Move The Sticks

grant prospecting grant writing nonprofit administration Mar 20, 2024

By Jim Jenereaux, Grant Writer at Granted

Imagine, if you will, you’re watching a classic game of American football. One team, the less experienced of the two, is using every opportunity they have to throw it deep. Endzone shots on every play. 

The other team, a much more experienced group, is taking whatever they can get. Sometimes it’s a run for five yards, maybe a quick pass for 10, and occasionally, when the conditions are right, they’ll go for a big one. 

This would probably be one of the most frustrating games ever played, for both the fans and players, and most certainly a blowout. While the more conservative team may not reach the endzone on every play, they move the sticks and bring their goal closer with every play. This same mindset is critical in the nonprofit field when developing a grants strategy.

Unfortunately, when choosing which grants to apply for, many nonprofits operate by the motto of “go big or go home.” It is unsurprising that a large number of these nonprofits end up figuratively going home. Adequate funding is an inherent part of nonprofit success, and applying exclusively for large grants is less likely to lead to reaching our goals for a few reasons:

  1. Statistics. When pursuing our mission as a nonprofit, every dollar counts. While it can be tempting to see a grant opportunity with awards ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 and go for the most, if we apply this approach to all of our grants, even going so far as to ignore opportunities with an award range of $10,000 or less, we are far less likely to reach our goal. This is simply a matter of statistics: applications for large grants are often more difficult and time-intensive to compose than smaller ones. Because our time is a finite resource, we are not able to complete nearly as many of these complex proposals as ones for small grants. 

Additionally, funders generally have a limit for grant allocations. Asking for a large portion of a funder’s total pot of money means we have to beat out far more organizations on their list than we would have if we had asked for a smaller portion. For example, when we apply for $50,000 from a funder with a $50,000 allocation limit, we’re asking them to give all their money to just one organization when, alternatively, they could give $10,000 to five different organizations, $25,000 to two organizations, etc. In this instance, we have put a lot of pressure on our application to make it seem like a better decision to fund just one organization than supporting many. (This is also why it’s important to research the grantmaking capacity and past grantmaking of each funder prior to submitting a request to them.) 

Essentially, when we apply only for large grants, our portfolio consists of a small number of opportunities that have a low likelihood of coming to fruition and nothing else. Football analysts would lose their minds thinking about this approach. 

2. Organizational Appearance. It is also important to consider how this approach affects the way funders see our organization during the application process. Many large funders will ask for a list of committed and prospective funding sources, and if we present them with an empty list of committed funders and a prospective list full of requests worth 20% of our goal or more, they will be hesitant to write their names on the lonely list of committed funders. Even having three or four small funders on that list can go a long way in helping prospective funders place their trust in us and our program.

Putting this information together, when we reach the grant prospecting portion (Step 4) of Granted Fundraising’s Five-Step Process, the fit of a grant is always more important than the request amount. Small grants often require a good deal less information than large ones, so unless the requirements are egregious, there is no reason to write off a grant opportunity that fits our organization. When determining the amount to ask for on a grant with a large range, it is important to be realistic and remember that a nonprofit’s longevity comes from its ability to retain the funders and donors it attracted. Whether our nonprofit is five years or 55 years old, we should be looking at grant opportunities not only as ways to fund our programs, but also as chances to grow our long-term network. Who knows? In five years, that $5,000 grant might just turn into a perennial commitment of $50,000 or more! Remember, no matter how far away our goal is, it’s often better to move the sticks than go for it all.