June 20, 2024

Peeking Under the Hood: Getting Familiar with a Funding Opportunity

When beginning a funding request, award proposal, or contract proposal, one of the first tasks is to take a whirl around their webpage and applicant information. The TGP Way described below assumes that the target has already been screened and matched – if this is not the case, more work needs to be done to create a summary of the opportunity.

Reviewing the Opportunity

Before starting this process, review the prepared summary, paying special attention to the funder’s priorities, application process, and funding history. For the latter, think through what is similar to what we’ll be pitching and what is different – there aren’t hard and fast rules, but a few questions that go through my mind are:

  • What are the patterns here?
  • What sorts of projects do they like — what would be a dream project for them in the area we’re looking at?
  • How does the net tighten from what we see in the eligibility and stated program interests (this is especially useful for funders with very broad guidelines)?

Researching the Website

There are four broad aims for this initial research (ordered from items that are more the science of grant writing to ones that are the art of grant writing):

  • Confirm fit and eligibility
  • Explore application process
  • Prioritize case-building points
  • Feel out their “personality”

These are not steps per se as they often happen concurrently. I find it helpful to open a new document and use it to cut and paste snippets or write notes speaking to the items above. Below are details for these tasks.

Confirm Fit and Eligibility

Check the obvious items like sections titled “eligibility” – but also read through whatever other info they present for eligibility “Easter eggs.” I find “FAQ” sections are excellent hunting grounds for eggs. If the summary you already scanned did not include any grants to your state, see if it looks like there are invisible geographic limitations by checking any grants databases on their website or checking the most recent 990 (for most of our clients, we’re looking for New Mexico grants, of course, but more broadly for entrenched patterns like no grants in flyover states, all to major metropolises, or sparse giving west of the Mississippi).

Explore Application Process

First off, is the deadline or lack thereof what we understood from the summary? If you are also pulling application data or creating your template or work plan, you will be getting very familiar with the application process and items. If this is a brushing pass, the main things are understanding the process and what needs early attention. For instance, if it’s an online application, can you get in? Is it a gnarly or straightforward online tool? For attachments, are they simple or do they need a head start? For instance, if they provide the budget form, it will often not match your organization’s budgeting norms and will need attention from the accounting person. How challenging are the questions or application criteria (consider if it fits your memory of boilerplate, or are there items looking to need significant research)? In thinking through these items you should also be working towards two main assessments: 1) What does this mean for the project timeline? 2) Does the work facing us jive with the estimated time available (or, does it seem reasonable for what the funder likely awards)?

Prioritize Case Building Points

Things start to get a bit mushier here. Starting with the more straightforward facets, where do the funder’s stated areas of funding interest intersect with the organization and program you are pitching? If funding criteria are listed, what does this tell you about where to spend more and less energy? What do you pick up in terms of their values or philosophy of funding (for instance, some funders like to help lots of organizations with efficient direct services, while others like to tackle systemic issues through a multi-sector rethinking of traditional interventions)? Do they have their own language, buzzwords, or core concepts? Are there logical programming additions or carve-outs for the project you’re pitching that will better fit the funder than a general request (or another program entirely!)?

Feel out their Personality

Here’s where your gut feelings and senses come into play. As a past business consultant, we used to say “Everyone has a brand; it may not be intentional, but everyone and everything has a brand.” So what is this funder’s brand? We want the “voice” in our writing to mirror and respond to this (unless there’s a clever or client-driven reason not to). What does the design of their website tell you? What does their language style tell you? What drives them? How do they talk about the issues that concern them? The basic aspects to think about are:

  • Level of formality (writing style, relationship formality)
  • Level of emotion (touching client stories, whether “caring” comes off in their language)
  • Level of modernity (old school, modern, visionary)
  • Attitude/politics (whether they stake out or indicate a worldview or strategic preference for solving problems)

This doesn’t happen often but it is important when it does: do they have a current or former founder with a clear personality/perspective? It can be helpful to anthropomorphize or metaphorically capture and distill this information so you have an easy and unified reference point. Is this funder a Mac or a PC? A Mustang or a Hummer or a Volvo or a Prius? A bubbly and enthusiastic cheerleader or a jaded but dedicated strategizer or a bean-counter who dreams of effective metrics or a tech-loving innovator? If they were a person, how would you talk to them face-to-face about the project and the agency? Given what you’ve discovered for priorities and personality, should your writing have an overarching focus, theme, meme, or story (some sort of a thread weaving through your writing)?

Conclusion

There are far too many questions in the prior sections to truly walk through for each funder. They are provided to help define a mental framework and toolbox of questions to pull from, to get you used to pulling meaning from funder websites or materials. You don’t need to make sure you know the answers to all or most of the questions above, but you do need to be able to answer the four below:

  • Confirm fit and eligibility – Is this a good match? Note that answers other than “heck yeah” and “heck no” usually mean a call or email to the funder is appropriate
  • Explore application process – What are we in for on this one?
  • Prioritize case building points – What do I need to make sure to emphasize?
  • Feel out their “personality” – What should our writing voice be?

 

Contact: Aly Sanchez, Director of Strategy & Organizational Development, aly@thegrantplantnm.com


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