Amidst a challenging year, nonprofits are zeroing in on the grants that will help them continue to deliver on their mission. As calendars are marked with application dates and deadlines, grant writers have the opportunity (and challenge) of completing a compelling grant proposal – one that will make their nonprofit shine even more brilliantly than the competition.
Although nonprofit teams are stereotypically not the most competitive personalities, the fact of the matter is that financial resources are in high demand, requiring a bit more magic from grant writers to land the grants their organization is relying on. Now, of all times, is the time to boast! Show off the incredible work of your nonprofit team.
Here’s the magic that I urge you to keep in mind as you get to work: tell a story of your past, present, and dream-scenario future. Then, explain with numbers why your numbers back the story of your past/present, and why (with numbers) your dream-scenario future is well within reason.
Nothing beats a grant application that displays both the head (pragmatism), heart (mission focus), and muscle (execution) of your nonprofit. Sounds like a winner to me!
Now the big tip – remember “SMART Goals”?
By this point, you may already have your SMART goals outlined. For example: “In 2021, we will launch 2 new programs across 15 county schools, reaching 15,000 students ages 13-19.”
Amazing! Now implement the same SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely) strategy to share metrics that prove you’re able to accomplish said goal.
SMART Metrics to Prove Your Salt
Show specifically what actions have been taken (or been maintained) and what impacts have resulted. This will be a foundational step to the work ahead, so take your time, and don’t be overly-critical of the first thoughts that come to mind.
Get the ball rolling by simply making a list! Jot down all initiatives and changes your nonprofit has made in the last year (or other relevant time period) in efforts to pursue the mission.
It can help to do this part as a team. Gather a think-tank team consisting of all departmental leaders in your organization. Everyone can chime in on the actions and accomplishments of their respective programs. (Bless the grant writer, who will likely be jotting all of this down and making order of this light chaos.)
Remember: not everything that will be said/thought at this stage will be kept! You’ll need to first identify which contributions are relevant to the grant itself, then workshop each contribution until it is, in fact, SMART.
That said, it’s alright if people start chiming in with general actions and impacts such as “Our clients are much happier with our programs!” – that example won’t make the final cut, but it will get the juices flowing for the team.
By the end, you’ll workshop these ideas to be more specific, such as, “We hired our first full-time event coordinator, which resulted in 3 more programs this year, and 25% better attendance.” (Ok…I’m jumping ahead. Let’s move on to “measurable” now.)
Any metric needs to be measurable. How much, how many, what percentage, what ratio? You can make even the broadest statement measurable if you ask the right questions and do the appropriate data collection.
Let’s revisit the previous example and make it measurable: “Our clients are much happier with our programs!” Get started with questions like these:
- How is happiness being measured? Attendance? Repeat attendance? Referrals? Survey results?
- Are you tracking this data? (If not, start now! You’ll have the data at the ready for next year.)
- Don’t forget the specificity – which clients and how many? Which programs and how many?
By asking the right questions and collecting the right data, you will end up with much stronger metrics, a much more compelling narrative, and an easy setup for a SMART goal. For example:
“Last year, we held 45 programs, of which 70% of attendees had attended at least 1 other program in the last 3 months, indicating strong community confidence in our programs. In the last year, we also welcomed a 12% increase in program attendance. Of first-time attendees, a whopping 80% were referred by someone who had previously attended a program. Word of mouth is powerful, but with a grant-funded community outreach and marketing budget, we will achieve…[insert the corresponding SMART Goal here; now that you’ve built the case for your SMART metrics, your SMART Goal will be a slam dunk].”
These specific, measurable metrics will have already been achieved, which naturally bodes well for your ability to execute on your proposed SMART goals. If you’ve done the work before this step, you’ll easily check the box for “achievable”.
It boils down to the idea, “We’ve done it before and we can do it again even better.”
Now that you have the most amazing data, telling the most amazing story about how you’ve done amazing things and can do many more amazing things if you just had the funding…it’s time to zero in on what (in this mountain of amazing-ness) actually matters to those reviewing your proposal.
It’s time to thoroughly trim the fluff. If you are applying for a grant that is focused on certain communities or outcomes, only use the data that correlates and speaks to those points.
Remember – nothing that you’ve done up to this point will go to waste. Data reports can be powerfully repurposed and recycled. Use the data for outreach to the community, volunteers, sponsors, or donors.
This will be another easy check mark, if you’ve done the above work already. Timebox your achievements into quarters, years, decades — whatever is most relevant to your organization and the grant it is applying for. Otherwise, you risk boasting incredible numbers with no context. Without context, the data itself is much less valuable.
Some of your competition will apply for a grant using SMART goals, forgetting to intentionally comb through the SMART metrics that serve as a foundation for those goals. Use metrics to give yourself the best shot at an easy layup.
It’s possible that your organization is very small or brand new, making it difficult to gather historical data on your organization’s performance. That’s no problem – every organization must start somewhere! Here are some areas you can start collecting data on right away, that will give you more to work with next time you apply for a grant:
- Number of community served (what is your reach?)
- Demographics of community served (who are you reaching?)
- Number of volunteers and volunteer hours contributed
- Community/client satisfaction (collected via periodic surveys, or by number of returning individuals)
- ^All of the above tracked within consistent time periods (so that you can measure change, progress, growth.)
Best of luck to you as you prepare to apply for upcoming grants. It can be a tedious process the first time around, but rest assured that the data will build on itself gradually over time, so long as you keep a data management system in place. With time, a data management strategy, and a keen eye, you’ll reveal even more compelling (and SMART) stories about your organization, and funds surely will follow.