Does your non-profit organization have policies about grant writing?

grant writing1This morning I am asking for your help with a small project I am working on. A few weeks ago I agreed to help one of my favorite non-profit organizations with a staff transition. Not only did their development director move on to greener pastures at the end of the summer, but their executive director also recently resigned. So, the board asked me to step into the void and help their management team with a variety of year-end miscellaneous projects (e.g. year-end holiday mailing, 2013 budget construction, resource development plan, etc).

One of the projects with which I provide a little assistance is grant writing. I am part of the review team that proofreads, edits and asks questions before any proposal is allowed to go out the door. I am not the only person involved in this agency’s grant writing process . . . there is a grant writer (who is an independent contractor), a program/operations person and a board member. I kind of like the process they’ve designed. It feels comprehensive, responsible and serious.

The other day someone brought another grant opportunity to the team. It was a RFP that would’ve brought $2,000 in the door that wouldn’t have supplemented existing programming . . . it was an “add-on” proposition. Here is a list of questions that the grant writing team started asking itself:

  • Is this grant opportunity “budget relieving”?
  • Are the program costs totally off-set by the grant? Or will the $2,000 grant only partially cover the expenses of the add-on programming?
  • Are there other reasons (e.g. political, relationship building, etc) for the agency to consider writing this proposal?

Somewhere in the middle of this discussion, the board member blurted out the following really good question:

“How many more $2,000 grants are we going to write?”

ROIThis question was inspired by a string of two or three grants in a row that this organization had just written. As a businessman, he asked this question because he is accustom to looking at everything through a “return on investment” (ROI) lens.  In hindsight, this is what he saw:

  • The grant writer was putting in three to six hours researching and writing the proposal.
  • The program/operations person was putting in a few hours pull together outcomes data and proofreading the final proposal to make sure we weren’t over-promising anything.
  • The board member, who serves on the management team as the agency searches for a new executive director, is investing a few hours in proofreading and asking tough questions to ensure the organization isn’t over-promising and under-delivering. This is essentially the same role that the executive director would play if there was one on the payroll.
  • I was back stopping the entire process and doing some same.

WOW! It shouldn’t be a surprise after a few small grant writing opportunities he’d ask such a question.

Of course, this touched off an interesting conversation on many different fronts including a discussion about non-profit fundraising policies.

I promised the group that I would blog about this topic and ask the readership of DonorDreams blog for their best possible world-class coaching and advice.

So, I have a holiday season favor to ask each of you this morning:

Would you please take a minute or two out of your busy schedule this morning and use the comment box below to do one of the following two things?

  1. share your agency’s grant writing policy/policies, or
  2. share how your organization makes decisions on when to write or pass on a grant writing opportunity.

pay it forwardSeriously, your feedback this morning will directly help another organization in its pursuit of developing fundraising best practices. Your participation will take all of a minute or two this morning. Please weigh-in. Your collective wisdom is massive and will bring tremendous value to this organization’s discussion. You can consider the few minutes that you invest in responding to this request as your “good turn” this holiday season. Please pay it forward!

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. Hi Erik-
    Great questions! I haven’t seen such a policy but I have seen procedures that lead to the same end. For me, those procedures have always required the need for reasonable answers these questions:
    Is it mission-driven?
    How long will it take?
    Is there a political price to not doing it?
    Have we talked to the grant officer and been encouraged to submit a proposal?
    Have we submitted for this in the past and been unsuccessful more than twice?

    A $2,000 grant that I can write an an Exec in less than an hour is totally worth it. One that I could write as a consultant that is less familiar with an organization and will require lots of time to learn the programs, gather data and get approval is more likely to be not worth it.

    1. As always, you hit the nail on the head, Dani!!! I wholeheartedly agree with you. While I want to tell this organization that they need a “black-n-white” policy about not writing funding proposals for less then $XXXX, you’re totally right about needing to look at other considerations. Thanks for the input. I will share it with this organization and they’ll be better off for hearing it. Happy Holidays!!!

  2. We don’t have a policy per se but generally review the estimated staff time involved in light of (1) the ROI; (2) the value of the funding relationship and potential for growth in that relationship; (3) other immediate funding opportunities that would yield a better ROI.

  3. This is a GREAT question! I would be asking the same question if I were on the board. Although our organization does not have a policy regarding the evaluation of whether or not to do a grant, there are some considerations as a fundraising professional that I would ask:

    1. Like you have already pointed out, by the time you factor in the “cost” of the employees/consultants/volunteers’ time, this grant is already spent, let alone the true cost of the new program.

    2. Unless it falls in line with the mission of the organization, is something that we REALLY really want and is proven sustainable beyond the $2,000 grant (meaning, you don’t just say that you will raise the money every year to support it, you actually have proof of it), we do not EVER build a program to fit a grant opportunity.

    It is my opinion that you should be always asking the questions(not in any particular order):

    1. Is it budget relieving?
    2. Is there additional support for it?
    3. Can we accomplish program objectives without allocating too much additional staff time?
    4. Does it fall within our mission objective?

    1. Thanks, Teri. I haven’t heard of anyone making a hard and fast policy regarding a threshhold amount, but I must admit that I am attracted to such an approach. Yet, there are many exceptions that I can think of, which leads me to conclude that a policy might not be the best route for an agency to go. Maybe it is just on a case-by-case basis with a serious focus on ROI.

      Thanks for your thoughts and input. You are an awesome grant writer, and your wisdom is appreciated!

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