Grantseeking Tips: Make Grants a Component of Your Organization's Strategic Planning Process
Sunday, January 15, 2012
By Chris LaPage
At least once a day someone will ask me to provide them some tips and strategies to improve their grantseeking efforts. As simple as the request sounds, it actually is a very difficult one to address. Volume is not the issue, as there are reams of information that can be provided to organizations seeking to maximize the potential of grant funding. Unfortunately, this may be an instance where the right answers are being provided but the wrong question has been asked. In other words, the problem is that when folks are seeking information at such a high and unspecified level, they usually don' t know where to start. When organizations are just getting their feet wet with grants, information overload may have the reverse effect of intimidating involved staff members to the point where they become discouraged with grant funding mechanisms and throw in the towel. This article is intended for those organizations that may be asking the wrong question and really want some feedback on where to begin.
The best place to start your grantseeking efforts is to roll it into your organization's strategic planning and budget processes. An organization's budget should be reflective of its vision, or the strategic direction outlined by top level personnel. Grant funding is intended to fill in the gaps where an activity is in the strategic interest of the organization but there may be a budgetary shortfall. As such, any grantseeking plan should be reflective of the organization's strategic vision and thereby, its budget. For example, higher education institutions in a particular area usually compete for the best students. If a particular grant requires the winner to be the technical assistance hub for a given region, the awardee may be put in a position to provide valuable services to a potential competitor. Obviously, it is not in the strategic interest of an organization to pursue that particular grant no matter how much "free money" is on the table. Thus, the effect of the strategic plan on grantseeking activities is straightforward and intuitive.
However, most folks do not recognize how well-informed grants intelligence can inform the strategic planning and budget development process. Understanding the grants landscape for the sector in which your organization operates is crucial to the strategic planning process. For instance, in the health care sector, we know that funding is concentrated on eliminating health disparities, improving access, health professional education, implementation of health information technology and emergency preparedness. Knowing the general categories where the bulk of funding is concentrated is critical to the creation of the organization's budget. If improving health access to rural patients and updating the organization's billing systems are competing strategic objectives, it may prove useful to know that there may be grant funding available for the former initiative while the latter project will only be achieved through a budget allocation. Since grant funds cannot be used to supplant existing funding, an organization that went ahead and budgeted for the rural health project would not be eligible to replace that funding with grants later in the fiscal year.
In summary, a good starting point for anyone new to grantseeking is to gain some understanding of where grant funding is concentrated in their sector. Rather than identifying a single need and researching individual grants that may support that item, peruse all the grants available in a particular sector and try to identify common areas that the funding seems to address. As mentioned, this should prove useful for strategic planning budget creation. Once you have identified strategic objectives that have budget shortfalls, make these items priorities in your grantseeking efforts. For many grant programs, four to six months may pass between funds availability announcement and awardee selection. For this reason alone, it is essential that grant conversations be integrated into your organization's long-term strategic vision. Once you have completed these steps, then you can begin researching grant funding for individual projects with the peace of mind that there will be buy-in at the very top of the organization, since the efforts have been integrated into the strategic vision.