Grants Policy: What It Is and Why You Need One
At Continual Care Solutions, we hosted a webinar about Increasing Revenue in COVID-19 and Beyond. The main focus of the webinar was how to effectively pursue and retain grant funding. One of our key recommendations was to develop a grants policy, especially after learning that most of the participants did not have one. This prompted someone to ask if we had a grants policy template we could share. Immediately following the webinar, we created a combination policy and form template and made it available for everyone to download on our website.
It was clear from the webinar feedback and from my prior experience in human services, that most non-profit organizations do not have a grants policy, nor do they understand why it is necessary. The primary purpose of a grants policy is to provide direction about if and how to pursue and fulfill requirements of available grants. Grant applications, activities, and reporting can be time-consuming, which leads to the underlying premise of this blog post:
The anticipated return on investment must be positive: the expected impact and outcomes of the grant must justify the effort required to apply for the grant and if awarded, fulfill the obligations of the grant.
There are three key reasons why you need a grants policy:
1. To make strategic decisions about how to spend your precious time and resources
For many non-profit organizations, especially in human services, grant money can represent a significant portion of incoming revenue. With that much at stake, it is critical that you thoughtfully consider which grants to pursue. Not all will make sense for your organization. Many are very competitive, so you need to put forth an outstanding application in order to differentiate your organization from other worthy organizations seeking the same money. So, you must decide which grants are worth the effort you will need to put in to increase your chances of winning the grant.
2. To assign clear responsibility and confirm buy-in for grant pursuit and follow-through
Grants do not write themselves. They also do not fulfill the program responsibilities the grant pays for, nor do they report back to themselves with accurate and objective data. Someone has to do these things, and many times, multiple someones will need to be involved. The Grants Policy & Form Template includes a responsibilities section to provide crystal clarity on who is going to do what, before and after the grant is awarded. 3. To increase the chances of securing the grants you pursue
By assessing your readiness, you will gain an understanding of your chances of winning the grant. This pre-analysis will prevent you from chasing “shiny pennies” that are flashy and interesting but are neither aligned closely with your strategic goals nor likely to convince the grantor that you are the best recipient of their money.
Speaking of assessments, I would like to refer you back to my previous blog post, Assessments Uncover New Funding Opportunities, where I make a case for identifying activities you already perform that may be grant-worthy. Conducting baseline and post-assessments enables you to demonstrate outcomes with data. By including this data – and the ability to capture it – in grant applications, you can significantly increase your chances of receiving the grant funding.
Policy and Form Template Sections
To more clearly illustrate the intended use of a grants policy, I will walk you through the sections of our Grants Policy & Form Template. The process outlined in the template should be followed each time you are considering a grant opportunity.
You will note that the policy and form are combined into one document, to facilitate a streamlined process. If you prefer to separate them, you can do so.
In this section, you capture the basic grant details and key dates, including when the application is due, when the grant will be awarded, and the time period covered by the grant. This is the first place you should pause and do a preliminary check-in:
Do we have enough time to put together a strong grant application?
Will we be prepared to fulfill the obligations of the grant if/when we receive it, meeting all service commitments and reporting requirements?
You can’t confidently answer these questions quite yet, as you need to complete the rest of the document to gain the insights and clarity you need to make a final decision. Still, it is useful to remind yourself – right at the beginning – that you need to ultimately answer “YES” to both questions above in order to consider submitting the grant application.
Grant readiness assessment
Next, I will share the questions that are posed in the grant readiness assessment section, and offer further explanation for each.
What established organizational goal(s) and/or strategic imperative(s) does the grant satisfy and how? What are the expected outcomes?
It’s very important to understand WHY the grant is being pursued. It must be tied to something important the organization desires to accomplish. Grantors want to know that they are making a measurable and meaningful difference. To earn their money, you must determine and explain how funding your project will enable you to achieve your strategic goal(s).
Will this grant partially or fully pay for the program/activity? If partial, what if any additional resources (human, financial, technical, etc.) will you need in order meet all the requirements of the project? How do you plan to obtain these resources (i.e. budgeted expense, additional grant(s), etc.)?
Some projects can be funded through a single grant that covers all related expenses, but many cannot. In addition, often grantors require the organization to match the funding through other means. Therefore, you must have a plan to obtain the remaining dollars not covered by the money you are seeking from the grantor. It may be that you are seeking multiple grants from multiple funders, and you plan to set aside a portion of your operational budget to cover the rest. Whatever your plan is, you need to draft it before you decide to pursue the grant.
Have we pursued this grant in the past and if so, did we receive the award?
The answer to this question is one predictor of your future success. If you have already been awarded the grant in the past, it is more likely that you will get it again in the future if you can demonstrate through data that the intended outcomes have been achieved as expected. If you pursued the grant in the past and were not selected, you should indicate what you plan to do differently for this attempt to make a more compelling case for the grantor.
If this is a new funder and/or grant you have never pursued, it may be useful to note any similar grants that were received in the past, that could indicate a favorable probability of success or at least suggest that the effort to apply for the grant is worthwhile.
You must determine who will be responsible for all pieces of the grant process before the application is written. Specifically, who will:
Write the application?
Review the application before it is submitted to the funder?
Submit the application?
Manage the execution of the activities required by the grant?
Perform the data collection and analysis to produce the reports required by the funder?
And yes, it is necessary to outline each of these duties separately, even if one person will be responsible for the majority of the work. A broad inquiry about “who is in charge of the grant?” will not suffice. People are more easily held accountable for their role in execution if they know exactly what is expected of them.
Verbal buy-in must be obtained from all of the named individuals in advance of grant submission, obtaining their commitment to follow through on their assignments if the grant is awarded. It’s way more courteous and collaborative to get their cooperation ahead of the decision to pursue the grant. No one likes to find out after the fact that they have been signed up for work they didn’t know about.
To ensure your precious time is spent on the most appropriate opportunities, I recommend you establish a minimum and maximum dollar value threshold, below and above which executive approval is required.
You might wonder why these approval thresholds are necessary. Why bother the executive team with tiny grants? Why wouldn’t we go after huge ones? The minimum threshold is to make sure the time you spend is worth the relatively low $. Basically, it’s a return on investment decision. The maximum threshold is put in place to make sure you have confidence in your organization’s ability to marshal the resources necessary to pursue and fulfill the comprehensive obligations of a large grant.
Perhaps the best forum for the approval discussion is an already established leadership meeting, where all relevant stakeholders are present. However, if the requester has thoughtfully completed the form, you can augment or replace the leadership meeting approval forum through technology.
Opportunity to Automate
With an established grants policy and protocol in place, you now have the opportunity to further enhance and streamline the process by automating the grants process using software such as our imPowr platform. With imPowr, you can:
Compile a list of grants to research and consider pursuing.
Track key dates & tasks.
Track documents such as applications, reports, supporting materials.
Identify team members and contact information.
Provide a review and approval process.
Generate reports and metrics on patterns of outcomes: likelihood of winning and losing an award opportunity, the nature, purpose and mix of grants, the organizations involved, and much more.
Convert awarded grants to contracts that you monitor, with associated tasks and deadlines.
Example Grant Application Tracker
Once you have established a grants policy and are consistently following the corresponding process, you will have positioned your organization for more robust and strategic decision-making that will ensure proper focus on the most appropriate grant revenue opportunities, helping you to accelerate the advancement of your mission.
To download the Grants Policy & Form Template, click here.