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Required research BEFORE you write grants

Sometimes, people tell me that they LOVE writing grants. They say it feels so good to put all that information down on paper, reminding them that they work for a great organization. But the writing is just the tail end of the process.

The secret to my success as a grant writer is actually the grant research. And it is definitely my favorite thing to do. I love to play detective on a grant so much, I sometimes have to set a timer and hold myself to 20 minutes or I am lost in the rabbit hole. (But if I hit the mother-lode of helpful information, it’s worth two hours.)

Successful grants are about 80% research and 20% writing. Grant writers need to major in investigative journalism, sociopathic curiosity, and cocktail party conversations…in that order.

Here’s six grant research tips that will help you fine-tune a perfect fit.

Read the eligibility criteria carefully…and be honest

Sometimes, the foundation is a perfect match for your mission, but their funding exclusions include your areas of deepest need. If they don’t fund salaries, stop allowing yourself to daydream about how to write the grant to cover salaries anyway. Especially if it is a new foundation you have never pitched before, limit the focus of your grant proposal to requests that exactly match their eligibility and exclusions. And, if your executive director or board are pressuring you to apply, write a synopsis of the barriers you see, and ask for help brainstorming a possible adapted grant.

Dive deep into funded projects – Part I

It is well worth a solid hour or more to explore a foundation’s funded proposals. Resist the urge to simply scan the list briefly and move on. If links to funded agencies are available, click on the ones closest to your intended grant request. These success stories will help you understand what this foundation finds to be a compelling ask. Note how much the project received and the projected outcomes – and adjust your expectations accordingly. If you don’t see a link to a funded project, copy the name of the agency and program, and pop it into Google for a “look-see”. (Use quotation marks to find the exact program in Google.) While you’re checking out these funded organizations, see if you can find what other foundations have supported them.

Dive deep into funded projects – Part II

Compare the funded projects to the foundation’s overall regional and programmatic preferences. In general, are there regions or programs that tend to receive more grants? If your agency is in a region that has not received a lot of funding even though it is eligible, maybe the foundation is not receiving many grants from your area…making your grant more attractive to them. Or, perhaps they have only just begun funding a particular mission , and perhaps might be more likely to fund a grant request matching their new priority?

Find out who is managing this grant portfolio

Look at the staff and directors lists, and see if you can figure out who will evaluate your proposal. Google the person and check out their career highlights on LinkedIn. Do they know a lot about your mission? Are there any areas of convergence such as collegiate ties to board members or other projects? If it’s a family foundation, could a recent divorce or other high-profile problem pose hidden triggers? Last but not least, check out the leadership at the top – has the CEO been there for decades? Or did the CEO just take the reins? Could the funding priorities be shifting as a result? Cross-reference your suspicions with your “deep dive” information above. See any correlations? Good!

Check out their 990

Every foundation has to file one yearly, and you can go through the IRS using Form 4506-a, but that takes time. Sometimes you can google 990 + “NAME OF FOUNDATION” and easily find it. Or try a service like citizenaudit.org or Guidestar.org. In the 990, scroll down to see the list of funded projects – you might even find a partner agency there!

What if there’s no foundation website?

Sometimes, smaller foundations are like “mom and pop” operations. Their online footprint may be non-existent. If they discourage fundees from providing public recognition, you might have to Google the very little you know to identify needed information. If all you can find is a phone number, well, then…

Pick up the phone

Don’t be scared –  aren’t you selling a wonderful opportunity? In fact, many foundations encourage you to call and discuss your ideas with a grant manager first. Put your notes in front of you about their foundation and the projects you think might be a good fit – and get feedback. Do NOT tell your intended prey you have been stalking them for a week. Do NOT ask personal questions about staff. Just focus on making a good impression, and make sure you thank them for their time.

Sound like a lot of work? Let Upstream Consulting help you with your grant research! Check out our grant finding services or contact us for more details.

Kristen West McGuire
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Grant Finding

June 23, 2020

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