Many nonprofit leaders have a simple rule of thumb when it comes to grant writing: apply to every grant opportunity that fits your geographical region and area of interest. Grant professionals would do well to remember that it's not always wise to apply even if the opportunity looks really really attractive. Here are just some reasons to NOT apply:
• The simplest one: when an organization does not meet the foundation’s demographic, socioeconomic, and geographic criteria. Instead of searching for statewide or national funders, it's better to check with local foundations first; they’re usually easier to obtain grants from.
• When the project does not meet a funder’s vision or mission - or there is no historical data suggesting that they have ever funded similar projects. How many times have I heard from clients... they haven't funded arts yet, but they will when they hear about this wonderful program!
• When a foundation’s priorities and mission are contrary to your own organization’s beliefs and/or vision. Ethical considerations can make or break a grant proposal, so beware!
• If the grant process requires more work and energy than a grant professional can handle. As we all know, sometimes submissions take far more effort and time than a small grant award is worth. Other times the reporting is tiresome and time consuming. Be careful to gauge the benefits vs. the risks.
• If receiving the grant would require an organization to drastically change the proposed project’s intent, just to fit the guidelines. This is a huge red flag... never EVER make the project “fit” a specific grant opportunity. That will only mean not doing the work you set out to do. Try another funder instead.
• If it may not be possible to meet all application deadlines. Remember that foundations take their deadlines extremely seriously, no matter what the relationship with them. If it’s not possible to meet a specific deadline, it's better to delay the request until the next funding cycle.
The bottom line: the grant professional cannot and should not work alone. Unless the grants team, program staff and even the Board of Directors are fully on board with the endeavor, it is likely that a lot of time and effort will be wasted. It's important to review the organization's needs against its staff's time and abilities. Choosing wisely may very well mean the difference between success and failure.