The Grant Writer's Sanity Saver

Filed under "Raising Money"

Fill in the blank: "It takes a village to ____________." 

If you're a grant writer, you're likely to say "complete a grant application," after which you might ask, "How does a grant writer organize the work of all of the villagers?"

Here's an example of what I mean: 

ABC Homes, a nonprofit developer of affordable housing, applies for funding to create a community garden on one of its properties. The garden ABC installed last year, on another property, was a huge success. Data collected by staff show that almost all of the property’s residents: 1) plant and tend the garden, and 2) report significantly increased access to fresh produce, significantly increased consumption of produce, and reduced food bills.

The grant writer (GW) needs help assembling the grant application, due on December 1. She asks:
  • the property manager (PM) to take pictures of the site where he plans to install the garden;
  • the tenant organizer (TO) to get two letters of support from tenants;
  • the other tenant organizer (OTO) to track down the aforementioned garden data, which somehow disappeared when ABC moved its offices last month;
  • the book keeper for ABC's most current financial statements;
  • the assistant property manager for the garden project budget;
  • etc.
She asks for these by November 28.

Fast forward:
  • November 28, 5:00 p.m.: GW notes that some coworkers have not submitted their documentation.
  • November 29, 9:00 a.m.: GW sends the offenders a reminder email, requesting documentation by the end of the day.
  • November 30: GW is home, sick with the flu. Good thing most of the application is done; all that remains to do is attach the attachments and click on "send" (on the electronic application).
  • December 1:
    • 8:00 a.m.: GW, looking a bit wan, is the first person in the office. She checks her email for PM's photos. No email. Decides to retrieve agency camera from PM's desk and upload photos herself. PM's desk is locked. The spare desk key has been lost in last month's move. GW decides to ambush PM as soon as he gets in and demand photos before he does anything else. Then she learns that he has left for a week-long meditattion retreat in the Himalayas.
    • 8:20 a.m.: GW finds the tenants' letters of support in her mailbox. While the tenants say supportive things about ABC in the letter, they say nothing about the proposed garden. In fact, the tenants who wrote the letters don't live on either the property with the existing garden or the property where the second one will be created.
    • 9:03 a.m. GW asks the other tenant organizer for the garden data.
      • OTO: "What stats? You never asked me for stats."
      • GW: "I did! I even sent you a reminder email. It said 'Friendly Reminder' in the subject line."
      • OTO: "You've sent three 'friendly reminders' this week. The first two asked people what they were bringing to the potluck. I didn't open the third since I'd already told you hummus and chips."
Suffice to say that GW left work at the end of the day looking considerably more wan than she did at the beginning.

The Grant Writer's Sanity Saver is a tool that can help grant seekers avoid these kinds of situations. It is a work plan template that helps:
  • the grant writer to clearly communicate who is responsible for which jobs and what each job entails;
  • the grant writer to make sure that all jobs get assigned; and
  • everyone else involved to understand what is expected of them.
How to use it:      
  • Step 1: Grant writer completes as much of the tool as possible.
  • Step 2: With the executive director's help, the grant writer calls a meeting of all people whose help s/he needs. (Call a meeting. Don't rely on sending an email or talking to people individually. You can't reliably do Step 3 effectively without a meeting. Trust me.) Hold this meeting as early in the grant- writing process as possible. (Give the OTO enough time to wade through all of the yet-unpacked boxes that were stacked in the office storage room on the day after the move.)
  • Step 3: All present discuss the work plan. (Is it doable? Can it be improved? What problems might arise?) They amend it and agree to the final version.
  • Step 4: By date set at the group's meeting, GW makes changes and emails the finalized document to all involved, who reply in writing that they have received it and agree to their assignments.

Here's an example of the application of the Sanity Saver, using the example above.

Grant Writer's Sanity Saver

Prospective Funder:
Application Due Date:
Decoy Due Date (This is your organization's internal target completion date: It reminds you to schedule each task to allow for unexpected delays.)

Who Does It
What is the deliverable? How many?To whom delivered? How?
Photos of garden site
4 photos of future garden site & 4 of existing garden, as attachments, emailed to GW

Tenants' support letters
1 letter from tenant who uses existing garden on how s/he has benefited, & 1 letter from tenant of apt./ site of future garden on why tenants want a 2nd garden

Data on first garden's benefits to tenants
...you get the idea ...

and so on...

The "Status" column is useful if the grant writer calls more than one meeting. It can give you an opportunity to identify problems with the plan's execution - in time to do something about it.

If you have other sanity savers for grant writers, I'd love to hear about them.