Let's Raise Some Money
Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

DON’T Submit That Grant Proposal

September 16th, 2013 by Karen Climer

Recently, I had lunch with two grant writing colleagues.  One of them said that her organization (let’s call it Important Agency) expects her to submit at least one proposal per week.  What a waste of human resources!  Important Agency serves a very targeted population with a very targeted mission.  There are not 52 foundations that would be interested in funding Important Agency.

If you’ve done research for grant proposals, you know how this works.  Let’s say you work for a children’s health organization.  You use any of the various grant databases and find that Longshot Foundation funds children’s health organization.  Perfect!  Once you dig a little deeper, though, you find that the only children’s health organization that Longshot has actually funded is a children’s hospital in another state.  They actually give most of their money to animal causes.  Hmmm…it’s not looking as promising.  You give Longshot Foundation a call.  They tell that they have never funded a project like yours.  They only fund the children’s hospital because the grandchild of one of the founders was a patient there years ago.

You speak to your boss who emphasizes activity over results.  He says, “Well, we meet the requirements they listed.  We’re a children’s health organization.  Let’s apply.”  A few weeks later, you get a rejection letter.  Everyone acts shocked and disappointed.  Inside you are saying, “I knew they wouldn’t fund us.  Why didn’t you listen to me?”

As ridiculous as this sounds, this scenario happens all the time.  It is a waste of time for the grant writer.  A waste of time for the other staff members who the grant writer consults.  A waste of time for the foundation staff who have to deal with this proposal.

This even happens when I am doing freelance grant writing.  I tell the client that we are more likely to get hit by a meteor than get funded by Longshot Foundation, but I will do whatever they want me to do.  I’m amazed at how often they tell me to go ahead and write the proposal.  They are paying me by the hour!

When you start applying to foundations just for the sake of applying, your return on investment plateaus. Be sure your organization is a match for the foundation before you invest the time in writing the proposal.

When you start applying to foundations just for the sake of applying, your return on investment plateaus. Be sure your organization is a match for the foundation before you invest the time in writing the proposal.

I haven’t done a true study, but my experience is that there is a direct correlation between proposals submitted and grants awarded to a certain point.  Once you’ve maxed out the foundations where there is a good match, you are wasting your time submitting more.  OK, you might get one of the longshots, but is that really a good use of the grant writer’s time?

Maybe instead, the grant writer should be submitting reports to the foundations that awarded money, even if they don’t require it.  Remember Penelope Burk’s research…you have to tell people how you spent their money before you can ask for another gift.

Posted in Grant Writing

One Response

  1. A Long-time Independent Grant Writer

    You are right on target Karen Climer!!!! When it comes to grant writing, less is often more. My experience is that one should approach a new foundation only after you have carefully researched it and believe it is a qualified prospect for funding an agency or program. Yet many organizations believe grant writing is like working an assembly line, and the more grants you throw out there the more will stick.. . and occasionally one will. BUT, we’re not making widgets here! Thank you for your wonderful and informative blog.

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