Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Blind Proposal

What is the best approach to grant writing? Many development professionals and grant writers believe that the best approach to grant writing is to apply to as many foundations as they possibly can each year. Others argue that this is a waste of time and not an effective approach.

This is a common issue in organizations that have new staff or find themselves with a cash deficit. Development staff often feel pressured to get applications out and will skip key steps in grant research. In my experience, the best approach is to send out fewer, targeted proposals to foundations that you have already spoken with and have at least a 50-50 chance of receiving funding. Here is the process I use for grant writing:

Grant Writing Process
1. Identify prospects (similar organization’s annual reports, RFPs, referrals, etc).
2. Review their online guidelines to see if there is a potential fit.
3. Look at their latest 990 on GuideStar to see who they have funded and what size of grants they have given out.
4. Develop an outline of two ideas or programs that you can pitch to a program officer.
5. Call the program officer.

A conversation should go like this:
1) Explain who you are (development person at Nonprofit SOS).
2) Ask if they are familiar with Nonprofit SOS? If yes, great! If not, then take a minute to explain the mission of your organization.
3) Tell them that you have reviewed their guidelines and are interested in submitting a proposal.
4) Ask them if this would be a good time for you to take a few minutes to tell them about the proposal, get their feedback and make sure it is a good fit with the organization.

Make sure to take detailed notes from the conversation. If the program officer is interested and thinks it is a good fit, they often will use the wording you need to use to interest the Board. In most cases, this phone conversation will tell you whether or not it is worth your time to submit a proposal.

Before ending the call, make sure to ask about the proposal amount. You can say something like this: “From what you've said, I think this project might be a good fit for the foundation. I'd like to ask for this amount $--. Would you welcome such a proposal from Nonprofit SOS at this time?

I almost never send blind proposals. If I cannot reach the program officer, then I will send a blind letter of inquiry (LOI) to find out if they are interested. Although, some people do find success sending dozens of blind proposals every year.

What approach do you find works best for you?

You can find some great tips about grant writing here.