Avoiding the last-minute proposal

Dashing off a grant proposal to meet a deadline is sometimes unavoidable, “but don’t make a habit of it,” warned Holly Thompson, contributing editor for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “It’s not enough to just ‘get it done’ and ‘get it in.’ Planning ahead and taking the time to craft a polished proposal is a must for winning grants.”

Putting in long days (and nights) to get multiple applications out of the door is not the best strategy. Such proposals often give themselves away with grammar mistakes and inconsistencies, illogical arguments, and pitches that aren’t well matched to the funders’ interests. Sloppy, rushed grant seeking also exhausts staff, which can lead to burnout and turnover.

“Careless proposals get noticed,” Thompson said. “They tell funders that the organization didn’t do its homework and didn’t think through its pitch. This makes a bad impression.” Thompson had this advice for avoiding last-minute crunches:

  • Focus on quality, not volume. Nonprofit leaders often feel pressure to get lots of proposals into play. But a push for volume without equal focus on quality is a recipe for rejection. It results in staff overload, repeated last-minute crunch periods, and clumsily written proposals. If you don’t have time to craft a solid proposal, you’re better off waiting until the next deadline. Make it great for the next round.
  • Think longer term. Shed a short-term mindset.Plan. Do your homework on funders and the issues they support. Figure out how best to cultivate relationships with grant makers, establish a strategy, and delegate tasks for the development team to complete — possibly over the course of an entire year.
  • Vet funding opportunities. Carefully select funders that are a good fit with your program. Don’t waste time submitting proposals that only marginally align with a funder’s interests. Time spent on solid prospect research pays off.

By doing due diligence on a funder, spending time to build a relationship, and working thoroughly and thoughtfully, you greatly boost your chances of getting funded. “Don’t cut corners on the process,” Thompson said. “It’s not about how much you do. It’s about how well you do it.”