The team funders need to see

Hiring a grants professional (e.g., a consultant or a salaried associate) can be a balancing act. Writing grant proposals is time consuming and usually not the best use of a busy executive director’s time. But, the director is often the one with the best grasp of both the big vision and the nuts and bolts of the project.

“The leader needs to be involved,” said Holly Thompson, contributing editor for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “Even the most experienced grants professional needs input and direction from the organization’s leadership to develop a winning proposal. Without collaboration, the grant seeking process can go off track,” she said.

Effective collaboration happens when the organization’s leader and the grants professional understand their roles and can combine their strengths and knowledge to steer the grant seeking process together. To knock the proposal out of the park, Thompson said the leader and the professional should be on the same page about:

  • Organizational strategy and priorities. The strongest case for funding is made in the context of the organization’s strategic priorities and future plans. Where is the organization headed, and which programs or aspects of the organization’s work are especially important right now? How will additional funding advance these goals?
  • Budget parameters. The grants professional must understand the funding needed in both strategic and numeric terms. Understanding what is needed and why helps the grants professional find the right funding prospects and craft the “right ask.”
  • History with the grant maker. The grants professional should be briefed on the organization’s history with the funder, such as any past funding, partnerships, or interactions that might impact the approach and the ask. Are there individuals in the organization (e.g., board members, volunteers) who have contacts at the grant making institution and can make an introduction or advocate on the organization’s behalf? Be clear about who will make contacts and manage the cultivation process.
  • Roles and strategies for site visits. Some funders are content to interface with the grants professional, while others will not approve funding without first having met the leader (and in some cases, a board member). Whoever is slated to attend the site visit, the leader and grants professional should work together to develop agendas, assign roles and discuss the best approach to the funder. The site visit is your chance to showcase the organization to the funder.

When organizations are under pressure to get funding, it can be easy for leaders and grants professionals to sidestep important strategic conversations and work in silos. “This can waste a lot of the organization’s time and money and also jeopardize funding,” said Thompson. “Successful grant seeking demands an ‘all in’ approach — from the top down.”