Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

NancyVic Author: Nancy Vaughan

Oh my goodness, it’s already the end of January!  How did that happen?  What is it about time that is so evasive and contrary?  It expands when you least appreciate it (like when you are walking across red-hot sand to get to your beach towel) and contracts when you need it most (grant submission deadlines!).

Effective time management is particularly crucial for those of us working in grant-seeking and grant-writing.  Long-term, big picture time management underpins the successful development of funder relationships; while short-term time management is critical for ensuring grant application and EOIs are submitted on time. 

Yes, I know that books, blogs and websites about time management are everywhere. The challenge is finding time to read them!  While there is some contradictory advice out there, most sources have these key elements in common: 1. Know what is most important to you (your priorities),  2. Focus your time on these, and  3. Use a range of tools and systems to help you focus your time on these priorities.

1. Know your priorities

Read just a handful of time management or productivity books and you will quickly notice that knowing what is most important to you (your priorities) and then focusing your effort on these is at the heart of effective time management. It stops us confusing being busy with being effective and makes sure we stay focused on what matters most.  Or, as Stephen Covey says in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People … you must “Begin with the end in mind.”  Ideally, your organisation has a strategic plan that identifies priorities for the organisation, and your list of grant-seeking priorities is a logical extension of this.

2. Create your Road Map and stick it to your wall

After you have identified your priorities and written these down, most time management experts suggest the best way to tackle these is by breaking them down into smaller, achievable steps.  I have called this a Road Map. Your Road Map is a one-page document that clearly sets out each step - with a timeline and any resources needed - that must be taken to achieve each of your grant-seeking priorities.  Priorities plus clear steps and timelines = Road Map.  Keep it simple.  This isn’t a list of every single work task but a list of your priorities.  Display it somewhere you can see it.

A Road Map will tell you when you have detoured too far from the track and will guide you back. This is reminding me of the time my sister and I ended up lost and bogged in the dark with no mobile reception somewhere off a logging track in the Alpine region of Victoria.  We had to hitch a lift from a one-armed truck driver back to the nearest town and his dog farted the whole way. True Story. Like I say, we all need a road map.

3. Use your Road MapRoadMapBlogImage2

This is the key.  Allocate your time so that the priorities in your Road Map take precedence.

‘Always keep your focus on your most important tasks.’ –  Craig Jarrow (Time Management Ninja)

Here are some common time management systems and tools to help you stick to your Road Map and have your most productive year yet:

·       Break down your priorities into monthly or weekly tasks and then block these out in your calendar as chunks of uninterrupted time. The general advice is to block this time out for first thing in the day. Let your colleagues, staff and other contacts know about this commitment.

·       Take 10 minutes at the end of the day to prepare a list of priority tasks to complete the following day. Remember: Focus on the important things first. 

·       Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day or week and factor in time for the unexpected and distractions.

·       If your workplace allows for this, turn off your email and social media notifications, and check these a handful of times a day only. Craig Jarrow, author of the Time Management Ninja, recommends only checking email three times a day: morning, noon, and end of day. The Ninja also suggests that picking up the phone is much faster than engaging in email ‘ping pong’.

·       Keep messages short and clear and don’t reply unless this is actually required.

·       Recognise when you are simply spinning your wheels on a task and take a break.

·       Set time-limits for tasks. Parkinson’s Law says that ‘Work expands to fill the available time available for its completion’.  In other words, if you allocate 2 weeks to complete a task that can be completed properly in 2 hours, you will find a way to complicate/expand the task so that its fill up the hours of that 2 weeks. 

·       Within reason, say No to requests for your time when they do not contribute to your progress towards your priorities. Stay focused on what is most important.

·       Stop multi-tasking.  Focus on one task and finish it then start on the next.  Evidently, we end up spending less time on a task and make less errors when we focus on one task at a time. This Psychology Today article has some great tips on increasing productivity at work and expands on many of the tips covered in this blog.

So, there you have it.  Your 3-step plan for a focused and effective 2019.


MariaAuck Author: Maria Hernandez-Curry

Understand the ecosystem, honour your funders, involve your beneficiaries!

It’s the start of a new year, and a perfect time to consider these things to help make your grant seeking practice more intentional, more relational and more likely to create impact.  

Here are some things to consider…..

You’re part of an ecosystem!

Your organisation plays an important niche role in the ecosystem of our society. Being able to enact your niche role well (and being able to apply for funding well) means knowing exactly who the communities are that you serve, the landscape of organisations and people who work in your space, and funding sources available.

This year, ensure that you have a robust understanding of your beneficiaries and that you are providing those insights to your funders. In your applications (and reports), make sure you have the data on hand to be able to include information on the target beneficiaries of your projects (e.g. age, ethnic and cultural make up, exact geographic location, sociocultural deprivation index) and on other organisations working on similar projects in your geographic region to ensure you are able to communicate the specific niche needs you fill that no other organisation is providing for.

Another point here is that impact on complex social and environmental issues is not achieved by one organisation, or even sector, alone! Check out our blogs on collaborating for greater impact for more on this! (Necessity of Collaboration Blog

BlogImage NZMaria

Honour thy funders

They are part of our community. New Zealand’s philanthropic sector is interwoven and close-knit, so building and maintaining strong relationships with funders is key to having an intentional and robust grant seeking programme. I encourage you to honour every relationship and interaction your organisation makes with a funder or potential funder.

Ways to show your respect for the contribution funders make can include things like: being prepared before phoning a funder; letting them know of potential or imminent changes to a funded project; inviting them to see your mahi; always ensuring funder reports are submitted on time; making that hard but important decision not to pursue a funding relationships where you know there isn’t alignment with your organisation’s mission; ensuring all communications are coordinated and transparent; ensuring they feel included as partners in your project in the impact you’re creating.

Honouring funders is also about ensuring that they are connected with beneficiaries. This can be achieved through measuring and evaluating the work you do, as well as sharing your beneficiaries’ stories in a way that is meaningful for funders.

Know your impact

In the nonprofit sector it can frequently feel like resources (dollars, time and energy) are scarce, so it can feel impossible to invest time in creating clarity around your organisations’ goals, your strategic plans to achieve them, and how you measure your performance against those goals. However, with the increasing competition for funding, and as funders become more invested in evaluating their own impact, this is an essential step in setting your organisation up for success and sustainability!

You also need to have a strong understanding of how the programs you provide translate into outcomes, how those outcomes are helping you meet your organisation’s kaupapa or mission, and what your strengths and weaknesses are. This means implementing key performance indicators and monitoring them throughout your programs: and using those insights to help you make tweaks to ensure they are optimally designed to create the best outcomes possible. (Just make sure you keep your funder abreast of any changes before they happen!).

How you evaluate your projects should be informed by the funder’s reporting requirements, but also by the information your organisation needs to be able to assess your performance against your strategic goals. Nonprofits play an important role as the bridge between funders and your beneficiaries, so it’s also important that your evaluation captures information about your beneficiaries’ experiences and stories. This is vital information in understanding how your projects are creating change.

Evaluation is hard work and requires a specific set of skills and knowledge! Check out our Evaluation Readiness Quiz to assess your strengths and weaknesses in evaluation, and get in touch if you need help.

Don’t play piggy in the middle: know your value as an educator instead

The non-profit sector is, of course, unlike the for-profit sector where the purchaser and user are generally one in the same. Your funders essentially fund services that will benefit someone else. This can create issues when there is a disconnect between what beneficiaries need or want, and what funders think beneficiaries need – with your organisation stuck in the middle.

We see this happen when organisations create projects to fit funding rounds, rather than creating projects based on their strategic goals and the identified needs of beneficiaries.

This can create a situation whereby you are able to meet the requirements of your funders, but not necessarily listening to or meeting the needs of the communities you serve. In worst case scenarios these sorts of practices can contribute to an imbalance in power dynamics, silencing the voice and contribution of your beneficiaries: which is far from what funders want to see happening!

In your grant seeking practice this year, continue to be mindful that the goal of your funding relationships is to obtain the best possible outcome for your beneficiaries (this might involve co-design of projects and consultation on what your beneficiaries want). You and your funder are in an equal partnership where you work together to serve your communities. Your organisation plays a vital role in translating that financial gift into social and environmental benefit.

Stay in the know

Just like the rest of us, funders are influenced by current events, new research and ideological shifts. I encourage you to keep up to date with changing philanthropic trends both in New Zealand and overseas. A good place to start is subscribing to Philanthropy New Zealand’s e-newsletter if you haven’t already.

There are also some great tools out there (check out our GEMS calendar) to keep up to date with new grants available, existing ones you may not know about, as well as changes to funders’ strategies, areas of interest and funding round dates.

Spill the tea with your networks. Share knowledge about grant seeking trends and practice with other organisations who make up part of your community. Keep an ear out for great tips and don’t hesitate to pass on tips to others.

Wishing you every success for 2019! Please get in touch with us if you have grants or evaluation questions or we can provide you with any support.