This article was written by Bailey Disher. 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.
Here are two fundraising riddles for you:
What’s an organization called with a vision and no strategy?
A nice idea.
What’s an organization called with a strategy and no vision?
A nice plan.
The real punchline:
It doesn’t matter. Organizations need both to go anywhere fast.
Think of it this way. If your organization were a car, vision would be the steering wheel. It directs everything in an organization, from programmatic expansion to hiring decisions and your fundraising plan. And strategy would be the engine. It moves the organization forward by thoughtfully focusing people and resources.
In my consulting role, I work alongside organizations establishing or expanding their grants program. I see organizations that are clear on their vision for lasting community impact, but lack the time, energy, and resources to develop the strategy for getting there.
When it comes time to prepare and submit a grant application, the grantwriter becomes the translator who connects the programs, finance, executive, and development silos, trying to piece together a clear picture of how the organization will accomplish its vision.
It takes twice as long to write a grant proposal when the organizational vision and program strategies are not aligned (or even created) in advance. Plus, the final proposal can feel like a Frankenstein of ideas instead of a cohesive story.
This is the grantwriting equivalent of running with weights strapped to your legs.
There’s a better way.
In organizations where vision and strategy are aligned, you can feel the difference. These organizations make proactive decisions about funding opportunities, program implementation, and potential partnerships that are fully aligned with their vision. For our client, Team Read, this difference is clarity. Everyone in the organization knows where they are going and how they will get there.
Team Read works with school districts and libraries to pair struggling elementary school readers with trained teen reading coaches for one-on-one tutoring after school and during the summer. Executive Director Maureen Massey helps staff and Board navigate the organization’s growth by serving as the conductor of vision and strategy. As a relatively small organization (annual budget is $800,000 with six staff members), she makes sure programs, finance, and fundraising are moving forward in lockstep with the strategic plan.
Ostara partnered with Team Read to develop a grant strategy that has accelerated the organization’s vision. This included intentional conversations to clarify program growth, evaluation, and budget strategies for pilot programs. The result of these conversations allowed Team Read to proactively lead conversations with funders about strategic growth plans. Foundation partners responded to their long-term vision and growth strategy with multi-year, renewed, and increased funding. Funders are confident Team Read has a big vision and a plan to make it happen.
Your Strategy Revolution
When your organization is clear on your organizational and programmatic visions, you can take the next step to prioritize grant opportunities that help you reach your goals. You can start your own strategy revolution by convening a group from across all departments in your organization (executive, programs, finance, and fundraising to name a few) to develop answers to these key questions that underpin every strong organizational (and grants) strategy:
- Why is our solution the best solution for the community (program strategy)?
- How will we know we are successful (evaluation strategy)?
- Who do we need to involve to realize our vision (partnership strategy)?
- What is our long-term plan for funding (funding strategy)?
Let’s keep this conversation going. We are looking forward to hearing about your strategy wins and challenges!
On August 15, 2018, Brittany Kirk and Bailey Disher will present a grants webinar on “The Grant Nexus: Connecting Development, Finance, and Programs for Higher Impact” in partnership with Washington Nonprofits. Join our mailing list to receive updates about this opportunity!
Also, if you’re looking chat with us about crafting your grants strategy, we are here to connect. Thanks!