Hurry Up and Wait!

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The rationale behind all those deadlines –

As if this weren’t a busy time of year already, there’s also a slew of grant deadlines! New grants added to the Nov/Dec edition of my Funding Opportunities in the Arts resource have deadlines this month for individual artists like filmmakers, composers, painters, sculptors, and printmakers. That’s in addition to the December deadlines already posted for dance, music, theatre, and video grants!

Why so many deadlines so close to the end of the year?

The life cycle of a grant is long, and some are longer than others. It’s not unusual to have to wait 4-6 months to hear about whether you were awarded a grant. Today I’m going to break it down, week by week, to show what’s happening during that timeframe that may seem to you to be interminable!

A grant that is posted, or made available, in December will stay open usually for 4-6 weeks. Then program staff sifts through the stack of applications received, and a long job of reviewing commences. The staff can rule out the proposals with obvious errors or omissions. The rest have to be read, by at least one person and sometime by a team of three, to determine if that application goes before their Board for a final decision. That board may not meet until April or May, but may need a chance to read through each recommended proposal in advance of their meeting.

Once the board of the foundation meets, some hard decisions have to be made. The proposals that reach them have been vetted by staff and are the most robust, so they need to be weighed carefully before a funding decision is made. The board may make piles – one for ‘definite Yes,’ one for ‘definite No,’ and one for ‘Maybe.’ The Maybe’s get their due consideration. Then, the task of funding allotments happens.

A non-profit may not get all the funds it requested in its proposal, and this may be for a number of reasons. Chief among them is 1) the pool of money is not large enough, or 2) the pool of worthy applications is too large. Doling out what a foundation is required to disperse annually is even more complicated if there are multiple proposal deadlines. Then, that board needs to make its money stretch throughout the year.

By this time, your proposal that was due in January is maybe six months old. [If you’re applying to a federal agency, then triple or quadruple that timeframe.]

Let’s say your program starts in July, with your new fiscal year. If the process I’ve outlined takes a good 5-6 months, then maybe you can see why there are so many Dec.-Jan. deadlines! Those foundations were thinking far down the road when they set their application deadlines — so your non-profit can fund new programs in its new fiscal year! It all starts to make sense, doesn’t it?

Here’s a basic (very basic!) visual to illustrate the length of a grant’s life cycle:

Dec. 1, 2016 Grant opportunity X is posted to the ABC Foundation website
Jan. 15, 2017 Grant deadline, applications due!
Feb. 1, 2017 ABC Foundation staff review proposals received – there may be hundreds!
April 15, 2017 ABC Foundation staff prepares their recommended proposals for the ABC board to review
May 15, 2017 The ABC Foundation board meets to review proposals and make funding decisions
June 15, 2017 Non-profits are notified of the ABC Foundation’s decision
July 1, 2017 If awarded, your grant is “active” for one year; your program can begin!
Dec. 31, 2017 If a semi-annual report is required, send it by now! In any case, keep the ABC Foundation apprised of your program’s progress
June 30, 2018 Your grant cycle is over, the funds should have been spent down, and your final report is due to ABC Foundation. Congrats!

The lesson here is that it’s better to plan well ahead if you want to count on grants. It’s certainly not instant money!

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