This article was written by Olivia Gattuso. She is no longer with Ostara, but we want to preserve this piece so that you can learn from her and from the work she did while part of the Ostara team.
Grants Accelerator is a regular blog series about leveraging your grants strategy to enhance organizational sustainability.
Grantwriting is often tacked onto the role of an executive director, program director, or development director. Most leaders have the writing skills or content expertise but not always the time to give a proposal their full attention. Grant proposals are checked off the list, but there’s little time to be strategic.
According to GrantStation.com, the number one reason people give for not applying for a grant is they don’t have the time.
When grants are not the primary focus of your position, it’s easier to push proposal writing down the list in favor of more urgent tasks. Too often, this means deadlines are forgotten and opportunities lost.
For example, when Ostara started our work with University Heights Center (UHeights) two years ago, the Executive Director wore a multitude of hats, including grantwriter and primary fundraiser. There wasn’t enough time in a day to do it all (even if sleep was eliminated!). Ostara partnered with the organization to identify opportunities, track deadlines, provide strategy and insights, and write and submit proposals and reports.
We focused first on grants for a major remediation project for their 117-year-old building. Because Ostara managed the grantwriting details, UHeights staff had the time and space to focus on stewarding funder relationships. This year, we saw the funder relationships that UHeights built for this project translate into other grant opportunities to support additional capital projects and programs. Our partnership helped increase the resources UHeights needed to expand their staff (including the hire of a Director of Advancement), and build out internal programs like the UHeights Theatre Alliance and Artist Collective.
With a solid case for support, increased staff capacity, and a more robust track record in fundraising, UHeights has now decided to take on their own grantwriting in 2020, thanks to the runway we built together. This is a story about collaboration and progress that many of our clients experience, including the end result of a self-sustaining grantwriting program!
“Ostara supported UHeights during a transitionary period of growth. Initially, we thought we signed up for grantwriting, but we received so much more in the way of capacity building and strategic consulting. After 18 months of partnering with Ostara’s team, we hired our first Advancement Director, and after six months of overlap, we are ready to fold grantwriting into our internal staff.“— Maureen Ewing, Executive Director
Limited staff capacity is not the only indicator you are ready to partner with an outside grantwriter. Here are six more signs it’s time:
- You’re new to grants: Your staff members don’t have grantwriting skills and/or the organization itself doesn’t have a history of grant funding.
- You don’t have enough resources for a staff position: Your budget doesn’t support a full-time or part-time staff grantwriter, but you see opportunities that a contract grantwriter could pursue for the organization through a focused scope of work.
- You are launching a new program or initiative: This is a great time to partner with an outside grant writer, who can help you build the case for support from the ground up and craft a long-term grant strategy.
- You received a time-limited, large grant: This is fantastic news, but you can’t rest on your laurels. It’s wise to build a plan for developing future funding sources so the organization doesn’t fall off a funding cliff when the grant is complete. An outside grantwriter can be a strategic member of your fundraising team as you work to find ways to avoid that fate.
- You’re applying to a new type of grant: Sometimes staff are skilled grantwriters, but a grant opportunity presents that is outside of their skillset. This often is the case with large public grants, which vary significantly from most private grants in process and content. If organizations don’t plan to make public grants a regular grant strategy, they often save money by paying an outside expert for the efficiency of experience.
- You’re losing more than you’re winning: If your decline notices are piling up in your inbox, it could be a good time to get a fresh take on your case for support and prospects.
An outside grantwriter brings an understanding of the full sector and available grant opportunities. We often have the inside track on what specific funders really want. For some organizations, an infusion of grantwriting expertise for a short period of time is a pathway to a long-term solution, like a staff grantwriter. For other organizations, the partnership with an outside grantwriter is a long-term piece of their fundraising strategy. Either way, outside grantwriters can help organizations build a sustainable grants strategy that helps secure the resources to strengthen your programs and deepen your community impact.
Let’s keep this conversation going. We want to hear your questions and ideas about grantwriting. We’re here to connect.