3 Ways Forward When You're Not Grant Ready

3 Ways Forward When You're Not Grant Ready

If you search online for information about “grant readiness,” more likely than not, you’ll come across information about becoming prepared to write a grant. You’ll likely to stumble upon a list of documents that you need to gather to be prepared to make sure that you are ready to write and submit a grant like the one I posted here . These lists are helpful. But they are lists about grant writing preparedness and not about grant readiness.

Grant readiness is about your organization or about your organization’s programs. It’s about whether or not your organization is an organization that is going to be considered a good investment in a funder’s eye. Grant funders do not want to rescue failures or organizations on the brink of failure. Instead, what they want is to invest in organizations that are a wise investment, organizations that have the capacity to succeed and to bring returns—not, of course, to them, but to the community, to the people or cause that they serve.

Whether or not an organization is grant ready include:

  • Whether or not your organization has capable, respected, appropriate leadership (board and CEO)
  • Whether or not the leadership of the organization has been stable for a few years
  • The organization’s history. Many funders will not fund a start-up. Many are looking for an established organization.
  • Is the organization financially stable? Growing? In decline?
  • Is there clarity of mission and vision?
  • Is there a history of community support? What is the organization’s reputation for integrity in its community?
  • Does the organization have a track record of program success?
  • Does the organization have the ability to demonstrate success (measurements, evaluation of past success)?
  • Is there evidence of thoughtful planning (Strategic planning, development planning, capital campaign planning, succession planning, etc.)?
  • Is there appropriate, qualified staff?
  • Is there evidence of a respect for diversity?
  • Is there evidence of a healthy volunteer program?
  • What is the size of the organization’s reach or impact?

This list is not exhaustive. Some funders may have other criteria, but the above list are issues that in round-tables and panels, I have heard funders discuss as issues that are of concern to them when they evaluate and choose organizations with which to partner. 

This does not mean that organizations have to have a perfect score card of some sort or be perfect in every way to apply for a grant, but it does mean that if an organization is not strong in one or more of these categories, the organization might need to reflect on the fact that this could cause it to have some challenges in being funded through a grant seeking process and it might want to consider one of the strategies below to address its weaknesses.

A funder is looking for evidence that a nonprofit organization, applying for funds, will be able to deliver the program it is promising to do. Most funders look at the list above as an indication that the nonprofit organization will be able to deliver the results it is promising.

So what can you do if you look at this list and you’re not making a lot of checkmarks next to the items on the list?  Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Apply anyway. No one is stopping you. You can apply anyway. However, with grant funding success rates being about 5-10% across the nation, this probably isn’t your best bet.  If you do apply despite the recognition of some weaknesses, recognize you may havea bit of an up-hill challenge and that your argument will have to be particularly strong.
  2. Address the weaknesses in your application. Consider, instead of applying for the grant you were planning to apply for, applying for a capacity building grant to address some of the issues that are glaring weaknesses in your application. Can’t demonstrate success of your program, for example? Apply for a capacity building grant to bring in some expertise to develop some outcomes measures and being to assess your program, gather data, and analyze data.  Now you can prove what you already know:  you’re miracle workers! With or without a capacity-building grant, your organization can move forward to address issues that might be holding the organization back. 
  3. Partner! If your history is a little thing (short in years, for example, or you don’t have a CEO or a strong financial record), collaborate with a really strong, stable partner.  Maybe you have a brilliant program model, a small army of passionate volunteers, but you don’t have the infrastructure.  Who is the community has the long, well-established, well-respected infrastructure, but not your energy and cutting-edge, innovative program?  You each have something incredible valuable to bring to the table.  Get your CEO’s and Board Chairs together and start talking. Hammer out some formal agreements through Memorandum of Understanding and go from there.  Apply together. Let the established organization be the formal applicant and your organization be the co-applicant.

Grant readiness is not just about being ready to apply, it’s about whether or not a funder is going to perceive your organization as ready to execute the project and to achieve the goals of the project. Ultimately, your goal as a nonprofit writing a grant is to convince the funder that you can deliver the promised results of the program. If you can’t check off a lot of the boxes on this grant readiness list, you’ll probably have a hard time convincing the funder that you can succeed in achieving the objectives.  You can apply anyway, but be prepared to make a strong argument, marshalling all your best evidence. You can address your weaknesses (with or without a capacity-building grant) and then apply. You can team-up with someone else--collaborate. 

Three ways to move forward. Good luck!


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