Few things are as discouraging as persistently low success rates with grants. Many factors are outside a grant fundraiser’s control, and grant writing can be challenging work even in the best of times. Thankfully we can be better prepared by understanding the factors that contribute to low success rates, and plan accordingly.
Consider the bigger picture. First, success rates for grants are directly related to the strength of the applicant.
Reviewers generally look for:
Also important on the funder’s side:
Organizational health and mission-focused operations are the most basic requirements for organizations to be successful at grant fundraising. High-functioning organizations win grants.
Serious organizational issues will decrease an applicant’s likelihood of success. These include:
Clearly, these concerns extend well beyond any one employee into the structural and practical matters of finance, development, leadership, governance and operations.
The time available to prepare the application or proposal is an important factor. So is the availability and capacity of program and admin. staff to support the application process. These cannot be understated.
How do we define success? More than 1 in 2 requests submitted are awarded – 50% success rates.
(In other words, even the most talented grant fundraisers and strongest organizations don’t win ‘em all.)
These unforced errors will sink most applications, and the blame usually falls on the grant writer / project manager:
In managing grants effectively, organizations can…
Planning = 1/3 of the process for well-written proposals
Research, budgeting, packaging, and other = 1/3
Writing and editing is only 1/3 of the process.
Don’t rush this stage. It takes time to learn an organization at any depth, and every funder is different (foundations, local or state contracts, federal offices). With time, a grant professional will develop their toolbox, gain comfort with aligning their organization’s strengths with the priorities of funders, and build a network of community partners that supports this specialized work.
Teach and model best practices at every opportunity.
Then you can analyze data on every stage of the grant application process with a different report:
Research → Not Proceeding → Declined Applications → Active Proposals → Future (Planned) Proposals
As well as grant awards and contracts:
Active Grant Awards and Contracts → Reports Due
Effective tracking tools make end-of year analysis more feasible, while supporting annual budgeting and the creation of development plans with informed projections for grant funding.
Greater success with grant applications and proposals is achieved when we build strong organizations with excellent systems run by qualified, well-supported employees. Recruiting and retaining grant staff with specialized skills – while paying a fair wage for their efforts – is a key to lasting success for this revenue channel.
Structural work at the organizational level is also required, and in fact has a greater impact than all the work individuals can do to follow best practices in grant fundraising. After all, it’s trusting that the applicant and proposed project will have a meaningful community impact that wins over a grantmaker.
No wonder it’s so much work! Although doing it right means the difference in 70% and 20% success rates.
Isn’t that worth it to your organization?