Our grandmothers were right: little things mean a lot. Especially to someone who has to read a lot of little things . . . called “grant proposals.” So, what can we do to make our document stand out? Here are five things that we can do in less than a minute to make a difference.
- Check the spelling of the recipient’s name . . . and the correct gender. How many books on the topic of sales tell us that one’s name is the sweetest music we ever hear. And when that tune gets mangled, we are oftentimes taken aback. I have enough email and snail mail addressed to “Mr. Hick” to use as exhibit A. And a few addressed to my fictitious alter-ego “Ms. Hick.”
- Confirm the deadline date for the umpteenth time. One minute after midnight doesn’t work with grantmakers who are overwhelmed by requests and need some ground rules to help cull the load of applications. Mark the date in your calendar and then set your own deadline a few days earlier to make sure that you get that application out the door on time.
- Decide to let go of the editor’s pencil. This one is tough! I remember working with a client once who kept making edit after edit to a proposal. At some point in the process, I told him that the proposal doesn’t mean anything until it is sitting on the grantmaker’s desk. At some point, the rubber must meet the road and the paper must meet the desktop (real or virtual).
- But not until you proofread the first page . . . again. A misplaced comma or even an overlooked typo is not necessarily going to doom your proposal. But given our ready access to spell-check, grammar-check, and online dictionaries and thesauruses there is really no excuse for sending a grantmaker a proposal with a lot of typographical or grammatical errors. Even though you should proofread the document (or better, have someone else proofread it) before it is submitted, a final run through of page one is worth the 45 seconds it will likely take. If an error is found there, it may well prompt the reader to pull out the red pencil for the remainder of the document.
- Add up that budget one more time. Proposals are, at their heart, about dollars and cents. A survey of grantmakers by The Foundation Center found that six of ten grantmaking professionals turn to the budget before reading the rest of the proposal. Their biggest frustration? When the math doesn’t add up. Yes, Excel will total that column for you — provided you select the right range of cells to add up. Review those numbers and keep in mind the carpenter’s adage: measure twice, cut once.
Proofreading. Confirming deadlines. Just plain letting go. What other things can we do in less than a minute to help our proposals along?
Frequently, I am asked to measure the success of a grants program. Of course, the financial measures are the most obvious. But what about the intangible metrics of the program which go beyond dollars raised? And why are these metrics important?
- Are we raising the right money? Grants bring an infusion of cash. They also bring expectations and deliverables that very well may take you beyond your projected budget for a program or activity. I have seen any number of significant grants that, six months down the road, led to cost overruns in the interest of meeting the requirements and expectations of a grantmaker. Careful planning and budgeting are clearly a panacea for this problem. But so too is developing the right strategy and clearly communicating what you can realistically accomplish.
- Are we adding the “right” foundations to our donor list? Foundation giving brings two things to the table, cash and credibility. While having enough money to pursue your mission and programs is critical, having the support of industry leaders is important too. Recently, when assessing a grants program for a large nonprofit, I learned that the institution had a central goal of positioning itself as a thought leader in its field. Understanding this goal helped me to not only assess how much money was being raised and how that money was being raised but which grantmakers had a “place at the table” and which ones needed to be cultivated and invited to support the organization’s growth agenda.
- How strong is our network? One of the most common misconceptions about corporation and foundation relations work is that the essential skill is writing. I argue that CFR professionals must be — first and foremost — consummate at communicating content and able to build trusting relationships with foundation professionals and board members. Writing is important too, but to be competitive we have to be known. So, a metric to add to our dashboard would be “how many relationships have we built that may result in a grant and/or increased visibility in the sector?”
- How well-known is our organization? Visibility plays are role in all fundraising, including grantmaking. The reality is that if your organization is known before your proposal hits an in-box (online or sitting next to a coffee cup on a desk), chances are that it will be read. I would argue that CFR professionals and nonprofit CEOs alike have the responsibility to spend time away from the office raising the profile of the organization among your community of practice, one that not only includes peers, civic and political leaders and constituents but also includes foundations who play the role of major stakeholders. This is not purely solicitation time but time spent gathering and sharing ideas and discussing challenges. Showing yourself to be a thoughtful and connected leader helps to build credibility with potential grantor, which helps lead to an investment in your mission and programs.
The right donors. The right money. Visibility. Connections. What other metrics do you consider to be important? And why?