This article was written by Casey Caylor. 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.
Grant funding is a pillar of fund development for many nonprofit organizations. While grants are an important source of income for organizations, a great grant program is about more than just the money. Investing staff time and resources into developing a high functioning grant program can generate some amazing, unanticipated upsides. When you build a successful grant program, you also:
- Build a community of support for your programs. Funders like to see that your organization has the support of other donors; they are more likely to support your work as part of a community. If your organization has any interest in pursuing larger regional or national grants, you will need to develop a strong base of smaller local and regional funders that support existing programs before a larger national foundation is likely to invest. The grant process can also generate new partnerships with foundations and other nonprofits through program collaborations and opportunities to participate in thought leadership.
- Translate visionary ideas into tangible and realistic programs. A successful grant program helps translate a strategic plan into action, and helps develop a plan for future growth. Grant writers often hold an overarching, yet detailed view of the organization, as they are privy to detailed programmatic information, organizational strategy and financial details. They are in the perfect role to listen for new, visionary ideas, and facilitate internal conversations that translate these ideas into a compelling narrative with a clear budget. The result: they set these ideas on a path to becoming reality. Strong grant work guides your organization through critical questions: Who will this project serve? How will we secure funding? What is our budget? What is our timeline? Why now?
- Build internal systems that foster transparency and reflection. Grant funding almost always requires that organizations report back on the impact and expenditure of the grant award. Funders use this information to hold organizations accountable and make sure their funds are being used as they intended. The process of reporting financial expenditures and program outcomes compels organizations to build out internal systems that help them to better understand their community impact (and better articulate outcomes with other funders), track spending in a way that aligns with annual budgets, and approach program design with increased awareness of implementation and realistic goals. These internal systems and processes provide the necessary feed back to improve the next round of grant proposals, and have lasting benefits on an organization – far beyond that of an improved grants process.
- Foster a culture of philanthropy. At the Ostara Group, we view every organization through the lens of its organizational culture of philanthropy – or a culture in which fund development is valued as a long-term, mission-aligned program of the organization. A culture where members of the organization are committed to and personally involved in fundraising. The grant program plays an important role in fostering a culture of philanthropy by identifying funding opportunities, integrating departmental staff around the common goal of sustaining your mission, and building experience in collaborating with foundations to deepen or increase your impact on the community you serve.
It takes a strong leader to develop a robust grant program, and it requires the collaboration of every department in your organization. It takes time and hard work from your staff and leadership in development, programming, and finance. The next time you are grappling with a tricky grant application, or frustrated about how long it is taking to build a relationship with a key potential funder, pause and think about how this work benefits your organization beyond financial gain – deepening your impact and increasing your sustainability!