We at GrantStation are writing and publishing the results of our most recent survey, the Spring 2018 State of Grantseeking Report series. Over the years, the most frequent response to the survey question “What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge to successful grantseeking?” has remained the same. This spring, 21 percent of our nearly 5,000 respondents told us that grantseeking’s greatest challenges stem from the lack of time and staff for grantseeking activities.
Concurrently, when asked how their organizations control overhead costs, the most frequent response has been “Reduced number of staff,” followed by “Increased reliance on volunteers.” This year, 54 percent of our respondents reported reducing staff, while 31 percent reported increased reliance on volunteers.
This cycle of increased work—reduce staff—more work is difficult to break, whether you work for a nonprofit organization or a for-profit organization. Both organizations have stakeholders, boards of directors, and funders for whom best practices and cautious use of monies are very important.
But for nonprofit organizations, the need to keep administrative costs low is increased by the tendency of donors and grantmakers to fund projects and programs rather than general expenses.
Respondents to the Spring 2018 State of Grantseeking Report generally kept their costs very low; 65 percent reported indirect/administrative costs as 20 percent or less of their total budgets. Only 23 percent of survey respondents reported these costs as over 20 percent of their budgets, while 12 percent were unsure of the budget percentage of their organization’s indirect/administrative costs.
So, the obvious conundrum is “how does one increase an organization’s capacity (and budget) while simultaneously controlling costs through reductions in staff?”
GrantStation’s CEO and Founder, Cynthia Adams, occasionally offers a webinar entitled Creating Time: Keeping the Grant Pipeline Full. In this webinar, she looks at effective and inexpensive ways to overcome this recurring problem of “not enough time,” specifically geared toward making the time in your work life to write compelling grant proposals. However, I think that her suggestions on dealing with barriers to productivity are applicable to organizations in general. Most people run up against one or more of these barriers every day—but keeping in mind some simple solutions to “finding time” may help you to overcome some of the challenges resulting from a lack of time and staff.
|Procrastination||Don’t wait for large blocks of time because it just never happens; multi-day projects can be completed in 15-minute increments.|
|Negative or short-term thinking||Watch for and question these sorts of knee-jerk reactions—set aside 20 minutes a day to think about long-term success.|
|Focusing on smaller issues rather than the bigger picture||Successful organizations devote time to both. Divide your time between the easy win of completing short-term responsibilities and the investment in longer-term issues and solutions.|
|Over-analysis eventually wastes time and energy||Folks who over-analyze tend to take a very long time to make decisions. Perfection is not always achievable, and not always required. Set a due date and stick to it.|
I recently found myself looking at this chart when, due to unforeseen circumstances, the required output for a normally time-intensive project was doubled, but the due dates (mostly) remained the same. And yes, that project was the Spring 2018 State of Grantseeking Report series.
As I dove into the data it became apparent that the grantseeking process for participating GrantStation Members resulted in different and often more positive outcomes than those for the entire body of respondents. For example, the median largest individual award for GrantStation Members was $50,000, compared to $35,000 for all respondents. For GrantStation Members, the median award total was $68,900, compared to $44,100 for all respondents.
Because of these marked differences in grantseeking, and because these reports are used as benchmarks by well over 10,000 organizations, it became clear that each report required two versions: one for all respondents and one for GrantStation Members. What was a 6-report series (State of Grantseeking in total, and by mission focus, annual budget, population-based service area, organizational age, and geographic region) suddenly become a 12-report series.
Now, perhaps like you and your organization, I didn’t have the option to hire additional staff, increase the hours of hourly staff, or extend the due dates. And I will admit to initially sneering at the chart of suggestions, because, come on, I am never guilty of any of those barriers to success ... however, after getting over my bad self, I did admit to, and try, the cures for procrastination and negative or short-term thinking.
I still did experience some internal resistance (negative thinking?) to the techniques suggested by Cindy. While looking for time to double my report productivity, I acknowledged that survey data is deep and complex, and accurately mining it, creating the graphs, and writing the reports is simply not a 15-minute-increment task. So, I turned the solution “Don’t wait for large blocks of time, because it just never happens; multi-day projects can be completed in 15-minute increments” upside down. I scheduled a 15-minute increment each hour within the reporting tasks to work on other responsibilities, most of which I could make some headway with in that short amount of time.
I also looked at the time barrier of negative thinking and knee-jerk reactions, and I forced myself to try the suggestion to set aside 20 minutes a day to think about long-term success. That 20-minute self-imposed moratorium on active, tangible, short-term progress and work (I could be updating budgets, planning promotions, reviewing the HR manual, looking at the tech priority schedule, returning emails, etc.) was almost painful to me, initially.
Like many of you, I am just not programmed to stop, especially considering ever-increasing responsibilities (like 12 reports instead of 6!) and a company with staff in time zones ranging from Alaska to Spain. But, after a week or two of the “20-minute think,” my priorities were much clearer, and I was able to simply stop some tasks that I had erroneously thought were quite important and move that time directly to projects that will be important over the next 18 months. It turns out that I didn’t so much find time as redirect time—but it was still a win.
I wish you well on your journey to find or redirect time—it is not an easy task.
And, I suggest that you download the State of Grantseeking Reports, specifically those by budget and mission focus. Because these reports are meant to serve you and to help you determine where you need to focus your time and energy within the grantseeking arena, you may consider setting aside time in your next board of directors meeting to discuss this report and how the information can be used to help you build a successful and resilient grant management strategy.
Finally, consider continued investment in tools to help organizational growth, such as Membership in GrantStation. At GrantStation, we provide the tools for you to find new grant sources, build a strong grantseeking program, and write winning grant proposals.
Ellen Mowrer is president and COO of GrantStation, a premiere online funding resource for organizations seeking grants throughout the world. Providing access to a comprehensive online database of grantmakers, GrantStation helps nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies make smarter, better-informed grantseeking decisions. GrantStation is dedicated to creating a civil society by assisting the nonprofit sector in its quest to build healthy and effective communities.