Measuring the Success of Your Fundraising Grants Program
By Robin Cabral
Nonprofits owe it to themselves to regularly and systematically assess the health of their grants management program, as doing so will help ensure success in this critical realm going forward.
Many factors affect grant writing success, including the reputation and professionalism of the organization, the quality of the program or evaluation design, the qualifications of proposed staff, the needs of the funder for diversity in the geographic distribution of awards or types of beneficiaries, and foundation giving priorities.
Analyzing baseline metrics will enable you to understand how your grants management program is faring. The following should help.
- Determine what stage your grants management program is in.
Often, what takes up a significant portion of a grants managers time is the establishment of a grants management plan through conducting comprehensive research to build a portfolio of prospective foundations. This research can take up to three months of staff time. The number of grants that your organization can write will depend on whether this research needs to be conducted. The plan will require a yearly update to ensure accuracy of application deadlines and other pertinent submission requirements. It will also require surfacing new additional funders. However, this annual refresh does not require a significant outlay of the grants managers time.
- Determine the number of grants your organization has written.
While there are no hard numbers regarding the number of applications that a grants manager should submit in a year, a small shop, full-time development director can potentially submit 20-40 private foundation proposals requesting a total $500,000 or more. In some cases, grant writing positions can be required to participate in staff meetings and functions, fundraising events, and other activities that take away from dedicated grant development time and the number of proposals that one can realistically generate. Not all grant submissions will be in the form of full proposals; some will be letters of intent or letters of inquiry.
- Review the types of grants that you are submitting.
Applying to different types of funders (foundation, corporation, government) requires varying amounts of effort. For instance, federal and state proposals are more complex and require greater time demandssometimes several months worth of work to prepareas a grant writer cannot rely on boilerplate language for such proposals. These proposals, by their very nature, are more complicated and involve a lengthy and arduous application process. Also, submitting a continuation grant will take less time than seeking a new, competitive grant application.
- Review the number of funders.
While hit rate alone is not a good indicator of competence, as many variables come into play, the number of funding requests submitted are somewhat more indicative. Review the number of grants that your organization has submitted over the past two years to see trend rates. Benchmark your organization against others of similar scope of services and size.
- Review the number of grants awarded funding.
That's the end goal of all grants management programs. A good grant writer should at least cover a percentage of their salary. Many grant writers' salaries are equivalent to about 10% of their annual fundraising goal.
- Review the overall professionalism of the grants management program.
When it comes to grant proposals the value of teamwork cannot be overstated. Highly skilled employees can lead a team project efficiently. But they can also serve as one of the workhorses, contributing ideas and knowledge and graciously accepting guidance from the team leader. Because a successful grant application requires input and collaboration from administrators, other staff members, community members, and beneficiaries, a grant development professionals ability to work with others and facilitate group processes should be a key consideration. The best grant applications demonstrate a thorough understanding of the goals and objectives of a particular program or project.
After reviewing all of these essential baseline benchmarks, you can then make an accurate assessment of the health and effectiveness of your grants management program. From here, you can determine if increased investment, a restructuring, or keeping the program operating as is makes sense. In any case, a yearly review of your grants program is an important measure to take.
Robin Cabral, principal of Development Consulting Solutions, is a certified fund raising executive who works with mid-sized nonprofits to build capacity and improve fundraising results. Email her at email@example.com or call 508-685-8899.