligned with the grantmaker’s mission and funding interests?
  • Does someone in your organization (e.g. board member) have a relationship with the grantmaker?
  • Are any other organizations in your service area applying for this grant?

Budgetary Considerations

  • Will the range of funding available meet your need for funding?
  • Can you pull together the matching funds (if required)?
  • Can the grant funds be used for administrative/overhead costs?
  • Does the timeframe for receiving a grant award meet your projected cash flow needs?
  • If you receive the grant, will you be required to complete a fiscal audit?
  • How much will it cost to sustain the program after grant funds are expended?

Operational Considerations

  • If awarded, how will the grant impact your staff?
  • Does your management staff have the capacity to oversee the project?
  • Can you implement the grant within the grantmaker’s timeframe?
  • How will administering the grant impact your accounting system?
  • Will you be able to submit timely grant reports?

Proposal Preparation Considerations

  • Do you have the human resources available for completing grant development tasks?
  • Is the timeframe for submitting the proposal reasonable?
  • If it’s a federal grant, are your organization’s registrations with the System for Award Management and current?
  • Can you adapt verbiage from previous proposals or other existing documents?

The Take-Aways

  • Yes, keep looking for grants to fund your mission.
  • No, not every grant is a good fit for your organization.
  • Take a proactive approach – invest a little time to discern whether or not to apply for grants. How much are you willing to spend for the up-front and implementation costs in exchange for the potential grant funds?

Check out this tool I developed to walk you through the discernment process.

Rating Scale for Grant Opportunities (PDF)


Avoid Deadline Creep – Use a Grant Calendar

Summer is winding down, but the grant season is just getting started.  Now’s the time to get yourself organized so you don’t miss out on grant opportunities that come along in the coming year.  One tool you can use is a grant calendar.

It’s not a new concept – nothing magical – nothing I created.  Just a simple tool to manage grant deadlines.  I’ve outlined a few steps you can follow to get started.

  1. Decide Who and How Many.

Before you create a calendar, consider who will have access to it.  And, if that list includes more than one person, will they be allowed to edit the calendar content or merely view/print it?

  1. Choose a Format.

Choose a format that is easy for assigned personnel to use.  Will you use a dry-erase wall calendar?  Or create a monthly calendar—either a hard copy or stored on a network?  I suggest you consider the level of computer literacy among the people who will have access to the grant calendar.  Whenever you establish a new process, it’s important to keep it as simple as possible.  Otherwise, you create unnecessary barriers.

If you use an electronic calendar format, and if more than one person is authorized to edit the content, consider using an application such as Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook that is designed for multiple users.  An alternative is to create a calendar in Microsoft Word and store it on Google Docs or a similar platform.

  1. Enter Grant Deadlines.

If you received one or more grants in the past year, insert any deadlines associated with submitting program and expenditure reports.  If you’re eligible to re-apply, also insert those deadlines.  Sometimes, funders require current grantees to wait a specified amount of time before applying for future funding.  Be sure to note on the calendar the earliest date you may re-apply.

If a funder has no deadline, be strategic about scheduling your own submission date.  Consider how often the funder meets, when they make final funding decisions, and how soon you need the funding.

Some grant cycles include multiple phases such as a letter of inquiry or pre-application followed by an invitation to submit a full proposal.  I suggest you insert the deadlines for both phases—if the information is available—to enable you to plan ahead.

I also recommend you plan ahead by considering events or staff-intensive activities such as training or a fiscal audit that may hinder you from applying for grants.  In those cases, don’t skip grant opportunities that coincide with those periods.  Work well ahead of the grant deadline and submit early.

  1. Keep it Simple.

Avoid cluttering the calendar with details that can be organized in a different format.  Limit the grant calendar to submission deadlines and other key dates.  For example, I maintain a funder list that includes contact info, application instructions, and other funder-specific details.  As I identify prospective funders, I add them to my funder list and insert their deadlines into the grant calendar.

  1. Establish a Process for Reviewing and Updating.

Of course, all your work will be for naught if you create a grant calendar and don’t actually use it.  So, schedule a regular time to review and update the grant deadlines until the process becomes a part of your routine.  Or, better yet, delegate that task to a volunteer or staff member.

Looking Ahead

My next GrantSpeak post will focus on the discernment process and several factors to consider when deciding if you should or should not apply for a grant.

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