Increase Grant Success at Least Ten-Fold: NEVER Submit a “Cold Grant”

iciclesNEVER submit a “cold grant” . . . what does that mean, exactly?  Simply put, you submit a “cold grant” when you haven’t been specifically invited to submit a proposal by a foundation.  It’s a big ‘no-no’ and often separates highly successful and savvy fundraisers from their well-intending but amateur counterparts.  The odds of your being awarded a grant increases at least ten-fold when you’ve received an invitation to apply, so reconsider submitting a cold grant when the rate success is already very low. Your small or medium-sized nonprofit organization is doing amazing work, and you want to increase your success rate with foundation funding, but what’s the best way to do that?    Read on . . .

How to Receive an Invitation to Apply for a Foundation Grant

How you make this happen?  Generally speaking, it’s easier than you might think.  Say you visited your local community foundation and have identified ten foundations that appear to be an excellent fit with your organization’s mission and with which your programs are aligned with their funding criteria.  What do you do?  Pick up the phone and call the foundation’s office or visit in person and make a sincere effort to connect with a program officer.  If you just send a proposal based on what you read on the foundation’s website, you may get funded based on how well-written your proposal is and how great a fit it may be with the foundation’s philanthropic priorities.   However, your odds increase vastly if you “warm up the lead”.

“Warming Up a Lead” with a Foundation

Remember, you goal is to secure an invitation, so you must glean some critical pieces of information during a call or meeting with a program officer.  By the way, these critical points-of-contact are the turnkey decision-makers – they’re the people who hold the purse strings and who submit a slate of proposals to the foundation’s board and ask for funding consideration.  They are just as critical to the success of your organization as any major donor, so treat them like gold.

What are the key pieces of information you need to determine during you call?

Pasta1)  The “Pasta Test”:  Use your ability to speak about your organization, its mission and targeted programs in a classic “elevator pitch” so that you can very quickly identify where the best matches are.  By this point, you’ve already done your homework and have a sense of the foundation’s priorities and where your organization may fit, but the program officer will tell you very quickly whether something is or is not an excellent alignment for them.

2) Positioning: From your conversation, you’ll also learn something about the foundation’s positioning; that is, their language and how they speak about their philanthropic giving internally – that’s the content (and style) for which you’re listening.  Consider how you should position your case for support within the context of the goals of the foundation.

3)  Deadlines:  This is not just related to a deadline that appears on the foundation’s website, by the way.  This will be become more evident in the last step of the “warming up” process.  Ask the program officer, “When would it be best for you if I can get this proposal to you by?”

question-mark-money4) How Much Should We Ask For?  Yup… ask it directly.  What’s the ‘sweet spot’ for a first-time grantee submitting to Foundation “X” for a program of this nature?  Is it reasonable to request that Foundation “X” underwrite the entire program at $250,000 or should we instead submit a proposal for $30,000?

If you’ve touched upon all of these points, you’ll leave the conversation with an invitation to submit a grant request for a specific program, initiative (or general operating funds), which is positioned a certain way, by a certain time, with a specific dollar amount attached to it.

You’re doing great, but there’s still one thing left to do, and it’s the most important step . . .   

5) Request that the Program Officer Review a Draft of Your Proposal:  You want to do this well in advance of formally submitting the proposal for approval (and consequently relates to the question of deadlines).  What that does is give the program officer a sense of ownership over your proposal – she’s putting her proverbial stamp on it.  You’ve invited her to get back to you with feedback on how to enhance the proposal for greater success.  Now, she’s ready to submit your proposal to her colleagues.

Good luck!  You’ve just increased your chances of being awarded a grant by more than ten-fold.  Try it yourself and drop me a line to share your experience.  I would enjoy hearing from you.

Cheryl M. McCormick, Ph.D., Founder and CEO, Ascend Nonprofit Consulting and Executive Coaching,

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