"Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around." Henry David Thoreau
It is no great insight to say that the people writing your grant requests have to be passionate about your organization’s mission. They must believe in the work you do, and the changes you are trying to make in this world. And most importantly, the writers need to fully embrace, and be able to communicate, your organization’s long-term vision. And, of course, your organizational vision builds off your mission statement.
Let’s say you operate a food bank and its mission is to alleviate hunger in your community. Well, that’s pretty straightforward. But how does your leadership – the board of directors, advisory council, staff, and significant volunteers – envision this happening?
Being in the trenches, the staff and volunteers may think the way to alleviate hunger is to collect and distribute additional food and increase the number of volunteers so they can serve more people each day.
The board of directors may think the food bank needs to expand its service area and form partnerships with those organizations focusing on workforce development to help address one of the underlying causes of poverty in the region.
And the advisory board may feel that alleviating hunger in your community can only happen if the root causes of poverty in the community are clearly articulated and addressed.
These are all legitimate interpretations of the mission statement, but are any of them truly visionary? Do they inspire the person who is writing grant proposals? Will these interpretations entice significant investments via grantmakers in the food bank?
“Collective clarity of purpose is the invisible leader.” Mary Parker Follett
Adopting a clear, unified, and enticing vision for your organization is key if you are going to write compelling grant requests. But where do you start?
I’d suggest polling your leadership. Find out what people are thinking about how your organization might achieve its mission. Careful here! Don’t lead the answers. Ask one or two open-ended questions, allowing your leaders to share their thoughts. Be sure to add a copy of your mission statement to the top of the survey, and then ask: How do you see our organization achieving this mission?
Create a summary of the survey results to share internally with staff, board, advisors, and volunteers. The summary will provide you with a springboard to initiate a candid conversation, at the board level, about the future of your organization. This discussion should revolve around such questions as:
Where do you want your organization to be in ten years?
What would be one or two things you could do that would have the greatest impact toward achieving your mission?
Are there new or unusual allies that could contribute to the success of your organization?
What are some services or approaches that your organization does not currently offer or do?
Could your organization’s approach be addressing your mission in a completely different way?
“If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must expect to employ methods never before attempted.” Francis Bacon
Based on these insightful board discussions, you can now develop a voice that will engage grantmakers at a new, and I would argue, much higher level.
I’ll give you an example of how this might play out using the food bank scenario. Let’s say the board goes through this visioning exercise and decides to take a completely different approach. The idea is to address the organization’s mission by establishing an agrihood in the community over the next decade. (An agrihood is a neighborhood built around a farm that raises crops and animals to feed people in the area.)
Establishing an agrihood would eventually, if managed as a cooperative, allow the food bank to scale back dramatically and perhaps reinvent themselves as an organization and how they interact with the community. It is a visionary approach that could generate numerous grant requests.
If your organization went through such an exercise, and developed an exciting vision, the grantwriter’s job would be to focus your research on what each grantmaker is actively trying to achieve and how your organization can move both their agenda and yours forward.
At this juncture, you have to ask yourself: Can your organization march in sync with a funder? If so then it is worth having a conversation with the funder to explore a possible partnership. Solving any complex social or environmental problem is going to require long-term, flexible funding, and bringing grantmakers into this conversation will be key to securing support to do the work you need to do!
Don’t be shy about engaging a potential grantmaker in conversation. Once your leadership has developed a new vision you will want to gather input from grantmakers that are already trying to accomplish much the same thing as your organization. These grantmakers may not fund you, but by sitting down at a table and engaging them in helping you craft your strategy to achieve your vision, you may find that they can bring other grantmakers into the mix.
This whole exercise will provide you with a new vision that you can refer to as you write grant requests in 2018 and beyond. You can tie all of those smaller projects into this bigger vision, showing how each step that is funded brings you closer to realizing this vision.
As the food bank, for example, writes a request to buy the land next to their building to start a community garden, they will be letting the funder know that this process will provide their leadership and volunteers with the necessary training they’ll need as they move toward that much larger, ten-year vision of establishing an agrihood.
The question then becomes, how do you sustain your current operations as you build toward this new vision? I’ll be writing a blog in a few weeks addressing this very topic, so keep checking back!
Action steps you can take today
Develop and circulate a survey to determine how your leadership envisions addressing your organization’s mission.
Initiate a candid discussion at the board of directors level to help flesh out the long-term vision for your organization.
Research grantmakers who are working in the area of your new approach to addressing your mission.
Meet with these grantmakers to get their advice on how to move forward so you can achieve your long-term vision.
Share this article
Want to keep up with the latest at GrantStation?
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter, the GrantStation Insider.