“Grant Readiness” refers to how competitive a nonprofit organization is for grant awards as well as how ready they are to manage a grant award should they get one.
It’s a really broad topic which touches on almost every aspect of nonprofit work in some way, shape, or fashion. And I’m constantly harping on it because if an org isn’t grant ready they shouldn’t expect to get grants.
But as with most things in life, nothing is ever truly black and white.
Most organizations are not 100% “grant ready” and still manage to secure grant awards. There are grey areas and a nonprofit’s ability to get grants in proportion to their grant readiness lies along a spectrum.
That begs a few questions…
- If you aren’t 100% grant ready then what should you be doing to get there?
- What should you absolutely not do?
- Out of all the things you could be doing, what is the #1 most important thing that you absolutely must do?
In this article I’m going to focus on that last question, because I’ve focused on the first two in many other articles. If you haven’t read those and are interested, here are some must-read CNPS articles about grant readiness:
Ok, so let’s get back to that last question:
What is the #1 most important thing you absolutely must do? The thing that will make the biggest difference? The thing that, if you got this right and not much else, would still help you secure grant awards?
Program Evaluation. Hands down.
Creating program evaluation structures is (for most of us) tedious, detailed, and frankly boring work. Because of that, I’m reasonably sure you’d rather I told you that almost anything else was more important. But that wouldn’t be the truth. There are about 9 billion things encompassed in the term “grant readiness” and program evaluation is far and away the most important of all of them, in my humble opinion.
In fact, it’s the one thing that if you don’t do it (or don’t do it well), it will absolutely sink your grant writing efforts. I’ve seen many, many nonprofits who had a lot going for them. They were established. They had fantastic programming that people loved and benefitted from. They had the support of the community and were responsible stewards of their money. But they couldn’t demonstrate that they were doing important, impactful things to funders because they didn’t have adequate evaluation methods in place and as a result, they never got many grants.
Bottom line: just like in math class, you have to be able to show your work.
You have to be able to prove that what your nonprofit does is valuable, that it positively affects lives and/or communities, that people are actually coming and participating. Preferably, you should have some evaluation method(s) set up that can eventually prove long-term impact, also (although that’s admittedly not feasible or necessary for every project or program).
I have seen very, very few grant applications or RFPs that don’t ask you at least one question about evaluation. That may come in the form of asking you about goals, measurable objectives, or outcomes with in-depth charts for you to fill out. Or it could just be one question asking you for a broad overview of how you’re going to evaluate the effectiveness of your programming. Either way, you should be prepared to answer it if you want that funding.
Answering this question will depend heavily on your unique program, project, or operating structure. But there are a few evaluation methods that most arts and culture organizations can use in some way to demonstrate effectiveness and impact. In no particular order, here are some things you could track:
To demonstrate that your programs are accessible for all and reaching intended #s of participants or certain communities, track….
- Attendance #’s
- Ticket Sales
- Estimated attendance (in the case of outreach events and things that people don’t register for in advance)
- If you use a sliding scale for any fees, track how many people pay at each level of the scale
- Track zip codes of participants
To demonstrate economic impact of arts & culture projects/programs on communities…
- Use city or census data from the beginning and end (or annually) of your project to look at indicators of upward mobility and prosperity (median household income, unemployment rates, price of housing, etc.)
To demonstrate academic impact of arts & culture projects/programs…
- Work with local school districts to track test scores, grade averages, and more
- Work with local school districts to track SAT/ACT scores
To collect qualitative data (things you can’t quantify but which are important to the success and impact of the project/program)…
- Satisfaction surveys
- Pre- and post-tests to help demonstrate knowledge or skills gained as a result of the project/program
- Roundtable discussions with participants
- Panel Group discussions with participants
- One-on-one interviews with participants
These are just a few of the things you can track and methods to do it – just enough to hopefully get your creative juices flowing. If you want to go more in-depth on how to be a rockstar at program evaluation, here are some other good resources for you:
And I have one last thing for you. Nonprofit work is hard and putting together evaluation plans is not only hard – it can just about melt your brain. I’m all about easy, effective solutions that help you do great work without eating up huge chunks of your time. So, I’ve created an “Arts & Culture Evaluation Plan Worksheet” to help get you started.
The worksheet will guide you through the process of creating your evaluation plan, breaking things down into manageable steps and explaining things in ways that makes it easy to understand and fill out – meaning, I didn’t write it in PhD-level academic jargon that you need to decipher before you can actually tackle it.
If you would like a copy of the worksheet, just click the button below to get it!