5 Grant Research Mistakes (and What to Do Instead) with Melissa Reams
Want to know how to avoid grant research mistakes? Struggling to know how to make grant research perfect?
In this 1 hour special workshop hosted by Instrumentl, you’ll be able to build a funnel and know who goes in, how to steward funders, and how to add new prospects.
By the end of this one-hour workshop with Melissa Reams, you’ll learn:
- The top 5 mistakes nonprofits make when researching grants and what to do instead
- How to use Instrumentl to avoid the top grant research mistakes
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Melissa Reams is the founder and principal consultant at Upstream Consulting, a Georgia-based consulting firm that provides a full range of grant services. After working with nonprofits for more than a decade, she decided to launch her own business so she could help health and social service nonprofits win more grants without all the stress. Since 2017, Upstream Consulting has helped small and mid-sized nonprofits throughout the U.S. secure more than $9M.
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5 Grant Research Mistakes (and What to Do Instead) - Grant Training Transcription
Will: Hello, everyone and welcome to Five Grant Research Mistakes and What To Do Instead with Melissa Reams. This workshop is being recorded and slides will be shared with you afterwards. So please keep your eyes peeled for that follow-up email later today in case you need to review anything from today's workshop.
In case it's your first time here, this free grant workshop is an Instrumentl partner webinar. These are collaborations between Instrumentl and our community partners to help provide free educational opportunities for grant professionals. Our goal is to tackle a problem that grant professionals and broader nonprofit professionals often have to solve while also sharing about the different ways that Instrumentl's platform can help grant writers win more grants.
Instrumentl is the institutional fundraising platform. If you're looking to bring grant prospecting, tracking, and management into one place, we can certainly help you do that. You can set up your own recommendations using the link that Melissa shared here. I'll also put that in the Zoom chat for you in case you're new here.
With that housekeeping out of the way, I'm very excited to introduce Melissa Reams. She's the founder and principal consultant at Upstream Consulting, a Georgia-based consulting firm that provides a full range of grant services. After working with nonprofits for more than a decade, she decided to launch her own business so that she could help health and social service nonprofits win more grants without all the stress.
Since 2017, Upstream Consulting has helped small and midsize nonprofits throughout the U.S. secure more than $9 million in funding. If it's your first time here as well and you have any questions along the way, please include three hashtags in front of your question. But other than that, Melissa, feel free to take it away.
Melissa: All right, thanks, Will, for that introduction and thanks so much everybody for joining us today for this presentation. So as Will said, my name is Melissa Reams. I'm the founder and principal consultant at Upstream Consulting. I think that he pretty much covered everything. So I'll just keep this moving here. Now, I am only one of five amazing women who support our operations at Upstream Consulting.
And thanks to remote work, we are scattered all throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and we're able to work with nonprofits throughout the United States. So I want to get a sense of who you are. If you would respond in the poll, Will is gonna open up a poll here. Are you an executive director, maybe a development staff or a grants consultant, a volunteer or board member or maybe you fit in some other category.
And Christy, I noticed your question. Yes. I think this information will be relevant for you because you are able to find grant opportunities specific for state governments.
All right. Perfect. So it looks like the majority of the folks on the call are development staff. So 39% development staff and 26% grants consultants. So we have a good little blend here, a few executive directors, a few volunteers. Thank you for all of your hard work that you do. And then 16% fall in the other category. All right, perfect. Thanks, Will.
Okay. So all of you shared your dream vacation details earlier in the chat. I don't think that our roadmap for today's presentation will be nearly as exciting as this dream vacation, but we are still going to have a lot of fun. So in today's presentation, we are going to talk about the top five most common and problematic grant research mistakes that I have seen people make when they're looking for grants for their nonprofit or for their government agency.
And then, after each of those mistakes, we're going to talk about some key strategies that you can use instead. And even if you aren't making each of these five mistakes, I think we'll talk about some strategies that you can implement to make your grant research a little bit stronger. And then finally, I'm gonna go over how you can use Instrumentl to avoid these mistakes.
And build a really strong foundation of grant research so that you can find those perfect grants for your organization that you work for. And as Will said, if you have questions, you can throw them in the chat as we're going along. I'll try to answer them as we're going through the presentation. If we don't get to them, then we'll hopefully have some time at the end to go over those questions. If you would just put three hashtags or three pound signs in front of your question, that way we can quickly identify those questions for you.
All right. So before we jump into those five mistakes, I want to talk a little bit about the importance of grant research. Now I just happen to really love grant research. I love research in general, but I particularly love grant research.
And the reason I love grant research so much is because I feel like it builds a really strong foundation for winning grants in the future. I think historically we focused a lot on the mechanics of grant writing. So how to write short, concise sentences and how to write a compelling needs statement. And that is certainly important.
But if you are not finding the best grants for your organization, it doesn't really matter how amazing the mechanics of your grant writing are. So we want to make sure that we have really great grant research skills. So I want you to think about this. So we know Babe Ruth was an amazing baseball player. He hit lots of home runs.
I don't know how many, maybe somebody on the webinar does. But if he had been hitting kiwis instead of baseballs, then he would not have been able to hit all of those home runs. So similarly, if we are hitting the wrong target or if we're not applying to the right types of grants or the right types of funders, then we are not going to be successful either.
So that's why research is so important. We need to make sure that we have the right grants and the right funders that we're applying to before we waste our time applying. But despite the importance of grant research, I know that it can be really frustrating. Even though I love grant research, I can get frustrated with the process as well.
So I wanna make sure we get all of those frustrations off of your chest before we get started. So if you would just take a minute to think about what your biggest frustrations are when it comes to grant research and if you would add your top frustration to the chat.
I'm seeing a lot of time consuming, lack of a plan.
Reading through 65 pages to find an answer in a government grant. Yes, if you're lucky. Sometimes they're longer. Reading through hundreds of funders to find the match, which service do you use? Lots of time consuming matches, not what I want. Ooh, foundations that give vague information. That's a big one.
All right. So lots of frustrations that you all have with grant research. And I saw if you were there for writing grant proposals, too, those can definitely be frustrating. So I completely understand all of those frustrations. As you can see, they're very common. But hopefully by the end of this presentation, we'll be able to share some strategies with you that will make your grant research a little bit quicker. Maybe a lot quicker, more effective, and maybe even enjoyable. Maybe you'll learn to love grant research like I do.
All right. So let's jump into these five most common and problematic mistakes that I've seen when people are doing grant research. So the first mistake I think people make is not knowing what they need before they start doing their grant research.
Now I speak with a lot of people and when I share with them the type of work I do, if they're in the nonprofit space, their first response is typically something along the lines of, oh, well, we need nonprofits for our grants, too, or for our organization, too, grants for our organization, too. I'll get that.
And my response to them is always, well, what do you need grants for? Now they typically look at me like I'm a little bananas because the obvious answer is money, right? Everyone needs money to keep doing the amazing work that they're doing in their government agency or their nonprofit. But the reality is that most grants are restricted to projects or programs.
There are unrestricted grants available out there, the general operating grants, but they're a little harder to find and because everyone wants them, they're much harder to be awarded. So it's really important that you think through exactly what projects and programs you need grant funding for before you start doing your research.
The reality is that grants are not the solution to every single funding need that your organization has. I think that's a really common misconception about grants. And if you take the time to really think through what you need funding for first, then you can avoid this mistake and you can educate other leaders in your organization.
So some issues with this mistake. When you don't have a clear picture of exactly what you need funding for before you start your grant research, you'll end up looking at too many grants and funders. You're just going to have too much to sort through. And I think that that is something that several of you mentioned with your frustrations that it's just too much to look for.
And the reality is, if you're not very clear on exactly what you need when you set up your search criteria, you will end up with thousands of opportunities to look through. And it's very overwhelming when you do this, you're going to end up losing time and everyone is busy. You have a lot on your plate and we can't get time back.
So we want to make sure that we set ourselves up for success so that we can really manage our time well. The other issue that I've seen with this mistake is that funding can lead the organization. So what I mean by that is that sometimes if you don't know exactly what you need funding for, you may find an opportunity that is a good fit, it aligns with the organization's mission and priorities, but perhaps it would require you to develop and implement a program that your organization really never intended to implement.
And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it can present a really amazing opportunity. But more often than not, I've seen that chasing a new program just so you can apply for a grant opportunity will end up stretching staff really thin and can sometimes take you away from the critical services that your organization really needs to provide for your community.
And then the last issue with this mistake is mission creep. And I'm sure, you know, we have a lot of development folks on the line. So I know that you know what mission creep is. But basically, this is when you start chasing funding opportunities and begin doing things that do not align with your mission just so you can apply to those opportunities. And again, this can take you away from the critical services your organization was created to provide. And it can just cause a lot of extra work that doesn't necessarily support your organization's goals.
All right. So what are we going to do instead? Well, what I like to do when I'm getting ready to sit down to do some research for a new organization I work with or maybe a new project or program is to really take the time to think through these five core pieces of information for that project or program. So you could look at any other different criteria that you wanna look at.
I find these five to be the basics and really help set up strong criteria for grant research. So basically you would list out all of your projects, programs, or services that your organization needs funding for, and then work through the rest of this table here. Now you can also include a line for general operating, but keep in mind that those are going to be a little harder to find, but not impossible.
All right. So let's do an example here. So let's say that your organization has a program called Reading Rocks. So you would just put that in the project and program column there. And then you wanna think about what is the population that is served through this program and what are the needs that are addressed in this program?
And keep in mind that the needs addressed are going to be the needs of the population you serve and not the organization. So in this example, let's say that Reading Rocks provides a reading education program for K through 3 students attending title one schools in Smith County and that you plan to provide this service for a thousand children, let's say, in a school year.
And the need this program addresses is that Smith County has the lowest percentage of children who are able to read on grade level by fourth grade in the entire state. So that's a very significant need. So once you have that information, you wanna think through the timeline for this program. So is this a program that is offered on an ongoing basis maybe twice a year or maybe it's something very short term where it's gonna start on a specific date and end on a specific date.
And that information is important from a programmatic standpoint, but also from a funding perspective. So you want to make sure that you have the funding you need to keep this program operating. And in order to do that, you have to backwards plan so that you have those grant dollars coming in strategically to support that program.
As many of you probably know, you may apply for a grant opportunity and you could be notified in a couple of weeks and have that grant check in hand in a month. But there are other opportunities where you apply and you don't see any money or maybe even any notification for six months or longer. So you need to make sure that you have a timeline in mind so that you can stack those grant dollars coming in.
So for this example, let's say that we're gonna provide this program twice a year from August through October and January through March. And then the final bit of information you would want to include is the total cost of the project program or service. Now, this seems simple enough, but in my experience, I've seen that a lot of organizations haven't developed a distinct project or program budget.
And I really encourage you to take the time to work with your financial folks, your executive director, board members, whoever you need to work with to determine what that project or program budget is gonna be. One, if you're applying for grants for that project or program, you're most likely going to have to submit a distinct budget for that.
And two, if you don't know how much money you need to operate this program before you start your grant research, it's going to be very difficult to identify opportunities that are a good fit. So let's say in this example, this total program is $150,000. So if we think about the money that we need for that program, we want to be looking at grant opportunities that can provide a fairly significant portion of that total so that we're not always pushing out a lot of grant proposals just trying to cobble together small grants to equal that 150,000.
All right. So now we're gonna give you a few minutes to work through this table on your own. I just want you to think about one specific project, program, or service that your organization offers, and then jot down the population it serves, the need that it addresses, and the timeline. And if you know the total amount required for a year, then you can go ahead and jot that down.
And once you're finished, you can share your example in the chat, if you want to. So we'll take about three minutes for this.
Susan, I see your question there. Yes, definitely. So for this exercise, you could simply put the total amount that you need for this project or program, but I would definitely have a full program or project budget that has all of those four categories like staff, employee-related expenses, supplies, equipment, because you'll need more details than just a cost.
Now I see a couple of responses and questions that are very specific to the project or programming something like buying a school bus or purchasing a medical clinic. When you're thinking about these projects or programs, you really want to attach them within a program or service you're going to offer. So let's say that you need a school bus.
Now there are certainly funders out there who will provide some capital funding and who will be okay with just purchasing the school bus. But you can also be creative and incorporate the cost of that new school bus into your programs and services that you're providing. So let's say that you need that school bus in order to deliver an after school program because you have to pick the kids up from school and then you have to take them to these different – let's say field trips or wherever they're going.
So you would incorporate that part of the cost, the total cost to run your entire after school program. [inaudible]
All right, so I'm seeing a lot of other projects coming in here. These are great.
Ooh, animated patient education videos. Okay.
Okay. And purchasing bus passes and gas vouchers, I think that this would be another one that you might be able to weave into an existing program or service budget. But it looks like it might be an immediate need. So really for $5,000, if it's a super time sensitive need, it might be something you ask for donations for and do a short fundraiser.
All right. So lots of great options. So you'll receive a copy of these slides after the presentation. So I really encourage you to create a table that's like this so that you can set up your own grant research with all of the different projects and programs that your organization is looking for grants for.
All right. So mistake number two is not dedicating time to research. Now I saw a few people in the chat earlier mention that there's just not enough time in the day for grant research, and I completely understand. So let's do another quick poll here. I'd love to know if you block time off for grant research.
So maybe it's yes, no way, or maybe you're just getting started and you haven't had a chance to do so either way and no judgment here.
Look at that. 53% of you are already blocking off time for research. That's amazing. I could just skip this part of the presentation. Wow. Okay, perfect. So I'm so glad that all of you realize exactly how important it is to block off time for grant research. And for those of you who are not blocking out time or maybe you're just getting started, we'll go through this common mistake just so you get a sense of why it's so important to block off that time once you get started.
All right. So when you do not make the time for grant research, a couple of issues can come up. So one, you might miss opportunities, especially if there are opportunities that are only open for a very short window of time. And this seems to be more and more common lately that an opportunity will open and it will close within maybe two to four weeks.
So you really have to be on top of your research in order to identify that opportunity.
And I noticed someone in the chat mentioned that you have to do the research seasonally. Definitely we're about initial research and then we're going to talk about that ongoing maintenance research. If you find an opportunity at the very last minute, you may end up trying to put together a quality proposal at the very last minute. And you might be sitting there submitting it at 11:58 p.m. Those of you who have been there, you know what this means.
And really, we're all just stressed and we don't need any more stress in our lives. So we wanna avoid this and you might also end up reviewing the same opportunities over and over again. They say that when you're interrupted, it takes somewhere between 13 and 30 minutes to get back to the task at hand.
So if you don't have time blocked off, you may end up having to go over the same opportunity over and over and over again, which as you know, will lead to lost time. And then finally, if you're not blocking off time for grant research, you might not meet your grant fundraising goals, especially if your approach to grants is a little scatter shop, which again is understandable.
We're all very busy. So what are we gonna do instead? We're gonna block off that time. So I encourage you to block off the time on your calendar for grant research just like you would for any meeting or conference or anything else that you have to do. And then once you block off that time, you wanna make sure that you protect your time.
So let colleagues know that you're focused on grant research, and if they can hold your calls or just hold their questions until you're finished. And then once you have that time blocked off, you're going to focus on finding possible matches that would work for those projects, programs, and services that you need funding for.
All right. So mistake number three. So we've found our possible matches because you've already blocked off that time to do grant research, and now we need to vet our possible matches, but this is where I see people make the third most common mistake. And that is simply they don't vet the possible matches.
And sometimes the reason this happens is because they find an opportunity, they're reading through it, and it sounds perfect. It sounds like this opportunity was specifically made for your organization. And maybe you get so excited about it, that you just jump into proposal writing. I know it happens. So just let us know in the chat have you ever found a grant that seemed perfectly made for your organization. Yes or no?
Yes, my favorite. Yes, Shayla, it was my favorite, too. Sometimes you just wanna jump out of your office chair.
All right. So overwhelmingly I'm seeing yeses, so that's very exciting. It's always so exciting when you find that perfect grant opportunity, but it's important to calm down a little bit and take the time to vet those opportunities before you jump into applying. So if you don't take the time to vet your opportunities properly, there are some issues that can come up.
So the first issue might be applying to grants that are not the best fit. Now, at this point, you've started looking at the possible option and you've started doing a little bit of vetting of that option. But if you don't complete that process, then you could apply to grants that maybe you aren't eligible for or truly that aren't the best fit.
And when that happens, it is going to lead to fewer awards. And then you're going to lose a lot of time applying to opportunities that just aren't a good fit for you. And if you're spending a lot of time applying to opportunities that aren't a good fit, you may miss opportunities that actually are a good fit. And I've seen this happen many times with organizations.
A lot of times they'll have their grant calendar prepared and they'll have hundreds of grant opportunities that they plan to apply to for only maybe two programs that they offer. And the reality is, there are lots of grant opportunities out there, but there are probably not that many opportunities that are a good fit. So you wanna make sure you're not wasting time on bad fit opportunities.
So what are we gonna do instead? We're going to fully vet our possible funding matches. So how do you vet a possible funding match? So once you get started with grant research if you're not already started it kind of becomes second nature eventually. But I want to share five key criteria that you want to go through every time you're looking at a possible grant match.
The first criteria is determining whether or not your organization meets the basic eligibility requirements. And there are a lot of different eligibility requirements that a funder might have. You just wanna make sure you go through them and that you meet every single one of them. If you find a requirement that your organization does not meet, I would not waste any more time on it.
I would simply discard it unless you have a relationship with that funder and you feel that they may be willing to make an exception for your organization, which I don't know how common that is, but I just really wouldn't waste any time on trying to get around that eligibility requirement.
The second thing you wanna look at is whether or not your organization meets the geographic requirements and preferences. Now, sometimes this is part of the basic eligibility requirements, but sometimes it's a little bit separate. And the difference between requirements and preferences is that sometimes a funder will say that they fund throughout the entire United States. But if you look at their grantees, you'll actually see that they've only funded maybe in one or two states or just a handful of states.
So you want to make sure that you're within those states before you spend the time applying. You also wanna consider whether or not your work aligns with the funder's mission and priorities. Sometimes this is easy to determine especially if you have a website or some type of formal request for proposals process, sometimes it's not so easy. And in those cases, you're just going to have to look at their previous grantees to get a sense of whether or not your organization is aligned with their previous grantees.
You wanna consider whether or not the funding would cover a significant enough portion of the funding that we need. So remember when we created that table and we determined what the cost would be for your program before we get started on the research? This is why. So going back to that example, if you need a $150,000 and you're looking at grant opportunities that are $1,000 or less, I don't know that I would waste my time, honestly, because grant proposals take quite a bit of time and you wanna make sure that each opportunity you apply for is really going to be worth the squeeze of getting that proposal in.
And then you wanna consider if there are other requirements or restrictions. So each funder may have a specific requirement or other restrictions, and you want to look through those carefully and make sure that your organization can meet those requirements and any restrictions that they have.
All right, now we have found our possible matches. We have vetted our possible matches to the best of our ability. And now we're going to connect with the funder, but this is a very common mistake. Many people do not take the time to connect with the funder before they submit a proposal. And I understand why. It is very terrifying.
Well, first, it's terrifying. I know this because I would much rather sit behind my computer screen and write grant proposals than contact a funder as well. But it's a critical part of the process and it really just has to be done. Now, I notice a few people added in their frustration section that they aren't able to connect with a funder.
And this definitely happens. It's not always possible to connect with the funder before you submit a proposal, but when it is possible, I highly encourage you to try to do it. So when you don't connect with a funder before you submit a proposal, you may end up applying to grants that you're unlikely to win.
Now, obviously you've done your vetting at this point, you've identified that this is a good opportunity, but there are still circumstances where a funder may have changed their guidelines, where their guidelines are not clear, or maybe you're interpreting a guideline in a different way than what the funder meant it.
So it's important to be able to connect with that funder and ask questions that may influence whether or not you're eligible. And they'll tell you if you connect with them. So that way you don't waste your time applying to a proposal that's going to be automatically rejected. If you're applying to a lot of opportunities that you're not a good match for, again, you're going to win fewer awards and you're going to lose time.
And as you're spending all of that time writing those other proposals, you may miss out on opportunities that really are a good match for you. So what are we gonna do instead? Just pick up the phone and call them. Now, my disclaimer here is that sometimes foundations say do not call or sometimes you call and you leave a message and they never answer you.
And that's just the reality of the process. But again, I encourage you to pick up the phone and try to connect with the funder before you submit the proposal. So what are you gonna say when you call? This is where people get really nervous like, okay, but am I supposed to say to them? First of all, keep in mind that you're presenting an opportunity for them to support an amazing organization and all the amazing work that you're doing.
So this is not a person to be scared of or intimidated by. So what to say, simply introduce yourself and why you're calling. So I am the director of development, at this organization located in this city, and I've identified your foundation, and believe that we may be a good match for your funding priorities and I'm hoping to speak with someone about that. At that point, they'll likely tell you if they're the person to speak to or if maybe there's someone else that you should speak to. And when you get that person, just ask them if now is a good time. They may prefer to schedule at a later date. Once you're talking to the right person, you wanna just provide a concise introduction of your organization and programs.
So maybe three to four sentences max, and just to give a plug for the previous Instrumentl presentation that was offered by Meredith Nobel back in May there was a really great piece in that presentation about developing a transformation sentence. That's not what she called it. There's some type of powerful transformation sentence. So if you go on YouTube to Instrumentl's YouTube page, you can check that out because this would be a really good time to talk about that transformation. So what does your organization provide to the people you serve?
Then you want to simply ask if this is the type of work the foundation may be interested in supporting and listen to their response. Now it may be a very brief yes or no, but they'll probably provide some more insight that you can use to determine whether or not this is a good match. And if they say it is a good match and you send a proposal, listening to the things that they share with you at this call will help you develop a proposal that really speaks to their priorities.
Then you wanna just ask specific questions about deadlines or restrictions. Just make sure that you've done your homework. So if there are guidelines available on a website or 990, make sure that you look at those and don't ask questions that you should really already know the answer to. And then finally thank them for their time. So super short and sweet. You're probably looking at 30 minutes or less. So not terribly scary.
All right. So mistake number five is not keeping track of your grant efforts. So this would include things like the grants that you're researching, the grants you've applied to, what the status of those grants are. So anything related to your grant efforts. A lot of times I see that people are not keeping track of all of those efforts and it makes it very difficult to stay organized and get that money in the door exactly when you need it.
In the worst case scenario, your desk might look like this. And if you are trying to keep up with a grant deadline, and you're always looking for the sticky note on a desk that looks like this, it may be very difficult. Although some people say that when they clean their desk, they can't find anything. So I don't know, but the issue with this mistake is that it can lead to a lot of stress and burnout. And there is certainly plenty of that in the nonprofit and government agency space. So we don't need any more of that. You may also miss opportunities.
So if you don't have a system in place for setting your deadlines and all of the things that have to happen before that grant is submitted, then you might miss out on great opportunities. And again, losing time. So what are we gonna do instead? Simply keep track of your grant efforts. So anything related to grants, we want to make sure that you keep track of it.
Now this can be in any type of system that works well for you. This might be a calendar, an outlook calendar, or a Google calendar. It could be [inaudible] or Trello, any type of task management system that you're already using. It really doesn't matter what it is as long as it works for you. So let us know in the chat. What system or software have you found works well for tracking grants efforts?
Google sheets, Salesforce, Smartsheets
Instrumentl. Yes. Excel. Okay. Air Table.
I'm not familiar with that one. All right. So lots of different options out there. And yes, several people mentioned Instrumentl, and we're gonna talk exactly about how you can use Instrumentl to track all of your grant efforts. Okay. So once you have a system identified that works well for you, what are you going to track?
So you wanna track the funder name and contact information, funder priorities and restrictions, the amount you plan to request and for which program or service, any tasks that you need to do in advance of applying. So this might be to submit a letter of inquiry, call the foundation, make sure that you speak with a program director to ensure that no major programmatic changes have occurred.
So really anything related to a grant opportunity. Due dates. And that might be your internal due dates as well as your external due dates. And so if a grant is due on Monday, you may have a goal to submit that no later than Friday of the previous week. The date the grant proposal was submitted and then the results. So that might be pending, awarded, whatever result you want to track there.
All right. So we made it through the five mistakes and strategies. So let's do a quick recap. So the first mistake people often make when doing grant research is not knowing what they need. So the solution to that is to plan out all of your funding needs before you get started.
Not dedicating time to research is the second major mistake. And so to solve that, we're just going to block and protect time to do the research. People often also don't fully vet each opportunity. So we're just going to make sure that you fully vet it and that you meet the requirements of the funder, not connecting with funders.
We're simply going to try to connect with the funder whenever it's allowable. And then finally the fifth mistake was not tracking our grant efforts. And the simple solution of that is just to establish and use a tracking system.
All right. So now that we've gone through the five mistakes and solutions, I'm gonna transition to talk about how Instrumentl can be used to implement all of those key strategies that I shared with you earlier. And I saw several people mention yes, Instrumentl has a calendar and that's what they use and they love it.
So we're gonna talk about all of the features of Instrumentl and how they really work for you to help you save time and money. And this is what we use at Upstream Consulting. And really, I can speak to all the time and money you can save us. Okay. So that first strategy, we talked about knowing what you need before you get started with your grant research.
Now Instrumentl cannot tell you what your organization needs, but once you've identified what you need funding for, you can set up different projects within Instrumentl that will search for grant opportunities that are a good fit for each of those projects. So let's say that you're a healthcare facility and you offer primary care, maybe dental care, and counseling.
Now all three of those services are slightly different. They address a different aspect of health. So you may choose to set up three different projects for your organization that will be looking at fields of work that are specific to that project. So you can see here, this is what it looks like when you go into Instrumentl to start setting up your project details.
So you would choose the type of organization you are. And for the person who asked about government entities, you can see here that there is an option to choose grants only for government entities or if you're a nonprofit, whatever category you fit in, you're going to choose that first. You would name your project and then you can choose up to 10 fields of work that are relevant to your project so that Instrumentl is only going to find opportunities that match those specific fields of work for you. Then you can put in the size of the grants you're looking for. You can choose a minimum or maximum or maybe you choose neither. You can leave that blank. And then the type of grants you're looking for, and then you just save.
So, instead of having to think through all of the different grant opportunities you find and trying to manually sort them into piles that would fit each different project, Instrumentl really does this work for you. And this is what it looks like once you have those projects set up, you can see each one has kind of a little different rectangle here. And when you click on each of those projects, it's gonna show you the identified grant opportunities and funder matches that Instrumentl has found for each of those projects.
All right. So the second strategy we talked about was dedicating time to research. Again, Instrumentl cannot force you to block off your calendar and dedicate that time to research, but it will save you so much time that you might actually have time for those dream vacations that you shared with us earlier.
So when I first started Upstream Consulting in 2017, I did not know about Instrumentl and so anytime I would start doing grant research for a new client, I would try to cobble together information from various search engines from Google, from websites, if one was available and from a funder's 990 or tax return.
Now, if you've never seen a 990, this just gives you a sense of what they look like. The font is very small. It's difficult to read. And up until recently, the control F, the find function, never worked for me. Maybe someone else figured it out, but never worked for me. So I had to go through and do a lot of manual calculations.
So I would look at all the grantees. I would look at the grant sizes. I would divide by the total number of grantees, so I could figure out the average grant size. So you can imagine it took a lot of time to do this for all of the grant opportunities I found. But with Instrumentl, this is the type of thing that you have right in front of you.
Such beautiful graphs. It tells you exactly what you need. I don't have to calculate the average grant size anymore. And so it's really just right there at your fingertips. So, although Instrumentl can't force you to dedicate the time to research, it really will cut your research time in half. I've gone from blocking off maybe four days for initial research, four solid days, to two days.
So, I mean that's half the time, saving a lot of time in your life, so very exciting. And then also for that ongoing research, I always recommend blocking off maybe two to four hours every month or less. Depending on how many programs you're looking for grants for to do your ongoing research, but Instrumentl really takes care of a lot of that for you. Because they're constantly searching for new opportunities, they will send you an email alert whenever you have a new match, and this is just an example of what that might look like.
All right. Fully vetting opportunities. So how does Instrumentl help you fully vet opportunities? So if you'll recall, I talked about five criteria that you want to consider whenever you're vetting opportunities, and I'm gonna show you what it looks like in Instrumentl so that you can look at those five criteria.
So the first is eligibility. So you can see here, this is just an example of some eligibility and ineligibility criteria that I pulled directly from Instrumentl for a specific funder. And so you can just quickly read through all of the requirements and determine very quickly whether or not you meet these requirements. The second criteria I mentioned to look at is geographic requirements and preferences.
Now, note here that this funder does specify that the project must be in one specific county in Texas, but in many cases it might say the location of the project is the United States. But if you look at the map and if we were in Instrumentl, you could hover over the states and tell exactly how many grantees have been in each of the states.
You would be able to see that even if it's said United States, they're really only funding in Texas with maybe just a handful of other grantees in these four other states. So that gives you an indication as to whether or not you meet the basic requirements, as well as whether or not you meet their preferences based on what they've funded in the past.
The third thing I mentioned is to look at their mission and priorities. So sometimes if the funder has provided that information, it will be available here in a really easy to read overview section. In the case that information is not available because we know that many foundations do not have websites or formal proposal processes, then you could simply look at their past grantees. So this picture on the right here is just an example of some previous grantees used from one funder. And you can really easily look through this information to get a sense of organizations this funder has a preference for. We can also see here that aside from knowing that maybe most of their funders were in Texas, we can see that just from these five or six, most of their grantees were in Fort Worth.
So if we're not in Fort Worth and all of their previous grantees were in Fort Worth, then we may not be an ideal candidate for this opportunity. The fourth thing I mentioned to look at was whether or not this grant will cover a significant portion of the funding that you need. So within Instrumentl, it will tell you what the average grant size is for both new grantees and repeat grantees.
So you can see the average as well as the median. It's important to look at the median because you can see here for new grantees, there was 1.1 million grants. And so that definitely skewed the average there. But that gives you a sense of whether or not you can expect this opportunity to fund a significant portion of your program.
And it also gives you a sense of what would be an appropriate request amount. And I know that that's one of the major frustrations people have. It's just you find this opportunity, but you're not really sure how much would be appropriate to ask for. So this really addresses both of those problems. And then the fifth thing was fully vetting your opportunities.
So looking at those specific requirements, this opportunity was from AstraZeneca, which focuses on cardiovascular health. And you can see here that they're looking at, they have some very specific requirements for the programs and the communities they serve. So if that's relevant, that information will also be in Instrumentl. Strategy number four was to contact those funders in advance.
Again, Instrumentl can't contact the funders for you, unfortunately. But they do provide the information to make it very easy for you to do so. So you can see the address of the funder, the phone number. If they have a website that will be available. And then also they key people. So you can really quickly find out who the trustees are, determine if you, someone on the staff, or maybe a board member has a connection of the trustees and that person might be able to help you make that connection.
And then finally our fifth strategy is tracking grant efforts. And we mentioned this briefly earlier, but this is an example of what the grant tracker looks like within Instrumentl. You can sort your opportunities by different calendar or fiscal years. You can set your own fiscal year within Instrumentl.
And then you can see on the left hand side here, that these are all of the distinct projects. So you can look at each project individually within this calendar, or you can look at all of your opportunities that you've saved across all of your projects. For your status, you can see that there is a dropdown menu and you can choose the various status options that are relevant for that opportunity.
And also with tracking grant efforts within each opportunity in Instrumentl, you can assign tasks. So things like submitting a letter of inquiry, contacting the foundation, working with program staff, whatever it is, you can add that within the opportunity and you can assign a different person to work on it.
So you see these little letters here, the TE and the DJ, those are someone's initials. So basically you go in here, you create a task, you assign it to a person, and then that person is going to get an email reminding them that this task is due soon. And then when you finish it, you can go in and mark it as complete.
All right. So here is my contact information and this will also be in the slides that we're gonna send out after the presentation. So at this point, I'll turn it over to Will to discuss this. And we have a few minutes available so we can answer any questions that I didn't get to.
Will: Awesome. So I do have a couple questions from the audience through the workshop. I'm gonna put in the Zoom chat everything related to these freebies.
If you have never gotten these freebies before, or you're looking for Melissa's Winmore grants blueprint freebie, all you need to do is submit your feedback form from today, which is in the Zoom chat. Another way you can do that is through that second link there. So you can create your Instrumentl account using her link or you can also submit your feedback form.
So that's how you'll get those freebies and you'll have until Friday to do that. With that, we have a couple questions that came in. So I'm gonna go through these one by one. Sheila asked a question of when preparing her grant applications, should they take all the parts, the application form, board list, my 501c3 letter, budget, and make it one PDF out of all of them, or send them as individual attachments if emailing their application packet?
Melissa: If the funder hasn't provided clear direction on which of those to do, I would personally combine them all as a single PDF and send it as one attachment.
Will: Great. Eve asked, is it wise to seek out multiple funders who can offer smaller grants to comprise the entire cost of a project or is it better to prioritize one who can cover the entire project? What's a good formula for figuring out how much to ask for?
Melissa: In a perfect world, yes. Definitely find that funder that can cover all or most of that project or program. That would be amazing. I think in most cases, unless you have a really strong relationship with the funder, they typically will not want to fund 100% of the project or program class, but they may find a significant portion of it. I always say work smarter, not harder. So whenever possible, apply to fewer opportunities that will provide more money versus a lot of opportunities that will provide a little bit of money.
Of course, if you don't need a lot of money, maybe your total project cost is $5,000, then you know, that doesn't necessarily apply. But also keep in mind, aside from all of the grant proposal development, you'll have to do to submit a lot of smaller proposals. There are a lot of reporting requirements on the back end. If you can get two big grants versus 15 small grants, you're gonna save yourself a lot of time for at least the next year.
Will: So Celia asked, blocking off time on the grant calendar for grant prospect research. Question, would you recommend blocking off a full day or how many hours would be a good goal to set aside as you're starting out on this strategy?
Melissa: It depends on what your capacity is for sitting still I would say. Maybe a half day would be good to start. Maybe three hours might even be good to once you're getting started just because it can be very labor intensive and exhausting. If you're going to block off a true full day of work, then make sure that you build in breaks to walk around. Just so your brain is fresh.
Will: Linda asked, what advice would you give to a startup nonprofit to make a stronger case for funding?
Melissa: It's always a little harder for startup nonprofits to win grants, simply because most funders want to see a history of financial management and program outcomes. It's not impossible, but it is definitely harder.
Honestly, I recommend when an organization is really truly in the startup phase, maybe a year, two years or less, then they really try to build their capacity for other types of fundraising. So maybe individual donations, small events, peer-to-peer fundraising because the return on your investment for as far as time goes to get those grants, just isn't always there for startup nonprofits.
Will: Yeah, I would just chime in and add that we concur in our stance there in which folks that are ready for a tool like an Instrumentl are typically the ones where you've gotten your feet under you in terms of your grants, you're ready to scale them. It's not like the first grant you've ever written.
It's generally something in which grant writing is something that does take some time to build up the capacity for. And funders are going to be looking for the ones that have sustained themselves for a few years first just because that's what makes sense for them, too, in terms of renewing those relationships in future years. Angela asked, when you say connect, can this even just be letting them know your intention to submit an LOI or proposal?
Melissa: Sure. I mean, if you're calling, then it would still be worth having more of a conversation. I mean, you could certainly email them to let them know your intent to submit, but just letting them know doesn't necessarily give you that opportunity to connect and have a conversation to hear their insight.
So I think it would be ideal if you have the two-way conversation. Of course, that's not always possible, especially with government funders. And if a government application requires you to submit an intent to apply, then that's certainly a requirement that needs to be done. But it would be best to have more of a conversation so you can hear their input.
Will: Awesome. So Celia, you have your hand raised if you wanted to type into those chat or if you want to come off mute feel free to.
Celia: 'Cause I asked the question two or three different ways and I probably confused the heck out of you, but I know that you've shared with us after we find some prospects and how we zero in on the map and see where they're really funding within Texas, let's say, but is there a way to drill down on that to get the list of prospects reduced before I do all of that further vetting because what I'm finding is that I say my geographic area is Texas and if I go ahead and give it like central or county that doesn't really do the trick with like a particular county, I only get like three prospects. With Texas, I get like a thousand. But the trick is they say we give to Texas, but primarily in Dallas. So is there any way to narrow down that search initially so I see what they primarily wanna give to.
Will: Yeah. I can answer that. So in terms of a few tips and tricks, I can share my screen real quick. What you can do is the first thing is when you're in your matches, you can actually search by the respective specific city or area that you have in mind.
If you wanted to search for a particular county, you would input Dallas at that point, it's gonna query for all of the respective instances of whatever it is that your search was set up for in that situation. So if, for example, in your Instrumentl project, you created Lee County, Alabama here.
And what you can do is you could search in this search bar for a specific section of like the state. So that will be one way to do a quick search there. The other thing you can do is if you are in your funder matches section, it will typically take priority to whatever the geographic area that you input in here is.
And you'll see here, for example, this, National Christian Charitable Foundation for this library and information sciences project. There's a history of giving in Lee County, Alabama, which is why this is being shown to me here. So I would try playing around with the search parameter here in terms of answering your question there.
And then the other thing that I would recommend is if you are in just like a general search of sorts, um, the quickest way that I would probably recommend looking at history of giving would be hop into the 990 reports when they're available. And then from there, what you're gonna do is you're gonna look for the map of the U.S. And then filter down based off of, for example, let's just take Florida.
And then what you can do is you can, again, search by keyword phrase. So if I wanted to search for Clearwater now I'm showing just the Humane Society of Pinellas. So that's how you would, again, use a more specific query to identify that sort of lookup function.
Will: Yeah, of course. Angela, question is, have you ever had a phone call with a funder who did not appreciate the outreach?
Melissa: No, not in my experience. I think if they don't appreciate the outreach, it could be because they state on their 990 that they do not accept unsolicited proposals. It's a little tiny checkbox.
So make sure to check for that. In most cases that information will be in Instrumentl as well, but I would always double check the 990. So if they're open to receiving proposals, I've never had a situation where they didn't appreciate it. I think if they don't want to talk to you most of the time, they're just not going to answer the phone and they're not gonna call you back.
And that happens. And I don't think that it's coming from a place of bad intent. I think that a lot of foundations are very small. They don't have dedicated staff, maybe they're a family foundation. And so people are just trying to keep the foundation running in their spare time on a volunteer basis. And so sometimes it is really difficult just to be able to respond to all of the people calling.
Will: Awesome with that, we are a couple minutes over, so we're gonna wrap things up here. The other question I had in terms of -- was from Alexandria. What makes Instrumentl superior to other organizations and whatnot? I've put in a page in the Zoom chat where you can learn more about that in terms of just eight things that only we can do. So you can check out that link, but otherwise these replays and slides will be sent shortly. So if you need to review anything from today, thanks so much. And we'll be back on Friday for a live workshop as well. And then next week as well, in the case where you do want to attend another one.
Thanks so much, everybody.
Melissa: Thank you, everybody, have a good day.