Is the Grant Writer alone responsible for grants success?

I was asked recently what my success ratio is for winning grants. At the time I replied that it was difficult to lock down “for a number of reasons.” There’s a lot outside of a grant writer’s talent that determines if an application is awarded a grant. I would like to discuss some of what affects grants success:

1) MISSION MATCH. If your non-profit is truly aligned with the funder’s interests – mission, demographic served, geographic focus, etc. – then your chances of grants success increase. Doing thorough research of your prospective funder, and contacting them to ascertain if there’s truly a match and they have interest in YOUR program, helps increase grants success.

2) FUNDER CAPACITY. A funder may WANT to fund your organization or program/project, but may have reasons to not BE ABLE to. They may be bound to other multi-year gifts, or be dissolving and spending down the foundation assets, or may have other reasons for not having enough cash to go around to all the worthy agencies. A call to that funder asking about an appropriate ask amount may help uncover if there’s mitigating circumstances that would affect your grants success.

3) RELATIONSHIPS. This goes for ANY asks in the fundraising world: If a relationship already exists with decision-makers within a funding body (corporate, private, public, foundation, and even individuals), then your chances for grants success increase.

4) PROGRAM STRENGTH. If your application shows you have a program that is truly changing lives, that is organized, well-thought out, has strong leadership teed up, is meeting an ESTABLISHED need, will be able to show it will accomplish what it sets out to do, and is aligned with the funder’s mission and your own, then you have a chance at greater grants success.

5) GRANT READINESS. If your nonprofit is new or not well-established, fiscally on thin ice, has a small or inexperienced board and staff, has no community reputation, or has little infrastructure, then your chances of grants success are limited. If this describes your organization, think about partnering with a fiscal agent, or a larger and more-established agency for your initial few years. If you are “Grant-Ready,” then this increases your chances for grants success. My Grant Readiness Assessment Checklist is a comprehensive tool for nonprofits to use to ready their organization’s culture and infrastructure, as well as document library, in order to increase grants success.

So you see, what determines the success or failure of a grant proposal is sometimes well outside of the grant writer’s purview or control. It takes a thick skin to be a grant writer, and an understanding that 1) it’s not personal, and 2) it may NOT be your fault, or anyone’s fault! Neither is it “luck.” When I hear a “No” from a funder, I try to find out, is your “No” a “No, never”? Or is it a “Not Now”?

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