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Sometimes we need someone to remind us about why we want a grant in the first place and what we can expect a grant award to do for us. If we do want a grant enough to seek one, we have to accept what one entails. Here are five reliable keys for unlocking the grants vault for your organization and for getting a grant you can live with after it is awarded.


1. Use a grant to fill a gap. Grants often can help to fill gaps in existing service programs, for example, by expanding them to reach new populations or by revamping them to improve services to existing populations. Only a very few types of grants, such as capacity-building or seed money grants for start-ups, can be used to defray ordinary operating expenses. Such grants commonly come from private foundations. Not even these grants should be used as a total substitute for local commitments of funds. And no grant should be used to supplant, rather than to augment, existing efforts.


2. Treat a grant as a means, not as an end. Grant makers tend to favor already-established applicants who have sufficient operating funds to remain viable without a new grant. They seldom award grants for an applicant to meet its existing payroll or similar needs. Instead, grant makers award them to support research-based innovations, to advance pervasive or systemic reforms, and to serve as catalysts for improving the human condition.


3. Consider seeking grants as a process, not an event. Looking for grants should be part of a larger plan for financing projects and initiatives. It should be an ongoing activity rather than a hasty and sudden reaction to a particular funding opportunity. Grants should be one among an organization’s several financial resources, not its only such resource. They should advance its mission, vision, agenda, and guiding plan, not distort or dictate them.


4. Consider writing grant proposals as a process, not an event. Developing a fundable proposal requires organizational commitment of often-scarce resources, such as time, brainpower, and money. It demands extensive coordination with other initiatives. It also commonly involves creating a narrative, devising a budget, and communicating with internal and external audiences. Expect to expend greater effort for greater return. Expect the required effort to reflect proportionately the amount of funding you plan to request.


5. Know what the grant-making marketplace wants and sell it that. Grant programs have rationales for their existence, well-defined purposes and visions their funders seek to advance. Grant seekers need to resonate with these as well as with their own reasons for applying for a grant. They need to reflect the funders’ agendas in their proposals. And they need to sell the funders on the benefits and results they are likely to obtain if they receive a grant. Most of the time, merely peddling new means or methods, or lamenting about acute and unmet local financial needs, is unlikely to yield a grant award.


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