PSGA Ken's Corner

Observations and advice on grant writing from the other side of the desk

Things I’d do now for 2017

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It’s mid-November and New Year’s Day 2017 is less than two months away.

While end-of-year-end targets still loom, there are key tasks for the coming year. You may not get all of them done now, but at least you’ll have them on a to-do list if you get organized now. And all of these items can help you write better proposals in the coming year and make writing them easier.

Also, all of these are things you need to make look at whenever you begin writing grants for a new organization, no matter what time of year you start your new job.

So what would my list be? Here’s a few item, and if you think of others, please add them as comments.

  • Update any boilerplate you plug into grant requests such as history, mission, and an outline of programs.

Have things changed since the last time these items were written. Is there a change in the clients you serve, the numbers served each year, or other key information? Is there a way to make what you have more compelling? For example, did you learn something in the last year about why and how your organization was founded that adds a dimension to what you’ve been sharing? And, to the extent this is an elevator speech, can you make it shorter and thus, more compelling.

  • Get an updated copy of the current year’s budget, actual expenditures, and next year’s proposed budget.

Many applications ask for an organization’s operating budget in addition to a program or project budget specific to the grant application. Always have current documents available so you don’t have to search them out later.

  • Get an updated board list for the next year and check the resumes you have on file for key people. Are there changes, either recently or coming up in the near future?

It’s also a good idea to see if you can shorten long resumes when appropriate.

  • Talk to people who deliver program, staff and/or volunteers, and ask what changes they’ve seen in the past year.

Program people, whether volunteers or staff, are the ones who see changes first in who is asking for services and how services are delivered. And if the executive director spends time delivering services, ask that person how they see the balance between services and the executive director role.

  • Look at your past year’s grants and check the schedule for grant reports. Have you missed a report or is one coming up during the busy holiday season?

If you’re late with a report the holidays are a great time to submit a late report and ask for forgiveness.

  • Update service data

While numbers don’t tell the whole story, they’re still important. Make sure you have the updated number for the end of the year, both in units of service and in unduplicated client count. Also, make sure you have a good grasp of the demographics and the geography that programs serve.

You can also ask key people about plans for the upcoming year. Even if there are no firm targets or goals, people still may have a sense of how many people will be served and how many units of service are likely—as well as how many more could be served if there were more resources.

  • Review the past, current, and future plans for income streams. Have they changed or are there changes in the works?

Does the organization earn any income through fees, sales, or other means? Are there government grants or other key sources for the organization as a whole or particular programs? And finally, what role do private grants and individual fundraising play in the organization? Even if the money you raise through those sources isn’t large, it still may play a critical role in programs.

  • Review your computer filing system.

This is one that has personally affected me in the several years. Software programs are often set up to save documents to a folder unique to the program. For example, Word files go into a Word folder, Excel documents into an Excel folder, and so on. But more and more projects contain word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and PDF files. This means having to remember what program generated a document so that you open the right file location.

If you don’t already, set up folders for files by project. No matter what software you use, the file goes in that project folder (or subfolder as needed). Then use Windows Explorer or a similar file system to look for files by project. You get to see all of the files and clicking on the file name automatically launches the right software for that file. Now you don’t have to remember what program created what document.


Author: Ken Ristine

40 years experience in the nonprofit sector; Senior Program Officer for a Pacific Northwest family foundation. Co-author with Goodwin Deacon of the recently published Grantsmanship for the Genius.

One thought on “Things I’d do now for 2017

  1. So practical and thorough! I’m passing this on to our grant writer and setting a date for us to review when it is completed. It will be a great way to make sure I am up to speed as well for the conversations I have out in the community!

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