Zen and the Art of Grantseeking
Last fall, I was fortunate enough to be sitting in a very zen-like garden designed and built by the famous poet Pablo Neruda in Santiago, Chile. Neruda started to build this home in the early 1950s, and the gardens, which are tucked into the landscape surrounding the house – thrive today long after his death in 1973.
While relaxing in this peaceful garden, my mind drifted into an internal discussion about the significant role grants can play in the overall income of a nonprofit. I was thinking that, perhaps, it starts with just one seed; but in years to come, it may blossom into a fully developed source of revenue. This may seem odd to some of you, but having spent the last 40 years plus of my life deeply involved in philanthropy, it was, for me, a natural reaction to this beautiful garden, lovingly planned by a great poet so many years ago. He was gone, but the reality of his work lived on.
The search for new income for almost any nonprofit is never ending. And often, we simply get paralyzed by indecision, trying to figure out how to move forward. We know it’s critical to devise a plan on how to secure the funds our organization needs to operate and grow, but we are stuck knee deep in the day-to-day chaos we all call fundraising.
Grant awards can play a significant role in the overall income for an organization, becoming a solid part of its financial growth strategy. But if you intend to make this happen, you have to be very intentional in your planning and execution. There is a Zen saying that goes something like this: Demonstrate the fearlessness of a hero and the loving heart of a child. And that fearlessness is what it is going to take if you step away from the ongoing demands and begin to think strategically about growing your grantseeking program.
Our words carry weight, no matter who we are and what role we play in the organization. Once you feel ready to expand your existing grantseeking or introduce grantseeking to your overall fundraising efforts, then how you explain this new approach to leadership is critical to your overall success.
Because when you bring up the topic of grants, everyone has visions of thousands and thousands of dollars rolling in the door. They are often not aware of the amount of work that goes into just one grant proposal, much less the five or six you might intend to write the first year of your new or expanded program.
In order to keep everyone’s expectations realistic, you want to introduce your idea after thoughtful consideration. This means you also must be realistic when setting your overall goals and objectives for the program. I suggest that you talk with the organization’s leadership about the importance of grantseeking being considered a fully developed fundraising program (and supported accordingly), and that this program requires careful development and management, not to mention an overall strategic approach.
At this juncture, it’s helpful to introduce a Grant Decision Matrix. This matrix is made up of specific criteria, each given a weight; and when these weights are added up, you get a “go or no-go” decision on whether to submit an application to a particular funder. (I will talk a lot more about building this matrix in the free webinar we’re offering on August 14. If this interests you, please join us.) It is beneficial to have leadership – including the board of directors – adopt this matrix.
Buy-in from leadership allows you to make quick decisions when new funding opportunities present themselves without fearing any backlash. One of the main problems you want to avoid when introducing a new, aggressive program is second-guessing. There is really nothing worse for a grantwriter than to have others, not to mention yourself, second guessing whether you should have applied to particular funder or not. Having this matrix adopted and approved by leadership allows you to breathe easier when making these crucial decisions.
Of course, making the decision to adopt a full-blown grantseeking program, getting leadership approval and developing this matrix are just the beginning. There is also the little task of creating a grant strategy around each program and project that needs funding. This, too, will be covered in the webinar on August 14.
As we all know, learning to think beyond next week, next month,and certainly next year is a tough assignment. And it is made much more difficult when we are plagued with indecision. Benjamin Franklin said, "The man who does things makes mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all — doing nothing."
If your nonprofit is looking to find new funder opportunities, build strong grant programs, write powerful proposals and win awards to fund your mission, from now until Aug. 15, you can sign up for a one-year GrantStation Membership subscription for $169.
For more information, watch this virtual tour of GrantStation.
Cynthia Adams has been dedicated to helping nonprofit organizations identify and secure the funding they need to do their good work for well over 40 years.
Cynthia founded GrantStation because she believes that grantseeking requires a thorough understanding of the funders and sound knowledge of the philanthropic playing field.
Her life's work has been to level that playing field, creating opportunities for all nonprofit organizations, regardless of size or geographic location, to secure grant support.
Cynthia is founder and CEO of GrantStation.