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‘Staying In Your Lane’ When Gathering Program and Organization Information

Monday, May 18, 2020   (3 Comments)
Posted by: Meg Hagan, GPC
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As much as we love general operating grants, we know they are limited. That is why it’s so important to lean on leadership to implement growth initiatives. While these are fundraising priorities, your team might not always think of projects as quickly and/or as thoroughly as you need them to for fast approaching deadlines. This leaves us in a sticky situation: How do we do our job while not crossing hierarchal boundaries?

I continue to learn every day, but, after many failures, I came up with three simple steps.

What leadership, assertive communication, and ‘sleuthing tricks’ have you learned to help create a competitive proposal and proactive grants plan?

Step 1: Set the Stage

Schedule a first meeting with your leadership team. Help them understand funding can take between six and 18 months from the point of idea generation to fruition, so long-term planning is critical.

Communicate that, even more than writing, a grant professional’s role is to facilitate cross departmental conversations to create a proactive grants plan that supports strategic initiatives. This work requires planning, ingenuity, and, most importantly, teamwork.

At this first meeting you are simply trying to hear about planned initiatives that support the strategic plan. Conclude by providing a date when you would like to follow up to present some prospect funders.

In the follow-up, share prospect funders, consider their deadlines, and, if leadership seems interested in seeking funding opportunities, ask how they would like you to move forward with the planning part of the grants process.

Step 2: Add the Layers

Now that priority projects are determined and prospect funders are aligned, it is time to plan. Keep in mind that while logic models are wonderful tools, they are overload for non-grant writers. Instead, ask people to brain dump. This usually results in information about program inputs, but evaluation, outcomes, and evidence-based research can be overlooked.  

As a grant writer, you often know what needs to be done to implement these things, but tread lightly when sharing your expertise. At this point, ask questions and be prepared to share examples. Remember, program planning is about building internal relationships and empowering your grants team with best practices so organizational thinking contributes to fundraising success.

Step 3: Staying the Lane

Now it’s time to create project specs. This document includes essential elements of a proposal and serves as a centralized place to document all conversations before starting to write. Fill in the document as thoroughly as you can with the information gathered in step 2

Then, schedule another meeting with your grants team to review. Share what has been accomplished thus far and what else needs to be done prior to grant submissions (i.e., evaluation, theory of change, etc.). Ask how they would like you to proceed - would they like you to draft an evaluation plan and present it, or would they prefer you take a hands-off approach to this critical step? Regardless, you are offering help but not charging ahead in a siloed panic to do your job.

The more you are able to create an environment of teamwork, collaboration, and accountability from the beginning of the grants process, the more you can eliminate sleepless nights wondering how you are going to get the information you need to be confident in your submissions and do your job.

One final note, if there is one thing I have learned, program planning and relationship building is a marathon, not a sprint. Take a deep breath, enjoy the journey, and realize you may have to bypass opportunities until you are confident in the information provided – be okay with that.


Author Bio:
Meg Hagan has 10+ years’ experience in nonprofits, mostly in the education and health and human service sector. She started her career in grant writing in 2015 and has since raised $3M+ for organizations specializing in corporate, community, and private foundations. Meg has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies and in 2019 received her Grant Professional Certification. Since 2018 she has maintained part-time contract work amongst full-time grant manager work.

Planning & Internal Collaboration

GPC Competency:
02. Organizational Development; 03. Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development


Tammy McCrae says...
Posted Friday, May 22, 2020
I can't wait to share this article with my fundraising team. You've captured the process beautifully. It's taken years but I finally have trained program staff to consider outcomes and evaluation in the program development stage. It's always a work in progress.
Julie Paynotta says...
Posted Tuesday, May 19, 2020
This is very helpful - thank you, Meg! Speaking as a grants consultant, I can add that clients usually appreciate hearing about evaluation and program development in the context of strategic positioning for funding. In other words, staying in my lane has meant that I approach these topics from the grant seeking effectiveness and success perspective. Then we can progress to deciding how to handle those elements of the proposal. Some want my experience in evaluation to strengthen those sections; others may lean on program staff after hearing my inout. Either way, you are absolutely right about it being a relationship building process.
Shauna O'Toole O'Toole says...
Posted Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Meg, I really dig this article. Thank you for sharing your expertise. I will take away several ideas from this to add to my processes. I have found much of my leadership growth has come through having a seat at the table when these crucial conversations about initiatives and strategies are happening. Very early in my career, I found myself in meetings that were, in reality, above my pay-grade, because of my role in securing the funding. I listened diligently in these meetings, picking up cues on organizational culture, executive team dynamics, and change management processes. I would not disagree about "staying in your lane", however I have found that gradually adding thoughtful input when it seemed appropriate, and managing the process well, have earned me trust and "leadership capital" in my organization. For context, I am a full-time fundraising and grants professional with one org, so others may have an different experience, especially in a contract setting.