I get a lot of calls and emails from organizations that want to apply for grants. As soon as I start chatting with these organizations, I begin to informally assess if they’re grant ready. This helps me quickly determine: 1) if the organization would benefit from grant writing services and 2) which services would be the most beneficial.
So, what is grant readiness?
In a nutshell, grant readiness is an organization’s capacity to find, apply to, win, and manage grant applications successfully. Although most organizations think they’re grant ready, the reality is that many aren’t, especially if they’re a new organization.
So, how do you know when your organization is ready to tackle grants? Here are 24 signs that you’re grant ready:
Developing a strong organizational foundation is the first step in becoming grant ready. Grant-ready organizations:
- Are tax-exempt and have the required federal and state paperwork associated with their tax-exempt status.
- Have a diverse, engaged Board of Directors that supports organizational growth and fundraising. Board members understand what the organization does and their role in helping the organization achieve its mission.
- Have working formal and informal partnerships with educational institutions, government agencies, businesses, and/or other nonprofits. These partnerships allow the organization to better its community and sustain its programs and services through resource sharing.
- Have professional, dedicated staff. Each staff member has a job description and is provided with a formal performance review on a regular basis. A basic bio and resume are on file for each staff member.
- Have an updated strategic plan that is used to guide organizational, program, and service decisions.
- Have a description of their organization that includes its history, its reason for existing, how it’s changed since its founding, who it serves, and its accomplishments.
Having to prove your fiscal capacity can be one of the most frustrating parts of becoming grant ready, especially when you’re just starting your organization and you don’t have any money. But funders need to be able to trust that you’ll manage their grant awards successfully. Organizations that are financially grant ready:
- Have a fundraising plan that involves a diversified stream of funding. This may include earned income, grants (foundation, corporate, and government), individual and business donations, and fundraising events.
- Have a list of past, current, and pending funding sources. This list should include the name of the funding source, the amount, dates of funding, and purpose of the funding.
- Have a current board-approved organization and program budgets that include all revenues and expenses.
- Have a recent tax return (990). A 990 will suffice for most funders but some funders will also require a recent financial audit.
- Have accounting systems in place so that expenses can be tracked separately for each awarded grant.
Although some funders award general operating grants that can go towards your organization, these grants are rare and harder to win. That’s why you’ll want to have strong programs and services established or planned, in addition to strong organization capacity. Organizations that have programs and services that are grant ready:
- Have recent, reliable data showing there’s a need for their programs/services in the community it serves.
- Have a description of programs/services that includes goals and objectives, activities, key staff members, how the program/service will be evaluated, and any successes so far (if the program/service has already been implemented).
GRANT RESEARCH & PLANNING SIGNS
Organizations that take the time to do their grant research and planning win more grants because they’re able to choose the right grants at the right time. Organizations that have done their grant research and planning:
- Have identified grants that align with their mission and programs/services. They don’t expand their mission or create/modify programs and services just to fit grant requirements or funder priorities.
- Have developed a strategic approach to selecting the grants to which they’ll apply. (Not sure how to select the best grants for your organization? Check out 8 questions to ask yourself before you apply for a grant.)
- Have developed a grant calendar or schedule to keep up with upcoming deadlines and tasks associated with grant applications and reports.
- Have a clear understanding of how much money they need to raise from grants, when it’s needed, and what each grant will be used for.
- Are open to stop working on a grant proposal when they realize they aren’t ready, they aren’t as great of a fit as they originally thought, or they don’t have the capacity to prepare a quality grant proposal by the deadline.
GRANT WRITING SIGNS
Organizations that churn out grant proposals regularly (and without all the frantic, last-minute writing!) typically have strong grant writing systems in place. Organizations with this level of capacity:
- Have people (staff or consultants) and designated time to successfully manage the grant application process and write quality grant proposals. The strongest organizations have dedicated grant writers and understand that tasking someone with writing grants as an additional duty can be a recipe for disaster.
- Have some common grant sections written and accessible. These sections can easily be tailored and reused to save time and ensure consistency.
- Have systems and processes in place so that multiple staff, board members, and consultants can collaborate on the grant narrative and can access all required supporting documents.
- Have all of the documents commonly submitted with a grant application in one place. Although all funders ask for different supporting documents, some of the more common ones include:
- Most recent 990
- Board of Directors list with affiliations
- Recent financial audit
- Strategic plan
- Tax-exemption letter from the IRS
- Organizational chart
- List of past, current, and pending funding sources
- Board-approved budget
- Program budgets
GRANT MANAGEMENT SIGNS
Once you’re awarded a grant, you want to ensure you can successfully manage the grant. Great grant management will allow you to receive continued funding (if it’s available) and instill confidence in other funders that you’ll use their money wisely. Organizations that are ready to manage grants:
- Have the administrative support and systems necessary to report on awarded grants by each funder’s deadline.
- Have staff and systems in place to ensure they meet all of their proposed organization and/or program/service deadlines.
There are lots of steps involved in becoming grant ready. I know it can be frustrating to put in all this work when you need funding now (err, yesterday!), but it’s worth it. Grant-ready organizations ultimately win more grants and often do so without having to stay up until all hours of the night to get an application in on time.