Be Alert and Adaptable For Most Impact

Some grant proposals address single-issue problems with straightforward responses. For children who are reading below grade level, managers might propose a research-based tutoring program. In response to limited community transportation, leaders could propose expansion of its van fleet. 

With uncomplicated programs, it’s not difficult to assess whether you’re implementing activities as planned and achieving the results you expected. The tutoring program will track class attendance and changes in reading skills. The transportation project will track expanded van routes and up-ticks in riders. 

“But even straight-forward programs operate within complex community systems,” said Barbara Floersch, grants expert and author of You Have a Hammer: Building Grant Proposals for Social Change. “Problems don’t exist in isolation. They’re interconnected.” With a little extra attention, every grant-funded program can help connect the dots between seemingly uncomplicated problems and the issues within the ecosystem that produce those problems. 

To have the most impact, look at every program as an opportunity to learn more about the problem you’re addressing and how to prevent it from recurring. While it’s important to adhere to the activities and outcomes defined in the grant proposal, don’t let those requirements become blinders that keep you from seeing and responding to new information. The grant narrative is a blueprint for action, not a straitjacket. Communicate openly with funders about fresh insights, changing situations, and needed course corrections. “Funders want their money to produce significant results,” said Floersch. “If you’ve found tweaks that can up the impact, they’ll be all for it.”

Be alert to unexpected information and consider how it can guide you toward increased effectiveness. For example, you might find that most students who don’t read well are homeless, hungry, or from under-resourced communities. Or, you might learn that community members feel unsafe waiting at bus stops. With an expanded perspective of the problem, you could need to engage other service providers to help address the intersecting issues you hadn’t initially considered. 

“Engaging the community in designing the program and the evaluation will help alleviate drastic redirects, but things do change, and we do learn as we go,” said Floersch. “Community needs and conditions are always in flux, and the roots of a seemingly straight-forward problem are likely to run deep and intertwine with other issues.” Remaining alert and responsive to emerging information and stakeholder needs puts you in the sweet spot for making a lasting difference. ©21021 Barbara Floersch