Advancing Nonprofit Capacity

Win More Grants: Get Your Politics in Order!

Today’s blog is by JWS Associate Danny Blitch, MPA, GPC.

Development professionals, including grant writers, and fundraisers know there’s more to winning grants than excellent prose.  We sometimes refer to it as “grant luck” however, it can also be summed up as “The Politics” of our agency or client organizations. Often due to no fault of our own we find ourselves on the losing side of a funding decision. The issue with politics is you will never know what truly happened. The funder will say they ran out of grant money. Predictably they will say they received more requests for awards than they could fund.

“Grant Luck” for the Win

I submitted a grant proposal to a funder my agency has a long and rich history of working together to save and preserve historic structures for future generations to explore, enjoy, and learn about as an active witness of the past. My agency’s politics with this funder are very good. Program and funder staff enjoy a strong partnership and work together well. The funder’s regular and annual meetings have the feel of large family reunions. The family feel continues after the meetings online via social media and email. Our proposal wasn’t perfect. We leaned heavily on our local, regional, and university partners. Like always we did our best and crossed our fingers for the win.

The grant was awarded! We received the full amount of our request, which was also the max according to the grant guidelines. Then something magical happened. The funder asked if we could spend more grant dollars. Our answer was, “YES!” The funder increased our award amount. Our impact and reach is far greater. Our family-like network lifts us up and celebrated our success!

The Losing Side of “The Politics”

A significantly different grant proposal, and my client organization did nearly everything wrong. The program staff person who agreed to attend the funder’s potential applicants’ workshop apartment flooded at 2AM. She missed the workshop. This wouldn’t have been bad by itself, however the funder held monthly networking and status update meetings for stakeholders, current grantees, and potential applicants. The organization’s director decided travel to the monthly meetings was an “unnecessary expense” and, directed staff not to attend. The icing on the political cake, was the organization director had challenged the funder’s executive director publicly over several policy decisions. Others in the region joined in the fray, but the policy decisions stayed.

Not surprisingly the grant proposal was not awarded. At the time the grant proposal was due, the organization’s director and the funder’s executive director feelings were very raw. Needless to say they weren’t on speaking terms. Program staff tried by making a few calls “downtown” and attended the next regular meeting. We held our collective breath. The rejection letter provided almost no details. I hesitated to ask, but the organization director wanted a copy of the reviewer comments. None were provided.

Win More Grants

My role is to win grants. I want my agency and client organizations to get their projects and programs fully funded. So I will recommend playing politics to win more grants. Realizing this is not always possible, it is still my recommendation to attend the funders’ regular meetings, send someone to the applicant workshop, and try not to pick fights with the grant maker at grant submittal decision time.

There’s a lot we can do as development professionals and program staff to win more grants. We must prepare the very best proposal we can with the information we have on hand. Our proposals must be accurate and truthful. The expectation is always that program staff will implement the grant projects faithfully as written and approved by the funder.

My advice is to not submit, however, if you find yourself on the losing side of “The Politics,” because it is a fool’s errand. Instead rely on networking, strong partnerships, and “Grant Luck” for the win!

What steps do you take to help get a “win” for your grant proposals?

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