Using Data to Drive Your Grant-Seeking Decisions
I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes stories
In our grant applications, we are careful to select the best statistics to set out our need statement. We are careful to use the best descriptions about the demographics of those our organization serves each day.
However, grant-seeking organizations need to remember, in the midst of the overlapping application deadlines, to step back from each organization and look at their own data and metrics related to their entire grant-seeking effort. Pausing to look at the metrics and data about an organization’s grant-seeking strategy and looking at more than just an award percentage, will give clear indicators to an organization’s areas of strength or areas for improvement in their grant-seeking efforts.
The following metrics are commonly used to define the success of grant seeking efforts:
• Award percentage
• Percentage of budget met
• Percent of funding renewed
• Percent of funding increased
• Percent of funding that is from new sources
Some additional metrics used by grant professionals, which are important in the full grant-seeking strategy, but less commonly measured:
• Percentage of grant dollars funded versus asked
• Amount of grant dollars funded versus asked
• Grant compliance including the percent of funding expended within grant award and as defined by the grant maker
• Alignment and improvement of following grant professional competencies. (You can read about the grant professional certified competencies from the Grant Professional Certification Institute.)
If an organization pauses to review their metrics annually—or ideally monthly or quarterly, so that trends can be identified early on and corrective actions can be put in place—what sort of discoveries could be made? Below are two scenarios for you to consider:
Scenario One: An organization could realize that they are rock stars at establishing new grant-maker relationships and getting the first grant award made. Yet, in reviewing their metrics, they realize that their renewal or second new grant rate is practically non-existent. Building new relationships, whether with grant makers or individual donors takes more effort than maintaining relationships, so the organization and grant team should assess in this situation how to spend time maintaining and enhancing relationships with *current* grant makers instead of focusing so heavily on building *new* relationships.
Scenario Two: An organization could rightfully be very proud of their high-approval rate with their private-foundation grant requests. Yet, as they look at what percentage of each request is being funded, they realize that they are being partially funded on a significant majority of their awards. While receiving the grant award is an excellent measure of success, the grant team should step back and ask themselves what it is about their process that is leading to so many partial awards. Is the team reaching out to grant makers prior to applying in each and every case where a grant maker has the capacity/preference for pre-award communication and does not specifically discourage or prohibit contact? Those conversations, whether over phone or email, could help the grant team hone in on what the grant maker may feel is an appropriate request amount. Those dialogues open the door to long-term relationships and show respect for putting in a request to a grant maker that is closely aligned not only with their mission and priorities, but also their approach to grant making and their granting capacity.
I encourage you to take a few minutes to look at what metrics you are monitoring on an ongoing basis. How about your colleagues and the organization as a whole? Which of the metrics listed above are you currently using? Only one or two? Or nearly all of them? As with our client data we report on in the grants we get funded, one statistic rarely tells the whole story. I challenge you to pick at least one new metric from the list above to add to the data you track and watch over the next quarter and see how it broadens your definition and perspective of success about your grant-seeking strategy.
Diane H. Leonard, GPC, provides support to grant-seeking organizations throughout the country with her team at DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC. She has personally secured more than $34 million to date in competitive grant funds for clients. She founded the firm in order to focus on increasing nonprofit capacity related to grant seeking and grant management. She is an active member of the Grant Professionals Association serving on both their Social Media Committee and Grant News Committee. She is an “approved trainer” through the Grant Professionals Association and Grant Professional Certified (GPC) through the Grant Professionals Certification Institute.