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6 tips for approaching grant deadlines with grace

By Susan Schaefer (she/her)
February 25, 2021

Alarm clock about to strike 12

If you have led even one major foundation solicitation, you know that a quality submission requires cooperation among your colleagues. And if you’re like most who have steered this complex internal process, you’ve encountered some resistance.

Your coworkers, whether experts in program or finance, surely understand the importance of raising funds to pay the bills. Yet your requests for budget details, outcomes data, and program goals come up against these retorts:

  • I'm too busy right now.
  • I've given you similar information for a previous proposal.
  • We haven’t yet discussed those issues.
  • That’s not my responsibility [says everyone you speak with].
  • Did I mention that I’m busy?

If you want to avoid these obstacles to the greatest degree possible, you can nurture a culture that embraces planning. While every proposal requires some unforeseen details, the most complex issues can be hammered out with some forethought. Much of this advance work need not be formal. Among the things that you can champion, no matter whether you are the CEO or a front-line grants officer:

Build internal trust. Solid grant submissions begin by building relationships and eventually trust with individual colleagues. The first step is to listen. Meet one-on-one with co-workers who are most relevant to the process of putting together a solid proposal. Ask them what has and has not gone well related to past grant submissions and figure out how you can address their concerns. Show empathy for the time it takes to engage in the process. It’s easy to become defensive. Instead, attempt to move the conversation toward one of shared solutions.

Focus on education. As you collect colleagues’ feedback, you gain not only trust but insights about the group’s understanding of private grants. If your nonprofit is new to seeking significant awards, you might propose an internal education session where coworkers learn about the funding landscape and have a chance to ask questions. More advanced organizations might hold brief sessions or distribute communications related to each upcoming proposal.

Engage in organizational planning. It’s certainly not required that grant recipients possess a years-long strategic plan. Yet some measure of forward thinking will provide a rationale for your work that helps everyone understand why your sights are set on particular funding opportunities. It’s also a boon to convey to a program officer that, based on the strategic thinking of your board, clients, and staff, the proposed initiative was determined to be one of just two priorities your team will pursue over the short term. That messaging says a lot about the level of attention your initiative will draw internally.

Encourage detailed program planning. Once you sketch out organizational priorities, you must make each of them actionable. This is where many nonprofits fall down. If your team can routinely hammer out program goals, objectives, timelines, and budgets, you avoid the rush—and stress—to do so in the days before a funder’s deadline. You also create a cadence for external partnership formation and other building blocks that otherwise can derail last-minute solicitation efforts.

Create processes that capture team input. All of the above get at the importance of early planning and consistency. If you continue to submit proposals to major grantmakers, can you strive to institutionalize the above steps? You might create a grants manual that includes everything from a description of your internal pre-application process to document storage protocols.

Stay transparent. One snag in even the best grant offices is the lack of control over tight funder deadlines. So it never hurts to offer your colleagues some brief context when you do have last-minute requests. Ideally the rationale for your request has been memorialized in your organizational planning and your grants manual. Regardless, if you show a little empathy related to the turnaround, you will continue to shore up internal trust.

These “steps” might come across as major undertakings. But in truth, you have two choices: tackle them well in advance, or try to accomplish them in the days before a grant deadline. The former not only smooths the application process but almost always produces stronger proposals. Once you begin to make planning cyclical, your colleagues will know what to expect and understand that you have their best interests in mind.

Want to learn more?

If you’d like to learn more about securing major foundation and corporate grants, join me on March 25, 2021, for Candid's webinar “Upgrade Your Grant Budget to Attract Major Foundation Funders.” We’ll talk about how you can use your budget to tell a story about your organization and your funding request. We’ll also look at some new options for visually presenting your numbers in a grant application. Register for the webinar.