I’ve decided to create a series of posts that share tips for grant writing that I’ve learned over my pretty long career in grant writing. I’ll share one tip per post and go into some detail about the particular tip.
I was inspired to do this because I receive many questions about grant writing and they tend to be similar in some ways and very different in other ways. At first I often think “how the heck would I know?” Then I realize “oh my gosh I have been doing this for a long time.” Sometimes I’m amazed when I stop and realize I’ve been writing grants for more than 25 years. Yikes I guess I’m getting old! I never meant to become a grant writer – I kind of fell into it and a few years later realized I might be able to have my own business with it and the rest is history. It’s definitely been a big blessing in countless ways but there are times it has been challenging too. Living under constant deadlines is very stressful – it just is. But being able to help lots of organizations and people is a wonderful way to spend one’s time and I’m super grateful for that.
In thinking about the kinds of questions I get from people about grants most often, one of them has to do with getting overwhelmed. What is the basis of that? To me, it is how to focus. It’s a great question because there are so many grants that one could apply for it can be overwhelming. The truth is there is no perfect answer to this question but there are some pitfalls to watch out for.
My first tip for how to focus:
- Find possible funders who support what you are already doing or plan to do.
This might also be called don’t be a victim of “Shiny Object Syndrome”.
I cannot tell you how many times over the past decades I have watched an organization try (and usually fail) to create a new project just so they can apply for a pathetic $5,000 from some foundation that is giving out funds and they just have to apply. This is not a good strategy for successful grant writing. Writing a grant is a lot of work and most of the grants you apply for you will not get. It can be especially disappointing if you spend hours of time crafting a new idea, writing your grant proposal, making it perfect and sending it off to the funder and then you get the news that you aren’t funded. It is even more painful when one of the reasons that the funder gives you for not funding you is that they aren’t clear how this new program fits into your overall operations or mission. You’ve been busted!
Although it may take more focus, discipline and time at the beginning, it is much more effective to get clear about what you want to do and look for potential funders that match your goals. Once you get really clear about what you are doing and everyone working with you really gets it on a visceral level, you’ll find that it almost takes on a life of its own. When you happen to come across a funder with a pot of money, your discernment skills will be much sharper because you will have put your attention on fleshing out your idea and it will be much clearer in your mind. When you review the funder priorities you will realize more quickly that this funder does or doesn’t support what you do. Surprisingly, you may find that more funders you come across actually do fund the kinds of things you are doing. Thus, you will have a much higher likelihood of success because what you already do is in alignment with the funder. In terms of production, you may already have grant materials written that you can tweak to meet the funder guidelines or at least you will be able to write about your project more fluently because it is really what you are doing or want to do and you have a better understanding of it.
I completely understand that it can be really difficult to avoid the trap of applying for every grant you see that looks even close but trust me it is not the best use of your time. It is a balance and it is not always possible to know which funders are the best fit, but in general if you review a funder’s guidelines and start thinking about changing what you do to fit them, it’s probably not a good fit.
Remember, the Grant Geek Diva always says “You don’t have to get it perfect, but you do have to get it rolling!”