Thursday, October 7, 2010

Prioritizing Grant Projects

Once in a while every grant writer is faced with a unique situation: finding the perfect grant opportunity but not knowing exactly which project to apply for. True, there are always more needs than resources as far as grant funds are concerned, but not every project is fundable by the same grant opportunity. So when funds are available and more than one project or program fits the bill, how does one decide what project to apply for? Here's where prioritizing comes in.

First and foremost, a grant writer should not be the sole person making this decision. Prioritizing can be difficult, even heart wrenching... imagine how many clients may have to suffer a loss of services because their program was passed over for grant funds. But more importantly, grant writers typically don't have intimate knowledge of the program and project that may be required in this sort of decision making. Nor, for that matter, do executive directors or board members. The best approach is a team decision making system, whereby each person who has the relevant information and authority to prioritize grant funded projects get together when the need arises and make the final cut.

Here is what a typical prioritizing team might look like:
  • The grant writer, who typically possesses in-depth knowledge of grant guidelines and proposal management
  • The program and project leaders, who have the statistics and data about the relevant programs that could be funded
  • The executive director, who gives the final green light to proceed
  • The finance/accounting staff member, who provides vital information about sound fiscal practices and grant management
Once a team has been created, the next item on the agenda is to get busy prioritizing. Let's face it, not every grant project is equally important in terms of needs and returns. sometimes it is relatively easy to point out the project that would not hurt anyone if it wasn't funded. But more often than not, each project has merits that deserve grant funding. In such a situation, the process of prioritizing may look something like this:
  1. The grant writer writes up a synopsis of the grant opportunity, including the amount available, the proposal submitting process, the relevant deadlines, and the grant management requirements. This document should also contain estimated times for preparation, a ratio of return-on-investment, and other information that will allow the rest of the team to decide whether the grant opportunity is worth availing.
  2. Each project head provides key data about their program, such as numbers served, financial needs, staff and volunteer time allocations, and the like. They should also have an idea about future needs and costs.
  3. The finance or accounting person gathers revenue and cost figures for each project under consideration.
  4. The team gets together to discuss how each program or project fits the grant opportunity. Some things to consider include:
  • Which project serves the largest number of clients for the most pressing services (e.g. a comparison between life-saving treatment for 10 women verses dental procedures for 1,000 women)?
  • Which project currently has support from the grant making community and is this support likely to continue in the coming year?
  • Is any project already supported by the grant maker in question, and if so, is it more likely to be well-received as an application compared to other projects?
  • Which project could be supported by other funding sources such as donations, sponsorships, internal support, etc.?
  • Which project can stand to lose grant funding? Which one cannot, and why not?
  • Which project needs additional input before being eligible (e.g. more staff or volunteers, improved outcome measurements, etc.)? Which project is closest in eligibility?
  • Which project has all the necessary paperwork such as budgets already prepared and ready to be submitted?
  • Which project head has time to spend on the application (e.g. one who is not slated to go on vacation or maternity leave close to any deadline)?
  • Which project will result in the least inconvenience in terms of grant management and evaluation
  • Which project, if funded, will result in an overhaul of the grant management system?
The questions above are not comprehensive, but each organization can add to them as they see fit. As the team discusses these issues, a clear winner should rise from the list of fundable projects. In the end, it should be the grant writer who provides invaluable input for the prioritizing process, both in the beginning as well as the end.  

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