Getting Your Grants House in Order

An original version of this post by Grants Plus appeared on Foundation Center Midwest’s blog: Philanthropy Front and Center-Cleveland.

Imagine your organization is a house you’re putting up for sale and that funders are your potential buyers. What’s rule number one for readying a property to go on the market? Getting your house in order, of course.

Using this analogy, a grant proposal could be compared to what’s known in real estate as “staging”: adding a fresh coat of paint, rearranging the furniture, decorating the interior–all aimed at making an impeccable first impression. And while presentation is key, a savvy home buyer will look beyond mere window dressing to examine the structural aspects of a home.

A savvy reviewer of your grant proposal will do the same. How well the grant proposal is written certainly matters. However, even the “best” grant application in the world can’t cover up gaping holes and trouble spots in your organization. Before you submit a grant proposal, make sure your “grant house” is in order with these elements:

A solid foundation: Does your board of directors govern effectively? Are functioning board policies and procedures in place? Do board members support the organization financially and participate in fundraising? Does the organization have a current strategic plan upon which key decisions are based?

Adequate and up-to-date plumbing and electrical wiring: How well is your organization embedded in the community? Does it function at capacity or are programs and services underutilized? How does the organization listen and respond to the needs of the community it serves?

A stable roof: How financially sound is the organization? Does it consistently cover operating expenses or has it run at a deficit for a number of years? Is there an endowment? Is an independent financial audit conducted each year? Are funding sources diversified?

A basement free from water damage: Has the organization endured a crisis of some form in the recent past and if so how was it handled? Is that crisis resolved? Does the organization have a positive reputation in the community among partners, stake holders, donors, and others?

A well-written and engaging proposal will help draw in the reader–but most grant funders don’t make funding decisions based on the grant proposal alone. They will consider your organization in the context of its reputation, structure, history, and positioning for the future. If your organization is lacking in one of the areas named above, make addressing it a top priority before attempting to seek a grant.

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