NOVEMBER 2, 2017

For organizations just starting explore the world of foundation fundraising and grant applications, the intricacies of attachments and additional proposal elements can be downright intimidating.

For almost all foundations, it isn’t enough to submit a compelling narrative and clearly defined goals—you’ll also need to be able to back up your words with budgets, financial statements, board lists, diversity tables, logic models, funder lists, and more. Remarkably, gathering these components can be daunting for both small and large organizations, as you will either be responsible for gathering everything yourself or need to coordinate documentation from multiple departments within your organization.

Despite this foreboding picture, supplementing winning proposals with strong supporting material doesn’t need to be a puzzle of PDFs, spreadsheets, and constantly outdated staff lists. All it takes is an intentional focus on staying organized and a commitment to making the effort to file items properly the first time. As an added bonus, taking these steps consistently and gathering the required attachments ahead of a deadline can strengthen your program design and help further your goals.

Below are some tips to help you keep all your documents organized and up to date:

1. Keep everything in one place.

Nobody wants to dig through all their emails or sift through folders to find that 990 from last year. It’s really easy to create an Attachments folder within your Dropbox or shared drive so that when it comes time to pull together a proposal, you know where everything is.

2. Create an organizational system that works for you, and is comprehensible to others at your organization.

A good starting point is making a folder for each type of attachment (budgets, board list, funders, etc). I’m a big proponent of fine tuning tools or systems to meet your individual needs, but be sure that whatever you choose is either clear enough that someone else could easily follow it or is possible to explain to others. It couldn’t hurt to create a basic user guide or other form of documentation for your coworkers to reference.

3. Use clear file names (with dates!).

To build on that last point, make sure that your naming conventions are clear and consistent, so that they can be easily understood at a glance. I’ve found it’s helpful to include at least and month and year in the name of the file, especially with items that may need to be regularly updated. BONUS TIP: If your files are arranged alphabetically, adding 0- to the beginning of the name will always sort it to the top.

4. Keep a ‘current’ and ‘archive’ folder for each attachment.

This is especially useful and important for those documents that get updated regularly, like funder lists. We’d recommend creating both a CURRENT and an ARCHIVED folder for each, saving as new version of each document in the “current” folder each time you update it, and moving the old one to the “archive” folder. By combining this step with the previous step about including date in your file names, you’ll never have to second guess whether you have the most up-to-date file.

5. Create checklists to stay on track:

As in all things, a list is a great way to keep track of all the moving parts, especially if you’re working on multiple proposals at the same time. In that case, putting your attachment lists side by side can help you cross off multiple items at once.

6. Think a few steps ahead.

The trick to avoiding a late-game scramble to gather all your attachments is thinking ahead! As a good rule of thumb, you should be thinking about what attachments you will need and where to find them at the same time as you are thinking about drafting the proposal. Thinking ahead also applies to updating your documents – updating your funding list as you receive funding will save you from the scramble of making those updates (and hoping you didn’t miss any!) when it’s time to gather attachments for an upcoming deadline.

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