In January, most of us are full of optimism and plans for the year ahead.
That’s great, but as the year rolls along and builds up steam most of us start to be pulled in lots of different directions. You have needs, your family has needs, and you still have goals you need to work on for your career. As all of these priorities compete for space, it’s natural that some things will fall by the wayside or not receive your full attention.
No matter what your intentions are, I don’t think it’s realistic to tell you that grant writing should be your #1 concern above all else. And I wouldn’t expect most nonprofit professionals to be able to incorporate every single piece of grant writing advice I have to give – especially those working at smaller organizations.
There just isn’t enough time or (wo)manpower!
So this article is for those of you looking for a realistic, totally doable plan for 2020. I’ve crafted one for you built on the Pareto Principle, which states that roughly 20% of your activities will account for 80% of your results.
The Pareto Principle can be applied to a lot of things, but for our purposes today, what this means is that if you took all of the great grant writing advice in the world and only executed the top 20% of it (the “vital few”), you would get better results than someone who tried to execute absolutely everything.
The reason this holds true is because every action doesn’t have the same impact. Some actions are more effective than others. Some are downright time-wasters and really are just a way of procrastinating so you don’t have to tackle the more tedious stuff. This is good news for those of you who are short on time (which is all of us) because it means you can cross off 80% of your to-do list and still get amazing results.
But when it comes to grant writing success, how do you know what’s in that top 20% and what you can let go of?
That’s where I come in. I’ve researched and written grants for many years and over that time I’ve been able to focus in on which activities are truly worth your time and which you can skip when you’re in a crunch.
So, if you could only choose the top 20% of grant writing activities to complete this year – the ones which would give you the absolute best results – what would they be?
In my humble opinion, here’s your Pareto Principle Top 20% Grant Writing Activity List:
Create Program Evaluation Methods
I’ve said it a million times before and I’m gonna say it again: in the nonprofit world impact is king. Being able to demonstrate that you made an impact is what wins grants. So one of the best things you can dedicate your precious time to doing is creating a plan for how you will evaluate the programs for which you intend to write grants.
This plan needs to take into account a few key considerations in order to be truly effective:
- Which programs will you be trying to fund? (Ideally all of your programs should have thorough evaluation plans, but for the purposes of funding all that matters right now are the ones you’re going to be looking at for grants).
- What are the goals for these programs? What are you trying to accomplish?
- What’s the best way to measure those goals? Attendance, ticket sales, surveys, pre- and post-tests, focus groups, or something else entirely? Maybe a mix of several?
- Do you have evaluation tools (surveys, attendance sheets, etc.) to collect this data?
- Who is responsible for collecting this data for each program? Have you communicated with them?
- When should program data be collected?
- Who will analyze and compile this data into a usable report?
With these considerations in mind, draft an evaluation plan for each program that you want to fund. This will make it easier to execute as well as to explain to funders in your grant proposals. And they will ask for it. When you can demonstrate how impactful your programs and projects are you are already well ahead of the pack in securing grant funding!
Build a Grants Strategy to Guide Your Grant Writing
I’m a big believer in planning (in case you couldn’t tell from my first action item). So it should come as no surprise that I think having a grants strategy in place for the whole year is a must. For this strategy, I like to lay out the following:
- Which funders I intend to approach.
- Which program I want to ask them to fund.
- How much I want to ask them for.
- When we should approach them (either according to their deadlines or if they have a revolving deadline, according to when it fits in my schedule).
This guides my efforts for the whole year, makes sure I always know what I should be working on, and gives me all the most important information at a glance. It’s also a good resource to give your supervisors, board members, or staff you’re working with so that they also know what you’re working on and how they might be of assistance.
Most importantly, it will ultimately save you tons of time and headaches and keep you laser-focused on the impact-generating activity of writing and submitting proposals, which is what makes this one of the top 20%, “vital few” activities.
And of course, you don’t have to create this totally from scratch. You’ll have to identify the funders and do the data entry, but I have a ready-made, FREE template for you that can help you plug in your strategy in record time. Click the button below to get it!
Outline a Funder Cultivation Strategy
Creating and nurturing positive relationships with grant funders is definitely in my top 20% of most effective grant-seeking activities. Ideally, this process should start well before you ever submit a grant proposal and continue well after you receive an award or denial (because ‘no’s’ can often be turned into ‘yes’s’ down the road if you’re smart, persistent, and a good listener).
Consider writing down a funder cultivation plan that addresses the following questions and needs:
- How far ahead of a proposal do you want to start reaching out?.
- Who will make the call (you, the ED/CEO, a board member, or someone who already has a personal connection)?
- Once you start on the proposal, how will you stay top-of-mind with this funder?
- If denied, how will you continue to reach out and nurture the relationship? How will you collect and implement feedback?
- If awarded, how will you recognize and thank them for their gift?
- If awarded, how will you continue to communicate with this funder in a way that turns them into a partner with a long-term interest in your organization and it’s programs?
With a plan like this in place, you’ll quickly make funders into powerful allies that are more likely to fund you again and again or even help introduce you to other funding opportunities you would have never known about.
Invest in Ongoing Education and Skill-Building
Continuing to deepen your skills and knowledge will always be one of the most important things you can do in any area of your life. I think it’s possibly even more important in grant writing because the landscape of how organizations can seek grants, how funders make grants, and what they want in funding partnerships is constantly evolving.
You may not have time to dedicate to weekly or even monthly professional development activities. But I would urge you to choose 1-2 things you can do over the course of the year to keep your skills sharp. This can be reading a book, attending a quick webinar, seeing an expert in the field give a presentation, or taking an e-course.
It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment, but when you take into consideration that 24% of American adults don’t read a single book all year, then you’ll truly understand why taking a small step forward in your own education has such a big impact. Of course that makes it worthy of inclusion in our Pareto Principle Grant Plan. In fact, it may be enough to make you an expert with more practical knowledge than many of your colleagues. That equals job security, career opportunities, greater job satisfaction, and the ability to be even more effective as a grant writer.
If you aren’t sure what resources are worth your time, here’s a quick list of a few good ones:
Are there other great things you could do to increase your chances of success? Absolutely.
This article isn’t intended to tell you that other actions are not important. Instead, this is meant to acknowledge that we are all short on time and if you didn’t have time to do anything else all year, the 4 action items listed above would yield the greatest results.
Now go schedule these activities into your calendar and watch your Grant Writing Pareto Plan work miracles for you and your nonprofit in 2020!