Last minute grant writing

Let’s say you come across a new grant opportunity. The funder’s interests fit your mission, the guidelines match your program activities, and the grant size and timeline meet your needs.

Also, the proposal deadline is two days away.

Most of us have found last-minute grant opportunities and asked ourselves if we can pull off a proposal in time.  Sometimes it pays off. Sometimes it’s a flop, a waste of resources, a futile exercise in exhaustion. We pull staff from other work, scramble to find current data, make too-quick program decisions, dash off messy, unclear prose.

Of course the best way to avoid eleventh hour grant writing is to conduct regular funding research and have a grant writing plan in place.  But when a new opportunity with a quick turnaround appears, what should we do?

1. Confirm the deadline and the form of submission. (Many foundations still require hard copies of proposals sent through the mail.)
2. Determine whether a letter of inquiry (LOI) or short pre-proposal is requested instead of a full-length proposal. A LOI is not only shorter, but also requires less narrative and budget detail.
3. Carefully read and think through the questions or guidelines you’ll need to answer or address, and what it will take to do this.
4. Ask if major decisions need to be made about a program or service for this submission. Consider what you need to know to make the decisions, who should be involved, and how much time is needed.
5. Determine how much of what you need to write is already written. Can you draw most of the content from another proposal?
6. Estimate how much time is needed to write a strong proposal or LOI, determine who would write it, and consider it in the context of this person’s other work. Is this proposal worth prioritizing? Don’t forget to allocate staff time for proofreading and submission.

One way to be prepared for last-minute deadlines is to establish and maintain a grants file to house and organize your grant writing information. Keep the contents of this file updated and you’ll have a solid foundation on which to draft proposals, even with little time to spare. Having your ducks in a row can help you decide whether an unexpected deadline is worth the investment, and can take some of the pain out of the process if you do apply. You should include:

1. A copy of each LOI and proposal you’ve written in the last year or two.
2. A copy of each grant report from the last year or two.
3. A list of funders and grants awarded over the last three to five years.
4. Your latest Annual Report.
5. Your current strategic plan.
6. A summary of current, accurate, targeted needs data, e.g., unemployment levels in your county, disease prevalence, college attrition rates. Don’t forget sources!
7. A summary of impact data, gleaned from evaluations and assessments of your programs and services.
8. Short descriptions and bios for all key staff, including responsibilities and qualifications. Also keep your org chart current.
9. Current Board list.
10. Annual operating budget and income/expenses for most recent fiscal year and for current year-to-date.
11. Itemized program/project budgets with current sources of committed and pending revenue.
12. A copy of your 501(c)(3) confirmation.
13. Your most recent audited financial statement or Form 990, depending on budget size.
14. Letters of agreement from collaborating organizations.
15. Press clippings, notice of awards, or Web links to information on your work.

Happy New Year, from all of us at the Alliance!


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