October 30, 2012

The Grant Calendar: Planning Your Funding Approach Doesn’t Need to be Spooky

While Halloween comes only once per year, you have the opportunity to “trick-or-treat” year round while seeking grants. While you may not realize it, grantseeking and trick-or-treating can be similar in many ways. Both events require special planning to ensure successful outcomes. Let’s think more about it as we take a look at the grant calendar – what it does and why it is so important…

You put a good deal of time and effort deciding what you want to be for Halloween. As a grantseeker, you have spent seemingly endless hours of research identifying funders with the most potential to fulfill your organization’s funding needs. You think you have a good list of prospects and you’re ready to get the ball rolling on the application process. But where do you start? Who do you apply to first? Should you just pick one and start writing? Don’t go trick-or-treating in the wrong neighborhood! There are many factors that need to be considered; for example, which of your organization’s programs have priority, which funders have upcoming deadlines, how many of these funders can you commit to apply to per month? What you need is a plan. You need to develop a strategy that prioritizes and strategizes the funders identified in your research – what you need is a grant calendar.

A grant calendar establishes a timeline that outlines a funding strategy for your organization. It’s a strategy that keeps spooky deadlines from sneaking up on you! Developing a grant calendar can be a daunting task, and it is often a task that is bypassed or slighted as many are just ready to move on from the researching stage or perhaps do not understand the benefit of a calendar. But this step is important. No, it is more than important, it is essential – just like red hair is critical in a Strawberry Shortcake costume, glasses and a wand are needed to be transformed into Harry Potter, and an eye patch is key to a pirate costume. The grant calendar is essential in order to develop a manageable and efficient grant approach. A grant calendar will help streamline the funding strategy and ensure that deadlines and optimal funding streams are not missed or overlooked. This article will present a logical process that can be used to create a grant calendar and in turn help your organization plan and manage a grant approach strategy for the year.

The Calendar Creation Process….it’s not that scary

The first step to assembling a grant calendar is to develop a calendar template. This template can take many forms. I prefer to use a spreadsheet arranged by month for a 12 month period. The calendar should detail the funding sources to be approached each month and any other information that may be helpful in applying. For example, you may include the compatible focus area, deadlines, project status, and any notes on the application approach or other bits of useful information. An example template is given below:

Month to pursue Funder Focus Area Request Amount Deadline Status / Award Action /  Notes
October Jane Doe Foundation Literacy Program $15,000 October 1 Writing stage Complete online application

After a template is developed, it is time to build your grant approach strategy for the year. To do this, prioritize and insert the funders that you have identified from your research into your calendar template. This may be harder than you think, but if you use a logistical approach it’s really not too bad, and in fact can be rewarding to see how deadlines fit together throughout the year. Consider using the following methods to assist in calendar development:

  • Prioritize your organization’s funding needs. You have already completed the research and pulled a list of funders that are compatible, perhaps targeting a number of your organization’s programs. Many funders may fit more than one program and you will need to determine which program to target per funder. This involves identifying which projects have the greatest priority.
  • Rank the funder. It is important to develop a consistent method to identify which funders are the best matches for your programs. Develop a matrix or other approach that uses a uniform set of standards to assess each funder. Examples of standards include program focus correlation, geographic focus, giving presence in the state, examples of similar projects funded, and the organization’s relationship with the funder, if any. Some organizations set up a weighted matrix of variables and calculate a ranking.
  • Plug funders with pre-defined deadlines into the calendar. These are funders that have stated specific dates regarding when proposals are accepted. There is not much wiggle room with these funders, so it works best to place them where they need to be in the calendar first, and then work around them. Funders with pre-defined deadlines are one reason that a 12-month calendar is ideal. If you just missed a deadline for a good prospect, make sure and include it in your calendar for next year (many deadlines are very similar for the following year).
  • Use funders with no deadlines to fill in the rest of your calendar. Establish a goal regarding how much time you want to commit to the application process. Integrate better matches earlier and prioritize corporate giving programs, as these tend to run out of money toward the end of the year. Pay attention to the recommended application approach (email introduction, letter of intent, full proposal, etc.) to help estimate application preparation times for each month. You may also note board meeting dates when proposals will be reviewed and try to align proposal submission a few weeks beforehand to get on the review docket.
  • Take your own organization’s needs into consideration. You may have an annual conference, donor dinner, or other event to which key staff dedicate their time. You may know that the Executive Director is on vacation the first week of July. Be sure to take these types of scheduling conflicts into consideration when preparing your calendar.
  • Note the funders that do not fit in the calendar. You may have matching funders from your research that just do not fit in the calendar. Include these funders and their ranking in a notes section below the calendar. They can be used to fill gaps when needed, or might become optimal fits for new programs or current programs that take on a heightened funding need.
  • Maintain/re-work the calendar. The calendar should be an evolving document that is updated with new funders and deadlines as they arise. You can also use the calendar to track application processes and award results throughout the year. Re-work the calendar at least annually, if not more frequently. In addition to new research, make sure to review calendars from previous years and include funders that are still applicable.

Developing a grant calendar does take time initially, but after the calendar is established it is easy to maintain and to build upon. The calendar acts as a quick-reference document and encourages a well-thought out funding approach. Its essential, just like a good Halloween costume is to enjoy the annual Halloween party or trick-or-treating event. It takes time to get all dressed up, but its worth it!

Just remember to say “trick-or-treat” in a compelling fashion…

Contact: Wendy McCoy, Resource Development Officer, wendy@thegrantplantnm.com

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