"Are you grant ready?" from CNM consultant Audra Davis

August 8, 2017

It might seem like time to apply for a grant, but is your organization really ready for this step? Learn more from CNM consultant Audra Davis in this guest expert blog post, and reach out to consulting@cnm.org if you'd like to bring Audra in for a project.


"In the Grant Professionals Association (GPA), we often talk about whether an organization is 'grant ready.' This may seem like a strange question, since almost all organizations would say, of course we’re ready for a grant – we need the money to fund our programs, right?

What we really mean in GPA is whether an organization has the necessary structure, policies, and people in place to successfully seek grant funding and then follow through on the conditions of a grant. Often younger organizations jump to seeking grant funds before they really have a chance to be successful. Sometimes, older organizations have successfully received funding for years but then start to see a decline in their success rate. This could be because some of the key elements have shifted or because funders have updated their expectations and the organization hasn’t kept pace.

Whether a nonprofit is just starting out or has been around for decades, it’s important to regularly analyze key organizational elements to make sure you can secure funds from this important revenue stream. This analysis can also help you determine whether you are in strong position to pursue a new grant opportunity.

So what does it take to be grant-ready? Although the following summary is short and straightforward, pulling all these pieces together can take a lot more time and thought than you may expect. However, doing so will save a lot of frustration and wasted effort in the long-run, while also increasing grant funding.

Structure – Do you have the documents commonly required as attachments to grant applications? Frequently required documents include: current 990, audit, board of directors’ roster, 501c3 letter, strategic plan, organization budget, and program budgets. Can you articulate your mission and vision statements, as well as how your programs specifically contribute to achieving your mission, program goals, outputs, and outcomes? Is there a system for collecting this data? I’ve found that many organizations struggle with defining their goals, outputs, and outcomes, as well as backing these up with good data.

Plans & Policies – Is there agreement on what types of funds you will pursue, i.e. corporate, foundation, government? Would there be any funders from whom you would not accept funds (for instance, would you accept funding from a tobacco manufacturer? A controversial local business? A pay-day lender?)? Do you have grant management and generally accepted accounting practices in place? Do you have evaluation plans in place? Do you have an employee handbook, a conflict of interest policy, an anti-discrimination policy, and a succession plan in place? A lot of people have the idea that grants are “free money,” however most funders see themselves as investors in your organization. Do you have plans and policies in place to ensure you are spending and delivering on this investment as expected?

People – In most organizations, there is one person responsible for writing and submitting a grant, another person/people responsible for implementing the program that spends the funds, another who oversees the disbursement of funds, and then one of those must submit the mid-term and/or final grant report. In addition to actually securing, administering, and reporting on these grant funds, it’s vital that someone take on the role of building a relationship with each funder to ensure continued success. Is there a means for effective communication among all these staff members? Are roles and expectations clearly defined?

There are many resources to go deeper into this topic: the Grant Professionals Association national website, the local chapter of GPA, this free grant readiness tool, and of course, CNM. CNM consultants can help you evaluate your organization’s grant-readiness, review a specific proposal and provide recommendations, coach you on developing a grant program, or even provide ongoing grant writing and management for your organization."


Contact consulting@cnm.org for details.

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