The grant making process is highly subjective. The vast majority of private foundations are family foundations that show up in the research resources, but that select their grantees on the basis of personal preferences. Most do not even accept proposals. Their grants are akin to individual donations, and the fact that they are grants at all is merely a function of the IRS Code. It simply is more advantageous to the donor to create a foundation than to make gifts directly.
Even government agencies are prone to subjectivity. While funding guidelines are statutory, specific priorities often are determined by what’s currently hot in the area covered by the grant program. In some scientific disciplines, only a handful of individuals across the country may be qualified to evaluate grant proposals in their discipline, and it’s typical that they know each other’s work.
What does this mean for the grant seeker? Once a non-profit agency has decided to devote resources to grant seeking, its staff needs to follow a realistic approach. That includes following the steps outlined in (Part 1 of Grant Seeking By The Book) my previous posting, but they must be tempered with a focus on forming relationships with the funders, and not merely submitting proposals identified by their research.
Networking is one of the most important items in the grant seeker’s resource kit. Every effort should be made to establish a personal relationship with the funder. That includes making contact with government program officers and seeking out foundation trustees, especially those located in the applicant’s community.
Many times it’s not possible to do that, but submitting a cold proposal without prior discussion should be considered a last resort resulting from a strategic decision to incur that opportunity cost.
In grant seeking, as in most things, success leads to additional success. Often, the best resources can be found among the funders who have already made grants to an organization. The professional grant seeker should not be bashful in networking among his/her current grantors to open new opportunities. They need to make the subjectivity of the grants process work for them, not against them.
We’re taking a break, not blogging over the long July 4 weekend. Be back on July 6 with Part 2 of “Another Reason Why I Object to Feasibility Studies.”
Have a question about starting or expanding your grants program? Email me at Andrew@GrantServices.com..