Updated: Jul 20, 2022
After over a decade of researching, developing, and submitting grant proposals, I have learned that a grant calendar can make or break you. A calendar that is not managed well, is not regularly updated, and doesn't track the right information for your nonprofit can make you miss grant deadlines, submit less-than-stellar proposals, and prevent you from achieving your fundraising goal. An effective calendar can save you time and help you submit high-quality proposals to the right funding partners, and increase your likelihood of success. (Keep reading to learn how you can get a free copy of my grant calendar template.) But, there are critical benchmarks a nonprofit must achieve before that calendar is ever going to be successful for your organization.
#1: Your nonprofit must be grant-ready.
This benchmark is pretty basic, but it's a necessary first step. If you do not have your ducks in a row, you are not ready to submit grants. Grant-ready nonprofits have their IRS nonprofit determination, an active Board of Trustees/Directors, audited financial statements, partners, other funding sources, a mission statement, a strategic plan, client success stories, and relevant data.
#2: You understand the building blocks of a grant.
Each task on my grant calendar can be tied to one of the three building blocks of a grant proposal: research, development, and follow-up. Research is both internal and external. You should be researching and tracking your program/funding need alongside your research to find grant-makers to submit requests. Development is drafting your narrative or completing the online application, pulling together all the supplemental documentation you need and any data specific to each funder. Follow-up is any work associated with stewarding that grant-maker, whether or not you receive a grant.
#3: You know how much to request in each grant proposal.
This can be a struggle for many grant writers. It's tempting to say, "Well, let's just apply to dozens of organizations and hope something sticks." But, being strategic will save you time, help you submit higher quality requests, and build relationships with organizations to which you submit and from which you hopefully receive awards.
There are several ways for you to determine an appropriate ask amount or make an educated guess. The easiest way is just to ask. Reaching out to a grant administrator and asking the amount for a typical first-time requester can help you build a proposal that isn't too far-fetched but doesn't short your nonprofit by asking too low. If you can't speak to someone at the foundation, reviewing their past IRS Form 990s is the best way to make an educated guess. Make note of the total amount awarded that year, then review the list of organizations they supported and how much each award was. Sometimes they'll even tell you the purpose of the grant. Look for organizations that may be similar in mission or size to yours or the same grant purpose as what you're pursuing. You should be able to look at the list of grant awards and determine the range in which they typically fund. If you can't find this information on their 990s, check their website.
#4: You understand that maintaining a grant calendar goes way beyond just tracking deadlines.
Just like any other relationship in fundraising, it is important that you plan for cultivating and stewarding grant-makers. You should avoid situations where the first time a foundation hears from you is when they get your grant proposal. There should never be a time when you get an award, and the foundation doesn't hear from you again until you resubmit (unless they stipulate that). Build time into your calendar to connect with foundations before and after you submit a request, provide them with reports, and include them in your other stewardship efforts.
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