Go and No-Go Decisions When Competing
nonprofit management tips

Preparing a highly competitive federal grant proposal is an intense process that requires significant energy and resources. For staff members leading the charge, it can be an all-consuming marathon that lasts for weeks.

“If there’s a real possibility of winning a well-targeted award, investing the time and effort is a reasonable risk,” said Barbara Floersch, executive director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “But the decision to enter a federal competition should be based on as much information as you can gather.”

The golden rule of grantseeking dictates that a grant opportunity must align with a nonprofit’s mission and priorities. Once that’s settled, logistical questions arise. Can you dedicate the staff hours to the application, or would competing pull staff away from other critical work? Is needed expertise on hand and, if not, can you get it and at what price? Is community support in place or will extensive outreach be required? Can you commit the required matching resources or line them up quickly? “Once you’ve settled the philosophical and logistical questions, it’s time for the toughest part of the assessment,” said Floersch. “Do you think you can win?”

Can you deliver exactly what the feds want? Federal funders seldom undertake a generalized fishing expedition. They know what they’re after. Study the application guidelines as if you are a detective. If the competition was offered previously, investigate the funded projects and consider the types of organizations that won. Does your organization’s plan line up exactly with the funder’s interests and requirements? Any misalignment will cost points when your proposal is reviewed and may be cause enough to forego the competition.

What are the odds? Even if your organization has every piece in place, the competition will be stiff. But how stiff? When the feds expect to make 30 or more awards out of a field of 500 applicants, that’s not a bad shot if you’ve got the goods. But what if the odds are 15 out of 500? 5 out of 500? What if just one award is expected?

“If you don’t try you can’t win,” said Floersch. “But playing smart means pacing yourself and deciding when an all-out effort is worth the toll it takes on staff, the fatigue of community partners, and the costs associated with expert input.” © Copyright 2017 The Grantsmanship Center