How often have we heard these phrases from nonprofits and especially their grant writers? “We need money from anywhere to survive!” and “I thought I had time to do this, but time got away from me” or “This is such a big idea, there’s no way to write this in a short application.”
Maybe you’ve said these yourself.
While every grant proposal is unique and every funder is different, the obstacles facing grant writers are the same, whether you’re a professional fund raiser or whether the proposal landed on your desk and this is your first time applying.
These stumbling blocks can be avoided when they are recognized. Let’s look at the three most common obstacles for grant writers and ways we can deal with them.
First, there’s never enough time.
The most common dilemma all grant writers face is time. You think you’ll have enough time to get the proposal done, and then time flew by with all the other priorities, projects, meetings, tasks, and other activities that pop up. Many nonprofits end up scrambling to finish last-minute applications and many others are prevented from applying for grants simply because they perceive they do not have enough time.
Start by acknowledging that grant writing takes time and there’s never enough time to do all the things you want to do.
The key to facing this obstacle is to know the deadlines in advance, start early, make a schedule or timeline for completion, and make the application one of your priorities.
It’s true that studies show applications submitted prior to the deadline have a greater chance of being funded than those submitted at the last minute.
Make sure to find out when potential funding deadlines are and work ahead. Keeping organized and working on the proposal’s elements one at a time will keep you on task and on schedule and avoid those last-minute marathons where you’re more likely to make mistakes and not follow the guidelines.
Second, you have too many big ideas.
Now, big ideas are great. You want to be bold and innovative and have a creative solution to a difficult and pressing problem or need in the community.
However, big ideas can also be overwhelming. Funders often reject proposals that are too ambitious or even unrealistic for your nonprofit to take on. Facing these big ideas is a common obstacle that grant writers face and may keep you from applying.
Stop and take a reality check. Talk to board members or others and see whether they think the potential program is realistic and possible for your nonprofit.
Narrow the focus or scope of the big idea to something smaller and more manageable. You don’t have to solve all the problems related to the project at once. Focus on one or two issues that can be solved within your budget and time available.
Once you narrow the big idea into something manageable, you’ll find a way to tell the great story in a grant proposal of what you are doing and plan to do.
Third, you have a fear of rejection.
Everyone who writes a grant proposal has been or will be rejected for funding at some point. Sometimes there’s too much competition and not enough money. Your project may not have met your funder’s mission… or maybe you didn’t follow the guidelines. Whatever the reason, talk to the funder and find out why your proposal wasn’t successful. If your ideas are good, chances are resubmitting in the future may be a good option. Use the feedback as a learning tool and make corrections in future proposals.
The most important part is to not take the rejection personally. Look at writing the submission as an opportunity. When your team is planning, looking at all funding options strategically and plan that some efforts will not be successful.
A fear of rejection may keep you from applying. And if you never apply, you’ll never receive grant funding. Rejection is part of the process. Once you get over it, you’ll be much more successful in your submissions.
Grant writing requires time, planning, and organization. Knowing what obstacles you’ll face as a grant writer will help you deal with the challenges.
Take a deep breath and step back.
There are challenges of all kinds ahead, but the obstacles discussed here are largely self-imposed and can be avoided.
Instead of spinning your wheels due to the lack of time or fear of rejection, focus on your well thought-out plan and solid approach. You can convince your funder that you have a great project worthy of funding. Make a plan and start writing!