December 9, 2019
Sure, this approach takes more time effort than simply writing and submitting proposals and hoping for checks to arrive in the mail year after year. But it also offers much larger returns, when done well. Compared to grant writing, a grant program can help your organization achieve greater efficiency, build expertise among staff (including program staff), and decrease uncertainty when planning for the year.
As we approach the end of this calendar year, now is a great time to think about the state of your grant program, and what you’d like it to achieve over the next 12 months. Below we’ll walk you through some tips and exercises to help you set meaningful goals for your grant program in the coming year.
Just like your other programs, your grant program needs to advance your organizational mission. Tempting as it might be to throw proverbial spaghetti at the wall and pursue any grant you think might win you money, staying focused on the opportunities that support and align with your nonprofit’s existing programs, impact goals, and/or other organizational objectives is key.
As you’re outlining your goals, it’s also important to walk the line between aspiration and pragmatism. Your goals should be based on an understanding of what is feasible, and accurately reflect the resources (i.e., time, effort, and focus) it will take to deliver results. Once you establish what these specific goals are, it’s important to review your progress regularly and make adjustments as needed.
We recommend zeroing in on 3-5 measurable, feasible, and sustainable goals for your grant program each year. Remember, these goals should focus on more than just dollars; instead, aim to set goals that help your organization secure the resources it needs in order to sustain (or grow) its work.
Some good examples include:
A great place to start is to review your budget gaps: What programs need funding? Are you losing any key funders this year or in the next 2-3 years? What do those numbers look like? Also take time to review expense budgets for each program, as well as any dedicated and allocated revenue for each program, and factor those into this process as well. Keep in mind that this will likely take time, and your leadership must be involved
Once you’ve assessed and accounted for your immediate needs, consider your larger vision for the future of your organization and programs. What additional resources might you need to realize that vision and/or achieve those goals?
At Elevate, we use two primary tools to ensure are goals are rooted in reality: a landscape analysis, and a forecasting document.
We recommend conducting an analysis of your peers, to give you a fuller picture of the landscape and help you set reasonable goals and expectations. Start by assessing who your peers and competitors are – aim to identify 4-10 peer organizations, and look at how they similar or different to your organization or programs. Once you have your list or peer organizations, do some research to see how much funding they receive from grants or foundations, including which funders support them and the average award size. Doing this type of analysis will also help you determine whether it’s feasible for your organization to reach your revenue goals through grants alone.
A forecasting chart helps you understand and anticipate how much funding your grant program might secure in the coming year based on probability. It helps you plan for the uncertainty of losing grants you did not expect to lose – and win grants you did not expect to win!
The basic steps for putting together a forecasting chart are to:
Here’s the math:
$ ask amount x % probability of winning = $ expected revenue
$100,000 request x 50% probability = $50,000 expected revenue
You’ll then add each anticipated proposal’s expected revenue together to create a forecast and get the total expected revenue from grant funding for your organization. Remember: your goal is not to get everything about every funder right! Instead: it is to play the averages and get your total projections as close as possible to reality.
For more on how to create a forecasting chart, plus a free downloadable template, check out this blog post.
The more aware you are of your organization’s history, strengths, vision, and challenges, the better equipped you’ll be to set goals for your grant program that strengthen and deepen the impact of your work. Below are a few examples of how you might map your understanding of your organization onto your goals for the year:
Organizational Strength: Our adult workforce development programming serves more people, with greater need, than many of our peers.
Organizational Challenge: Our youth mentoring program does not stand out among our peers.
We wish you all the best in setting and reaching meaningful goals with your grant program in 2020! And stay tuned for a follow-up blog post on how to measure if your grant program is working over the course of the year.