November 9, 2017

In Grant Writing, Getting Ready is (More Than) Half the Struggle

As the end of the year looms closer, it is a good time to take stock of where your organization stands and think about how to make next year’s grant writing better and more successful. A big part of that is getting organized. If you’re reading this, you probably work for an organization interested in pursuing grants and may have already suffered from a headache or two related to getting a submission together. It’s likely you know about the crazy rush to assemble documents and the stress of last-minute reviews to make sure your submission is competitive and complete. While some deadlines are stressful no matter what, in most cases, there are ways to avoid the scramble and set yourself up for fewer headaches. At The Grant Plant, we strongly advocate doing some prep ahead of time to streamline your work after an RFP comes out. Following the guidance below will make submissions smoother, easier, and reduces the risk of missing a key component of the proposal.

First, get your registrations in order:

  • Check on your Attorney General and Secretary of State status. Many RFPs will require proof that these are up-to-date.
  • Register as a New Mexico-owned or veteran-owned business (if applicable). This can get you extra points on state and county RFPs (usually a 5-10% scoring bump). The process is not hard, but it does take a while, so it’s best to do it when you aren’t facing an imminent deadline. There is a $35 fee, but it puts your organization in more competitive standing for grants and contracts.
  • Make sure you are registered and up to date in, in the federal government’s System for Awards Management (SAM), and with the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) (if applying for federal assistance). Make sure that you designate someone as Authorized Representative when you register—this is an extra layer of work, but is required for you to submit via And, very importantly, write this information down and store it somewhere you and other staff will not forget it. For instance, it can be tricky to get back into the system if the person who registered as the Authorized Representative leaves your organization and no one else knows how to log into the system.
  • Are your Guidestar and Share New Mexico profiles up to date? Locally, more and more funders are looking at ShareNM profiles as part of grant submissions, and many funders nationally review Guidestar information. Take the time to make sure both of these are currently reflective of your organization.

Then, get your organizational documents in order:

  • Do organizational and program budgets exist? Are they up-to-date and board approved?
  • Organization’s most recent audit (if applicable) or financial statements. Do you have the most recent year copies of these? If you are submitting part-way through the year, do you have year-to-date financials by the most recent quarter?
  • Do you have the most recent year’s tax forms? If your organization filed for an extension, when will the most recent year be available?
  • Make sure the board list is up-to-date. Has anyone joined or left your organization’s board recently? Also, be as complete as possible in your board list—note contact information and professional affiliations, who sits on which committees, and each member’s term dates.
  • Are key staff résumés up-to-date? Is the last time your staff updated their résumés when they were hired by your organization? Make sure each person’s résumé shows his or her current role. If any staff person recently received a promotion, accolade, or credential, are those reflected in his or her résumé? (Better yet, it can be nice to format everyone’s résumés the same so they are the same length and look alike—this is an aesthetic suggestion though, and not critical.)
  • Is the organizational chart up to date? Not every organization keeps an organizational chart, but funders frequently want to see this. If you do have one, have you added programs, gained or lost staff people, or promoted anyone recently? If you don’t have one, consider making one because it may come in handy.
  • Do you know where an electronic copy of your IRS 501(c)(3) letter is?
  • Do you have a listing of the race/ethnicity and gender for your staff and board? This important inventory has been coming up with more frequency.

(Note: it is general best practice to place the above public information on your website—then you can simply link to it in cases where you are not required to provide the full documents.)

Other things you can do to help get prepared:

  • Nail down your program description. This is as helpful in general conversation as it is in grant writing. You need to get people who have never heard of your work to understand quickly the value of your program. If you can’t describe what you do in a couple of paragraphs or a 20-30 second pitch, you’re probably not ready for prime time.
  • Create S(pecific) M(easurable) A(ttainable) R(ealistic) T(ime-bound) objectives. You do not need to wait for an RFP to be SMART on whether your program is a success. No matter what, being able to measure and track accomplishments is a good thing. It can help you track progress over time and make a stronger case about your programs—to funders, your board, and community partners.
  • Consider a Logic Model or other visual representation of your program. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Using visuals to show how a program functions can be a good tool when designing your program, and can be a concise and effective means of portraying how your program works. The act of creating a logic model or other visual representation of your program can also be a useful exercise when project planning out a program too—visuals can help you identify gaps and weak areas more easily. These can also come in handy when marketing the program because people tend to respond well to visuals.

This may seem like a long to-do list, and you can take it one step at a time. Knowing what to expect and ensuring that you are prepared before you get hit with a short deadline will make proposal writing much less stressful and chaotic. Having your documents in order and handy can help with other tasks too, like marketing, individual donor fundraising, and reporting—there’s no downside to keeping records complete and up-to-date!

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