Effective Grant Proposals Engage Funders as Partners
Book You Have a Hammer

Grant proposals are really a way to provide potential funders with an opportunity to participate in meaningful, changemaking work with their nonprofit grantees—not about chasing dollars—as expertly outlined in You Have a Hammer: Building Grant Proposals for Social Change.

Author Barbara Floersch provides an unending flow of insights and advice, based on more than four decades of experience, on how to develop grant proposals that accomplish two overarching goals: get the fuel, i.e., money, that will enable your organization to fulfill its mission over the long term, and engage funding sources as partners in the cause.

Key to the realizing organization’s objective is to understand what a grant proposal is. And, according to Floersch, it’s more than a request for money. “A grant proposal is a tool for building partnerships and a blueprint for change.”

Among other things, Floersch writes, it’s an invitation to funders “’to join your team in accomplishing something important.” It’s a specific kind of advocacy that seeks to rally assistance and energy. It’s an argument for taking action. And it’s a blueprint for the work the organization intends to do.

Critical to the success of any grant proposal is understanding your organization as well as the mission of the funder. Fully understanding your organization may not be as obvious as one may believe. It requires knowing the staff, reviewing reports, absorbing tax returns and budget reports, talking with volunteers and clients, and understanding how it makes an impact.

Funders, like your nonprofit, have a mission, and if you are to successfully engage them you must know what they want to accomplish. It requires research, lots of it, about many potential funders so that you can identify the ones which represent a good fit with your mission.

Both parties—grant seekers and grant makers—need to overcome what Floersch as their unwitting perpetuation of the stereotype of grant seekers as beggars. “The sad fact is that many nonprofits are guilty of chasing dollars,” she writes. Instead, “organizations that practice grantsmanship see issues that need to be tackled, work with those affected, build partnerships with like-minded organizations, and make plans.” Funders, in turn, need the expertise of nonprofit partners to realize their goals.

Key for nonprofits when seeking grant funding is to focus on sustaining their ability to make an impact, not to continue activities.

Floersch argues that “grants are best suited for producing change that will be self-perpetuating over time, for testing new approaches, for accomplishing work that will be completed in a set time frame, for starting up new services that can be maintained by other funding streams, for strengthening internal systems to ensure continued organizational impact.” For example:

  • A general operating grant is not about keeping the doors open, but ensuring that the organization can continue to deliver community benefits.

  • A grant to strengthen infrastructure is not about updating a database, but enabling the organization to serve its beneficiaries more effectively.

  • A grant to fund a new program is not about offering new activities, but about improving the quality of life in the community.<[>

Beyond the grounded advice it provides, this short, 89-page book provides an inspiring statement of the philosophy of grant development that will orient newcomers to the field that can lead to a lasting, productive career, and also serve as a mid-career stock taking for those already well established.

You Have a Hammer: Building Grant Proposals for Social Change is available from Rootstock Publishing.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy
October 2021