JUNE 1, 2017

Managing an annual grants calendar takes time, planning and thoughtfulness.

The calendar is an essential tool to keeping your grants program organized and strategic. But rather than expending all your resources and applying to every RFP under the sun, it’s important to be mindful of your short and long-term fundraising goals while remaining realistic and honest about your organization’s capacity to respond to RFPs throughout the fiscal year.

Below are six best practices to keep in mind that will help make your crazy year of deadlines feel more manageable and strategic!

1. Create a calendar

Sure, it sounds pretty obvious, but creating a calendar is the first step to keeping your grant program focused and manageable. Choose a format and management tool that makes sense for your organization and those who will be using the calendar on a regular basis. Spreadsheets are great and super customizable, or maybe your donor database software allows you export the data you need to build a funding calendar. If you want to capture greater detail over several fiscal years, perhaps consider investing in a more robust project management tool.

At Elevate, our teams use Salesforce to manage our clients’ calendars. Regardless of what type of platform you decide to go with, your calendar should include an overview of each month in your fiscal year that details deadlines, request information/amounts, strategic notes, application requirements and timeline/process, contact information, and tasks associated with the application. Using a well-integrated system to keep track of your daily tasks in conjunction with your grants calendar is a great way of ensuring you stay on top of deadlines!

2. Review past grants

Set aside some time towards the end of each fiscal year to review the grants you applied to that year, and to update your strategy. Consider how much time and effort went into each application and whether reapplying makes sense for your organization in the coming year. This step will also involve researching the foundations’ funding priorities for that year, to make sure the alignment with your programs is still strong. This is a great time to review your grants strategy to guarantee your time will be used to pursue opportunities that are well aligned with your work and meet your fundraising needs. If you’ve decided to not pursue an opportunity again, make sure to note the reason why. This will be extremely helpful in times of transition to prevent new staff from trying to figure out why you didn’t reapply to a grant you’ve been applying to for several years!

3. Start filling in hard grant and reporting deadlines

The easiest step in creating your calendar is starting off by adding the hard deadlines. These deadlines are the least likely to shift, so it provides a great starting point and allows you to see where there are gaps and chances to add rolling deadlines to your calendar. Speaking of rolling deadlines, be sure to include one or two in each month to allow yourself the space to respond to new RFPs that may be released throughout the year.

4. Research new funding opportunities

As you’re creating your new calendar, you might come across some funding gaps that you need to fill. Throughout the year, you should be researching new funding opportunities that are well aligned to these needs, as well as your larger mission and programs. Include the carefully vetted opportunities in your calendar, but be mindful of the staff time needed to apply to the grant and the chances of your organization receiving funding. You might find that these new prospects require an invitation to apply, but that shouldn’t hinder you from building in time into your calendar to cultivate a relationship with the funder.

5. Be realistic

Staff time and resources are incredibly valuable, so it doesn’t make sense to go for grants that you know your organization has no chance of winning.  It will always be better and more strategic to write 10 extremely compelling proposals that you will win than to spend time writing 20 average proposals. This also means that it is critical to remain honest and realistic about your organization’s capacity to take on new grants.  Of course, new and additional funds are great, but putting your organization in a situation where you can’t deliver on your promises is never ideal. When building your calendar, always keep in mind your mission, funding needs, and capacity.

6. Review and update your calendar throughout the year

The grant calendar is not a static document. Reevaluating and updating it throughout your fiscal year is important in making sure that it aligns with your organization’s evolving needs. Be sure to build in time into your schedule at least once a month to review upcoming deadlines, and which opportunities will require time and attention from you and other staff. Review your cultivation tasks to ensure you’re on top of everything so that your calendar doesn’t become unwieldy and you aren’t missing out on great opportunities!

Whether your organization has a robust existing grants calendar, or you’re just starting your foray into the institutional fundraising space, these best practices will help you implement a thorough and strategic system for staying on top of your existing grant deadlines, identifying new opportunities for funding, and maximizing your organization’s time and resources along the way.

About the Author:

Meaza Getachew