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Ten Questions to Ask Yourself When Seeking Program Grants

Ten Questions to Ask Yourself When Seeking Program Grants

Most grants are awarded to existing nonprofit organizations to establish or expand programs and services. If your organization is thinking about seeking grants to support a program, here are ten questions to ask:

1. Is there a fit with our mission?
Every organization has a reason for being. The more well-defined that purpose is, the more likely it is to be able to identify projects that are appropriate for it. This information helps in deciding what funds (and funding sources) to seek for which purposes. Being able to communicate your mission to a funding source also helps the funding source know that your organization is worthy of their support.

2. Would this grant funding exceed 15% of our total operating budget?
If any single grant proposal represents over 15% of your total operating budget, your organization runs the risk of being too dependent on grant funding. Grants are only one part, and a relatively small part, of a balanced and diversified fund raising plan. Also, a grant request beyond this threshold may indicate that the proposed project is too big for your organization to administer, or too big for your organization to sustain after the grant period ends. This should concern you; it will concern many funders.

3. Is the timetable of the proposed funding sufficient to initiate, stabilize, and evaluate the program design?
“You can't save the world in one week for a dollar and a half.” There must be a reasonable relationship between what your organization proposes to do, on the one hand, and the timeframe and resources to do it, on the other. For your program, and your organization, to be successful in the long term, you must be able to establish and demonstrate that success. Be sure you secure the resources to build a solid record of achievement and avoid a “flash in the pan” failure.

4. What funding sources would be likely to sustain funding after the grant funds have been spent?
Sustainability or “future and other funding” are increasingly important considerations for many funders. Like most applicants, most funding sources like to build programs that will serve a worthy and necessary purpose over the long haul. However, grant funds are usually time-limited. Keeping the program running after the grant funds are gone -- this issue should be addressed now and often throughout the grant period.

Failure to consider this issue of sustainability is the single most common reason why worthy programs die. Failures also affect the momentum of your core programs. They can harm your organization's reputation.

5. Are qualified personnel willing to come on board for a “soft money” project?
Grant-funded programs are usually time-limited and, therefore, scary for employees who desire stability and a regular paycheck. Further, some grants are renewed annually and there's always the possibility that a grant might not be renewed.

6. How does the proposed project fit with your organization's strategic plan?
Your organization should have a strategic plan that not only serves as the basis for your work, but also serves as the yardstick for evaluating success in meeting your organization's own goals and expectations. Does the proposed project help you in this work, or it is a distraction from the strategic plan?

7. What community support and “buy-in” can be identified for this project?
This question is important for several reasons. Community support bolsters the case for a funder to support a program with their grant dollars. It provides your organization with opportunities to broaden the scope or increase the impact of the proposed program. Community support also gives your organization allies and access to potential funding sources to sustain the program after the grant funds are gone.

8. How does this project fit with your current programs and services?
How far from your organization's “confidence zone” and “success zone” are you going with this program? If the fit isn't readily apparent, the program may not be the right one for your organization at this time. At the very least, you'll have to work harder to make such a program look attractive to a funder and make it successful should it be funded.

9. Is the target population consistent with your current service base?
Each target population has unique characteristics and service needs. Even when your organization is experienced and successful in delivering a service that fits with its mission and strategic plan, expanding services to a new population involves a learning curve and increased potential for complications in program implementation and success.

10. What is your organization's capacity to add the administration and governance of the proposed project to its management and governance structures?
As you've probably learned, for your organization, there's more to doing the work than just doing the work. Your board and management have to monitor the work, there are legal, fiscal, and administrative overhead burdens that must be shouldered, and so forth. You'll need a capable board, management, and administrative support structure that has the time and resources to add this project to their list of responsibilities.

Sumption & Wyland has prepared an evaluation worksheet to assist nonprofits to be strategic about seeking grants. Please contact us for your free copy.