Class is in Session: Institutional Grants History 101

development grant management grant writing May 13, 2024

by Sharonda Adams, Grant Writer at Granted

Picture yourself in your 11th-grade history classroom. You’re sitting at your desk as your teacher delivers the lesson of the day, intermittently pausing their lecture to pose questions to you and your peers. You’re probably surrounded by a few different types of history students: the student who eagerly takes notes with one hand, their other hand perpetually raised as if held there by an invisible string; the student who appears to be awake and watching the presentation yet is far away drifting in a daydream; and the student with their head resting on crossed arms as drool slowly creeps down the side of their desk, reminiscent of a wet slug. I’m sure you thought you left history lessons behind once school was over, but what if I told you that history is an important part of your nonprofit life? 

You may have heard the phrase “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Regardless of one’s fondness for (or disinterest in) the study of history, this phrase is especially applicable to grant-seeking organizations. Tracking your organization’s grants history—meaning keeping a detailed record of previous applications and their processes and outcomes—provides knowledge that can be analyzed to facilitate future grants success. 

In the grants landscape, well-recorded past submissions can be used to avoid inconsistent messaging and to ensure that funders receive the most up-to-date, compelling data about your program. This approach is crucial to demonstrating consistent, positive growth and impact year-over-year.  

Even denied applications can serve as valuable learning experiences, especially when they include feedback you can leverage to adapt and improve future proposals. Not incorporating such feedback moving forward can, at best, fail to communicate the alignment of your mission with the funder’s objectives and, at worst, diminish your relationship with them. 

It's also important to recognize that neglecting record-keeping harms internal efficiency. Prioritizing institutional grants knowledge helps you avoid reinventing the wheel for each grant application, especially for those that ask for your organization’s fundraising history. Additionally, not tracking institutional grants history can lead to nonprofit organizations wasting time researching previously vetted opportunities or accidentally submitting multiple inquiries to the same funder within a single funding period. Simply put: These mistakes jeopardize your chances of receiving funding, not just once, but in the future as well.

In addition to maintaining an accurate record of your grants history, it is crucial to make sure you are tracking it effectively. Envision your historical grants record as a library of knowledge that exists to improve your fundraising strategies and obtain greater financial success. Well-functioning libraries use classification systems like the Dewey Decimal Classification or the Library of Congress Classification to ensure that individuals can find exactly what they need without sorting through thousands of books. Even among nonprofits that track their grants history, many may lack a clear classification system. Instead, they rely upon folders full of haphazardly created spreadsheets, which can ultimately increase disorganization. At the end of the day, your organization’s historical grants record-keeping should be organized so that it would receive an A+, even from professors with the most austere, Severus Snape-esque demeanors. 

I highly recommend utilizing a project management software as an efficient alternative, enabling your organization to optimize it’s grants management by consolidating grants history, outcomes, and future planning all in one place. (Here at Granted Fundraising, we keep detailed grants records using our own classification system within a project management program to ensure our clients’ institutional memory is protected, up-to-date, and always available.) 

I admit that I myself was one of the history class cowboys, hands locked and loaded, ready to fire off questions and ideas at my ever-indulgent teachers. However, even if you dreaded history class, think of grants record-keeping as your opportunity to redefine your relationship with the subject. I hope this article has shown you that prioritizing your institutional grants history can be an effective way to improve your organization's fundraising efforts, and most important, benefit your organization long-term.