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Building a Stellar Grants Committee

Building a Stellar Grants CommitteeHere’s a question for you:

Do you struggle with having enough time and/or staff to research, write, and submit grant requests?

Oh, wait! Let me answer that for you:

Yes, yes you do.

Now that we have clarified the issue, let’s talk about what can be done to address it.

Years ago, when I was a full-time development director for a public radio and television station, I realized there was no way I had the time to write and submit as many grant requests as we needed (and deserved)! I knew the importance of keeping the grant pipeline full and always having requests out there working for us, but it was just impossible to make this happen.

I decided that I needed help if I wanted to create a strong grantseeking program within the organization. I knew drawing on the board of directors for this type of help was not going to work. Their plates were already full just governing the organization. So I formed a Grantwriting Committee. I decided early on that this "committee" would be fairly large, with each task clearly defined and requiring different skills.

My first step was to articulate the objectives—the outcomes—I expected from the committee's work. Then I had to develop and adopt a committee recruitment process, really thinking through the skill sets I needed to achieve those objectives. And, of course, I then had to find the individuals with those skill sets to serve on the committee.

Always begin by identifying your organization's objectives for securing grants, because if you don’t it is both difficult to move forward and difficult to measure the committee's achievements.

You want to think through and develop these objectives before you begin recruitment for your committee, because the objectives will help inform the skill sets you need on your committee.

You will want to adopt a very targeted recruitment process, as this is key to developing a successful committee.

Focus on the skills you need, looking to find individuals who want to enhance those skills. They may be passionate about what your organization does, or they may just be somewhat interested. But the key here is they want to enhance their own skills. You are building a committee of individuals who are eager to challenge themselves, and want to develop their own skills.

The roles I found most useful included:

  • Researcher: builds your case for support—your statement of need. You want this person to be somewhat analytical and able to make connections between facts and figures.
  • Writer: takes all of the information and turns it into a compelling request for support.
  • Graphic designer: takes the data you provide and develops charts and graphs, or creates any visual that will strengthen the request.
  • Copyeditor: reviews the entire proposal before it is submitted, making sure it is grammatically clean.
  • Bookkeeper or accountant: generates the budget for the request.
  • Proposal coordinator: reviews all of the grant guidelines and assembles the final package. 

There are a few other roles that are helpful, such as someone familiar with evaluation, but these six committee members will make developing and submitting proposals so much easier.

Now, I have to point out something here! You are basically writing a proposal using a committee—and that is never a good idea unless you bring in a final editor who will rewrite everything so it is in one voice. One. Voice. This is super important. Without it, the proposal won’t flow.

Once you have your committee in place, you then have to keep the lines of communication flowing. Letting folks know when one of the team members finishes his or her assigned tasks, or another team member has uncovered something interesting, will help keep other committee members on task and energized.

Just remember to keep these communications very short, to the point, and somewhat graphically interesting so committee members will actually read them.

Regular communication is motivating for volunteers. Lack of it is one of the chief reasons volunteers become dissatisfied.

Remember, you’re the driver for each proposal. You can’t hand things off to your committee members and just sit back and wait for the results. Trust me! You’ll be waiting a long time.

Building a Stellar Grants CommitteeYour committee members will drop the ball now and then. You can count on it. Not always, not often (or they should be dropped from the committee), but it will happen. When you see someone is struggling with a deadline, you have to step in and take over the job. You are the red figure that you see in this graphic. You keep things connected.

This is a crucial role.

If you don’t do this, the volunteer will feel as if he or she& failed and will probably quit the committee. If you can save the project, and the volunteer's pride, try to do so.

There are many details I haven’t discussed in this post, but I hope it plants some new ideas on how you might approach your grantseeking in 2017.

You may also wish to invest in an Annual GrantStation Membership to assist you in your grants management.

Building a Stellar Grants CommitteeThe preceding is a guest post by Cynthia Adams, CEO 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.

Topics: Fundraising Grantwriting