Fear of Missing Out: Setting a Grant Strategy to Prioritize Funding Leads
The grants world is fraught with deadlines, and given that attracting new and recurring funding is often a high-stakes proposition, there is naturally a “Fear of Missing Out.” As defined by Wikipedia, Fear of Missing Out, or “FOMO,” is “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.” And none of us want our nonprofit to be unaware, or “absent from,” what is sure to be the perfect grant for our work. Which, of course, is large, multi-year, unrestricted, general operating support, right? Many nonprofit development professionals carry the weight of this expectation on their shoulders as they are tasked with securing the necessary resources for their nonprofits to do the good work that they do in the community.
So, how do you know if you’re missing out? When are you confident that your grant-seeking approach is on the right track? As we enter 2020, below are some ideas to consider to set your grant strategy for the coming year.
Determine funding priorities: While your nonprofit likely has several areas that could use funding, ask yourself what your most urgent and important needs are. In terms of your grant strategy, determine which areas are most attractive to grant makers. While nonprofits often need funding for items like building maintenance (new carpet, a working toilet, etc.), these items might best be left funded by individual donations or earned revenue. You will likely have better luck asking funders to support your mission-driven work.
Do your research: This is probably the most important step to eliminate FOMO! Sitting down for a concentrated period of time to determine which funders and grant opportunities align with your organization’s mission, programs, and priorities might be time consuming, but it is time well spent. We have found that it takes at least 20 hours of research to develop a strong initial prospect list; for a more comprehensive list, this estimate heads into the 80–100 hour range. But putting in this time will enable you to pursue opportunities that have a higher likelihood of resulting in funding, ultimately saving you time later and increasing your organization’s return on investment. As you research what is available, consider funders’ affinity (for example, mission alignment, whether the funder has made grants to similar organizations and in your geographic area, any mutual contacts that can be leveraged), their giving capacity (how much funding is available, how many grants are made, the size of an average grant award), and the time it will take to prepare a strong application. Good resources for finding this information include:
- The Grants Collective
- Candid (formerly Foundation Center and GuideStar; these organizations merged in 2019)
- Grants.gov, the federal government’s online grant portal
- Beta.sam.gov, where you can find all federal government assistance listings
- Grant lists maintained by organizations working in your focus area (for example, Afterschool Alliance, Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, or School and Youth Garden grants)
- Annual reports from similar organizations that identify their funding sources
And don’t discount the power of Google! You might come across new RFPs or other information that is not available in a database.
Create a calendar: Once you identify the best prospects, it is time to set your calendar for the next 12–18 months. First, determine which funders have hard deadlines that must be met; then, starting with the most promising funders, create internal deadlines for submitting letters of interest or proposals (as appropriate to each funder’s guidelines). Take the time to go through application requirements, so you know how much time to block off. Consider your own capacity when doing so and plan around things like annual events, holidays, and vacations. If you’re unsure of deadlines, many federal agencies issue funding forecasts or are able to respond to questions outside of open funding cycles, so be sure to inquire. Private foundations vary widely in how open they are to inquiries; for those that are not, use last year’s information if 2020 data is not yet available. Many grants come out on identical or similar cycles annually.
Manage expectations: This research will help you understand what types of grants are out there for your organization. Be sure to communicate this to your executive director, board, and other stakeholders. It is important to remember that while there are six-figure grants available, they are not available to all nonprofits. Some considerations that may affect whether your organization would be competitive for larger grants include the amount of time you have been incorporated, the type of work you do and its reach (for example, is it impactful at a local, state, regional, or national level?), whether you are prepared to manage a more complicated grant (federal grants in particular have stringent requirements), and the past performance of your organization and any limitations that might affect your ability to attract funding (for example, audit findings, poor performance on a prior grant, negative media coverage). You might also need to help educate stakeholders on funder priorities. While the Gates Foundation has a lot of money (an understatement), that does not necessarily mean that your work is aligned with their giving, which is largely research-based education in the United States and focused on developing countries internationally—but someone will surely ask you if you have applied to the Gates Foundation yet! Helping everyone involved understand the realities of grant seeking helps mitigate unrealistic expectations—and that fear of missing out.
As you prepare to start submitting proposals, involve as many allies as possible to help ensure you are reaching the right funders, making the right connections, highlighting your organization’s strengths, and increasing awareness about the work your organization does. Ideas that can take your grant strategy to the next level include:
- Leverage staff/board member connections with corporations, foundations, and program officers for introductions and advice
- Connect with companies and foundations by attending local events and networking opportunities
- Explore nominations for your nonprofit’s work or that of the executive director or board to get your organization’s name out in the community, increase awareness, and attract funding
- Stay tuned to social media and shamelessly plug your organization’s work and that of your partners, share best practices, and stay up to date with funders’ work, focus areas, and deadlines. Since FOMO is actually a term that comes from our era’s involvement in social media, use it to your advantage!
- Attend and present at conferences and convenings to highlight your work
- Partner with local and national leaders in your focus area; build off one another’s’ strengths and consider collaborative funding opportunities
- Prepare applications with enough time for robust feedback from internal and external stakeholders; often having someone unfamiliar with your organization read your proposal will help identify information gaps or leaps in reasoning that you can fill prior to sending it in to a potential funder
So, you have completed extensive research to determine who to apply to this year, you’ve set a grant calendar, and you are churning out funding proposals. Amidst all this work, you learn about a new grant opportunity that was just released with a 30-day turn around time. What do you do?
This might be one of the key issues at the heart of FOMO when it comes to grants! The funder might even be encouraging you to apply. But to be most successful, make sure you take the time to determine where this fits into your funding strategy and available resources. Consider:
- Does it fit with your previously identified high priorities for the year?
- Is it aligned with your strategic plan or goals?
- What is the opportunity cost? In other words, what do you need to put aside to pursue this new opportunity?
- How much is the grant worth? Will it require additional staffing or other resources? Are you prepared to execute on it if awarded? Would it detract from your other work?
- Do you have the resources to pull together the proposal in time? Is there required information that you are currently lacking?
To make the most of your time in deciding whether to apply to a new RFP, review the article “Why Reading Grant Guidelines Is Not Like Eating an Elephant”—as stated here, your goal is to determine, quickly, whether you even should read the RFP. Determining eligibility and potential hurdles up front will help you make better-informed decisions about whether to pursue opportunities as they come up and adjust your grant strategy if needed.
4. Follow Up
As you go through the year, keep track of your successes and opportunities for improvement. Be sure to analyze your success rate. Where have you been most successful in securing grant funding? Is there a pattern in terms of the type of funder attracted to your work, or is there greater affinity for a particular program for which you are seeking funding? You can use these to your advantage as you continue to seek grant funding. And let other funders know of the partnerships you now hold—often funders do not want to be the only one to the party, so your success in securing funds from others will often be a positive review factor.
Review what proposals are pending. Has it been a while since you submitted a proposal but you don’t yet know the outcome? If so, it might be worth a call to the program officer to discuss it. Or were you declined? If so, can you find out why and continue to build that relationship to be successful in the future? Is it a no for now, or a no forever? Remember to take the time to thank a foundation for their time spent in reviewing your proposal, even if you were declined, as this will help you build a good relationship. Keep those relationships at the forefront, as it is a way to not only partner on the work you are doing with funders, but also an inroads to those funders that have invitation-only application processes.
We recommend you review your calendar monthly and make note of successes and challenges. As you do so, continue to update your research—researching potential funding leads is not a one-and-done proposition! While you might have a good start, set aside time on a routine basis to continually identify new prospects. This too will help eliminate FOMO! If you have a consistent strategy, it allows you to be proactive rather than reactive so you can pursue strong leads instead of long shots.
Follow the ideas outlined here, and your grant seeking will be off to a strong start for 2020! And you won’t be missing out on grants that your organization “should” be getting. If The Grant Plant can help you with your grant-seeking needs this year, be sure to be in touch!
Contact: Erin Hielkema, Vice President, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 While in an ideal world, funders would invest in the infrastructure of nonprofits, this is unfortunately not the case for most funders. Continue to educate funders about the importance of underwriting operating costs—whether they are “sexy” or not—but also be strategic in your asks.  The origin of FOMO is the availability of information on social media, as we see everyone’s lives, often at their best and most fulfilling, which can lead to anxiety about one’s own friendships and experiences.
This post was filed under: Prospect Research