Boo! Don't Be Scared: On Writing Your First Grant and Other Big Moments

A Blog By Ejiro Ubiedi Morrow, Grant Writer and Marketing Consultant

Image from NYmag 10.31.16

Image from NYmag 10.31.16

Don’t be scared of these grant writing situations: Writing your first grant

A common question I get from people that are new to grant writing is: What happens if we get MORE money than we ask for? This is usually in the context of writing multiple grants for a single program/project. The current school of thought says you need to write somewhere around 4 times the amount you are trying to raise, in order raise the desired amount. Some new grant writers might be concerned that they’ll get more than they bargained for if they follow this approach.

There are a few things to keep in mind:

Fear of being overfunded is pretty unfounded. In my 11+ years’ experience, I have yet to see multiple foundations falling over themselves to fund a previously underfunded program. That’s not to say that it can’t happen but it is a rare occurrence.

If for some reason, you do find yourself in the lucky position of being over funded for a program (say you only needed to raise $20,000 but received $60,000 in grants), you have several options:

You can refuse a grant. This is probably even more rare an occurrence than receiving over funding for a project but it is in the realm of possibility. I would only suggest this option if there is no way your organization can use the funds as was described in the grant proposal.

A better option is that you can communicate openly and honestly with the funder, letting them know that as a fiscally responsible organization, you wanted to be a good steward of their funds. While the project in question may be overfunded, there are most likely other ways the grant could be used for the project, including general operating costs, overhead costs, etc. The key is that you must come to an agreement with your funder what the grant funds will be used for and preferably BEFORE you’ve signed an agreement and spent the money otherwise. There’s the old saying: “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” but that doesn’t apply to this situation. Funders will remember organizations that “take the cookie” and then change their tune on how the funding gets spent. And they won’t look too kindly upon that experience when you come back to them the next year and request funding again. Trust me, there’s nothing scarier than a funder who feels betrayed or duped.  The grantmaking business is a small circle and they talk to one another. The last thing you want is for word to get out that your agency is anything less than an upstanding steward of grant funds.

Your First Grant Report:

In my house, report cards used to be the cause of much worry and anxiety. Either because I knew it wasn’t going to be favorable or because I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get from my teachers. Reporting on grant progress can be just as daunting. Especially if you don’t know what is going to come out of it all. You want to give the best report possible, to show that your agency is doing a great job AND in hopes that your funder will be so happy with the results that they will continue to give year after year!

But what happens if you didn’t reach your goals for the year? Or worse, what happens if, after a year, you haven’t spent the money?  Don’t panic! These scenarios aren’t as scary as you might think.

Goals Not Met

It’s important to remember that funders are people too. And they are capable of understanding and forgiveness. If you haven’t met your goals for the year, it’s important to be open and honest with funders about not meeting the goals and giving them a reason why these goals weren’t met. Funders understand that sometimes there are changes in leadership, changes in staff or just unforeseen factors that pop up in the lifecycle of a grant. These situations happen within every agency and doesn’t reflect poorly on the grant funded project/program. It just happens. Having an open line of communication with your funder will help them understand and trust that your agency will meet its goals in the future, and be all the wiser for it.

Money Not Spent

Unspent funds can be another concern, when reporting on a grant’s progress. Usually funders like to know where the funds have gone, how they have been spent, and they require a detailed accounting of these funds. It is always a good idea to keep track of funds spent for this purpose. A clean financial accounting of funds spent can go a long way with funders trying to understand why funds were not expended as the grant agreement promised. Many things can change during the lifecycle of a grant, including equipment costs, staffing salaries, etc. Honesty is always the best policy. It instills trust in your funders. No agency wants to be in the awkward position of giving money back to a funder but most funders won’t ask for the return of funds, unless something grievous has occurred. Asking for an extension of time to expend all the funds is considered a standard practice in the fundraising world. And in most cases, the funder won’t hold it against the agency. As long as you are upfront about the challenges and activities of a grant, you and your funder can maintain a great relationship based in trust. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth.

Next time: Thanking Donors and Year End Giving Campaigns