2011 was one of the most challenging years for grantseekers in recent memory. While effective programs that meet community needs were still awarded grants, many funders were giving fewer and more strategic grants, and the grantseeking competition increased. Organizations that haven't typically relied on grants have now become adept at getting them in an effort to diversify their funding and remain viable.
Grantseekers in 2012 would be wise to rethink their tried-and-true ways and consider making one or more of the following Five (Fun)* Fundraising Resolutions for Grantseekers.
*For each resolution I have offered a way to make it fun. New Year's resolutions are hard enough to keep, and who would keep a resolution that isn't just a little bit enjoyable?
1) Capture and share at least one great "grant story." Grant funders like to know how an organization used their money for the purpose intended. As grant writers, we generally write and submit reports describing the project's activities during and/or after the grant period. Take a look at your last grant report. Was it just a collection of statistics and figures or did it really tell a story? Select one grant funded project in 2012 (or if you have not received any grant funding yet, one project) and find a personal story within it that you can document. Perhaps it is a child enrolled in your program who is struggling in school, or maybe a courageous volunteer who is really making a difference. Visit the program in action, talk to the staff, and get permission to take photos or make a video featuring the person, if appropriate. Use the information you collected not only to bring life to your grant reports, but in your newsletter, in social media, in your annual report, and offer the picture to your funder for their annual report.
*Make it fun - Display pictures in your office that really celebrate your triumphant programs. You might also select low-cost frames and give them to funders to display in their offices (make sure you OK this with your funders first.)
2) Tap into your volunteers. Whether your organization has a large volunteer base or its only volunteers are on the board of directors, have you adequately educated your volunteers about the organization's need for grants? Do you know where each of your volunteers works (or retired from)? Many companies will make grants (or at the very least match individual gifts) to nonprofit organizations where their employees volunteer. All you have to do is ask them.
*Make it fun - Meet with volunteers to gather this information in informal one on one or group meetings. Serve snacks or coffee as an incentive to get people to attend and make it lively.
3.) Make time for prospect research. When you are involved in the day-to-day grantseeking and fundraising for an organization, it can be nearly impossible to find the time to consistently research and identify new grant funder prospects to pursue. There is always something to do with a more pressing deadline or urgent need. The problem is, before you know it the year will have escaped you along with any new funding opportunities. Right now, pick one afternoon every month and block it off on your calendar as "research time." This will become your own mandatory appointment with yourself to do new funder prospect research. Go to the Foundation Center and use its library or visit one of its Cooperating Collections. You don't even have to leave the comfort of your office to use some of their free or paid online databases. Some of my favorite free online research tools include grants.gov, GrantsStation, and Google. (Have you ever just Googled "grants for art therapy" or "funding for computers"? You might be surprised what you can find.)
*Make it fun - Create a special door or cubicle sign with a magnifying glass that says "Do Not Disturb - RESEARCH in Progress" to put up during your mandatory research appointments with yourself. People will wonder what you're up to!
4) Celebrate your successes. Effective grantseeking is rarely a solo effort. Good grant writers collaborate well with other people including program, finance and leadership staff, and sometimes volunteers and clients, too. These other people often have a critical role in developing the program, helping to prepare the grant proposal as well as ultimately delivering the program to the community and tracking its progress. When you get notification of a grant award be sure to take the time to celebrate it with the whole team.
*Make it fun - Make up your own fun ritual for when a grant award comes in. I've seen fundraising staff members do their own "dances for joy" or proudly parade down the hall with an award letter in hand. Figure out the most appropriate way that fits within your organization's culture to acknowledge all of the effort and celebrate the success!
5) Give a gift to yourself. After I had been a grant writer for some time, I realized I had developed a real process when I wrote a grant. One of the key steps in my process is conducting in-depth interviews with the program staff who ultimately deliver the program. Taking notes by hand or on the computer, I was finding that I struggled at times to capture everything these subject matter experts said in our interviews. So, I recently bought myself a tiny handheld digital recorder. I use it occasionally and find it to be a great tool that helps me capture information and it compliments my process. Do you know your process? Are your workspace and tools conducive to this process or is there something that would make it better?
*Make it fun - When I first bought my recorder, I was dismayed to see the only one the store had was BRIGHT RED. I bought it reluctantly but have come to like my little red device. I never lose it in my briefcase and it looks cheerful and happy. Make sure you select tools that you will enjoy using.
Good luck and best wishes for successful grantseeking in 2012!