How to Set Meaningful Goals for Your Grant Program

December 9, 2019

When you think of grant writing, activities like drafting, editing, compiling attachments, and submitting proposals probably come to mind. But there’s a big difference between grant writing, and building a grant program.

Building a grant program is a bigger, broader, and more ambitious endeavor – one that requires the ongoing effort to find prospects, build relationships with funders, write and submit grants, and report on your impact to funders.

Sure, this approach takes more time effort than simply writing and submitting proposals and hoping for checks to arrive in the mail year after year. But it also offers much larger returns, when done well. Compared to grant writing, a grant program can help your organization achieve greater efficiency, build expertise among staff (including program staff), and decrease uncertainty when planning for the year.

As we approach the end of this calendar year, now is a great time to think about the state of your grant program, and what you’d like it to achieve over the next 12 months. Below we’ll walk you through some tips and exercises to help you set meaningful goals for your grant program in the coming year.

What Should a Grant Program Aim to Achieve, Anyway?

Just like your other programs, your grant program needs to advance your organizational mission. Tempting as it might be to throw proverbial spaghetti at the wall and pursue any grant you think might win you money, staying focused on the opportunities that support and align with your nonprofit’s existing programs, impact goals, and/or other organizational objectives is key.

As you’re outlining your goals, it’s also important to walk the line between aspiration and pragmatism. Your goals should be based on an understanding of what is feasible, and accurately reflect the resources (i.e., time, effort, and focus) it will take to deliver results. Once you establish what these specific goals are, it’s important to review your progress regularly and make adjustments as needed.

The Nuts and Bolts of Meaningful Goal Setting

We recommend zeroing in on 3-5 measurable, feasible, and sustainable goals for your grant program each year. Remember, these goals should focus on more than just dollars; instead, aim to set goals that help your organization secure the resources it needs in order to sustain (or grow) its work.

Some good examples include:

  • Secure our first grant award this year.
  • Win $75,000 in new funding, from at least 3 different funders.
  • Close the funding gap for our Senior Services program.
  • Cultivate 10 new relationships with funders.
  • Leverage our new Board Chair’s relationships to grow our prospect list by 10.
  • Improve our program evaluation by securing a capacity building grant.

Tips for Setting the Right Goals for Your Grant Program

1. Start with what you need.

A great place to start is to review your budget gaps: What programs need funding? Are you losing any key funders this year or in the next 2-3 years? What do those numbers look like? Also take time to review expense budgets for each program, as well as any dedicated and allocated revenue for each program, and factor those into this process as well. Keep in mind that this will likely take time, and your leadership must be involved

2. Next, add in what you’d like.

Once you’ve assessed and accounted for your immediate needs, consider your larger vision for the future of your organization and programs. What additional resources might you need to realize that vision and/or achieve those goals?

3. Be Realistic!

At Elevate, we use two primary tools to ensure are goals are rooted in reality: a landscape analysis, and a forecasting document.

We recommend conducting an analysis of your peers, to give you a fuller picture of the landscape and help you set reasonable goals and expectations. Start by assessing who your peers and competitors are – aim to identify 4-10 peer organizations, and look at how they similar or different to your organization or programs. Once you have your list or peer organizations, do some research to see how much funding they receive from grants or foundations, including which funders support them and the average award size. Doing this type of analysis will also help you determine whether it’s feasible for your organization to reach your revenue goals through grants alone.

A forecasting chart helps you understand and anticipate how much funding your grant program might secure in the coming year based on probability. It helps you plan for the uncertainty of losing grants you did not expect to lose – and win grants you did not expect to win!

The basic steps for putting together a forecasting chart are to:

  • Estimate the likelihood you will win a grant; and then
  • Multiply that by the amount of money requested.

Here’s the math:
$ ask amount x % probability of winning = $ expected revenue 

For example:
$100,000 request x 50% probability = $50,000 expected revenue

You’ll then add each anticipated proposal’s expected revenue together to create a forecast and get the total expected revenue from grant funding for your organization. Remember: your goal is not to get everything about every funder right! Instead: it is to play the averages and get your total projections as close as possible to reality.

For more on how to create a forecasting chart, plus a free downloadable template, check out this blog post.

4. Consider your organization’s unique story.

The more aware you are of your organization’s history, strengths, vision, and challenges, the better equipped you’ll be to set goals for your grant program that strengthen and deepen the impact of your work. Below are a few examples of how you might map your understanding of your organization onto your goals for the year:

Organizational Strength: Our adult workforce development programming serves more people, with greater need, than many of our peers.

  • Grants Program Goal: To secure public funding for our adult workforce development programming from the city for the first time, and explore at least 2 state grants. To focus on renewing existing workforce development grants and pursue at least 2 new large ($50,000+) grants for this program.

Organizational Challenge:
Our youth mentoring program does not stand out among our peers.

  • Grants Program Goal: To secure a capacity building grant to improve the program design and evaluation.

We wish you all the best in setting and reaching meaningful goals with your grant program in 2020! And stay tuned for a follow-up blog post on how to measure if your grant program is working over the course of the year.

Written by Alayna Buckner and Michelle LaCroix

About the Authors:

Michelle Anthony LaCroix