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You (and Your Grants Program) are Worth More Than Dollars

Does this sound familiar?

Executive Director: “How much do I need to invest in a grants program to raise $100,000?”

Board Member: “Should I expect the grantwriter to bring in two times more than we pay them? Five times?”

As grantwriters and fundraisers, we spend our days communicating stories and data that prove the impact of programs and organizations. We know to look deeper than the number of people served to convey the full story of an organization’s work.

Ironically, the story of our own impact on the organization’s success is often measured in this one-dimensional way. Grantwriters (and fundraisers in general) are often seen as a one-person profit and loss statement: how much are they paid versus how much do they bring in? This is a shortsighted approach to the concept of Return on Investment (ROI).

A sustainable grants program is more than the bottom line. Or rather, the bottom line is the relationship. The interactions that lead to strong donor relationships are key to fundraising success, and grants are no exception.

Beyond dollars, a comprehensive grants strategy fosters transparent internal systems, builds a culture of philanthropy, and translates visionary ideas into fundable plans for the community.  Sounds good, but how do you translate the value of your grant strategy into metrics that speak to your staff and Board leaders?

Ostara has partnered with Cancer Lifeline on grant strategy since 2014. Together, we focus on building relationships with the best prospects and reengaging past funders. Over three years, Cancer Lifeline increased their grant revenue by 40 percent. However, their true success indicators were their first-ever multi-year grant, grants from brand new funders to diversify the portfolio, and several increased gifts from existing funders. Like Cancer Lifeline, you can highlight your worth beyond the simple running tally of dollars raised.

Key Success Indicators

Start by building a comprehensive picture of your path to sustainability by regularly tracking and sharing these key success indicators for your grants program through tools like Board reports and staff meetings.

Engagement Indicators

Grant applications approved, pending, denied, and planned (listed over multiple years and separated by fiscal year)

Looks Like: # Grants Submitted, # Grants Awarded, # Grants Denied

Value: Demonstrates a multi-year picture of the relationships you are building for now and the future

Grant Renewals

Looks Like: # Renewals from previous year

Value: Demonstrates a vote of confidence in your work from previous funders, especially when they increase their previous grant amount

Re-Engaged Lapsed Funders

Looks Like: # Re-engaged funders from past two years, # Re-engaged funders from 2-5 years ago, etc.

Value: Demonstrates your hard work in reviving old relationships (beyond this fiscal year)

Reports Submitted

Looks Like: # Formal reports submitted, # Informal (i.e. not required) reports submitted

Value: Demonstrates the time you invest in stewardship for all funders (not just when reports are required)

Cultural Indicators

Interactions, including with non-development staff and Board

Looks Like: Standing meetings with broader development team, standing meetings with broader staff outside of development, Regular touchpoints with the Board, organization-wide celebration of grant success, organization-wide participation in grant strategy choices

Value: Demonstrates the cross-organization collaborations with grant writers helping to drive your grants strategy

Financial Indicators

Multi-Year Grants

Looks Like: # LOIs accepted and invited to full proposal, ability to report and steward over a longer period, potentially through changes in leadership and staff

Value: Demonstrates sophisticated internal systems often required to manage relationships with multi-year funders

Progress to Goal

Looks Like: Determine a grant revenue goal as part of budget cycle that is achievable and supported by all, and update staff and Board leadership on progress at least quarterly

Value: Demonstrates progress towards realistic annual goals that map to community needs (not filling budget gaps) and year-over-year comparisons to frame progress over several years

Do you want to explore other ways to enhance your grants strategy and organizational sustainability? Join us for our new Grants Accelerator Workshop Series that will help nonprofit leaders and grantwriters solve these common challenges – Seats are filling up fast!


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