How to Engage Your Board to Help You Win More Grants
What does board engagement mean for grant writing, and how do you ensure that engagement is a permanent practice? This blog post will provide seven actionable areas you can focus on to help build grant-winning capacity for your organization.
Engaging your board of directors in the grant lifecycle can be a keystone piece of your nonprofit’s development plan that makes the difference between meeting and missing your yearly and long-term fundraising goals.
What Does Board Engagement Mean?
Engaging your board of directors means continuously keeping your most important volunteers connected to your organization, mission, and impact through interesting projects and by promoting open discussion.
It means inspiring a group of people to work both independently and as a team to craft each aspect of your nonprofit’s internal structure.
Your board isn’t just a list of names that are slapped on your Form 990— they’re the experts that should help perfect the amazing work that you and your nonprofit do!
All nonprofit unicorns know that having a (magical!) mobilized board of directors is crucial to the overall success of an organization and especially so for successful fundraising.
Why are Engaged Boards Helpful to Winning More Grants?
So what does board engagement really have to do with winning grants? We know it’s important to have your board involved in fundraising, but why with grant writing in particular?
The answer is that grant funding shapes your nonprofit’s strategic goals, programs, and resources in a fundamental way. To NOT have your board involved in the identification of opportunities, the design of grant-funded projects, and the creation of grant budgets is actually a barrier to them fulfilling their roles as board members.
Think about it:
There are many grant opportunities that require a Board Resolution to apply, meaning that foundations and government organizations consider it so important for your board to be aware of the application that it becomes a line item on their agendas.
Boards that are involved in the grant writing process are connected in a deeper way to the work of all grant-funded programs and projects.
They have a more in-depth understanding of the “boots on the ground” work and are better able to make connections between how their ideas and strategy can be implemented in action.
Here’s the scoop:
If you haven’t already, now is the best time to start engaging your board of directors in the grant writing process. According to Boardable’s most recent 2020 Board Engagement Survey, challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic created a silver lining opportunity for engaging your board of directors in grant writing virtually.
This trend towards virtual engagement and an emphasis on grant writing will not go away anytime soon!
You’re probably saying to yourself…
This all makes sense and sounds great, but how do I really start engaging my board of directors to participate in the grant writing process in a meaningful way?
Let’s take a closer look at what board engagement in grant writing should look like in practice.
How to Engage Your Board in the Grant Writing Process: 7 Steps to Take
To start engaging your board of directors in the grant writing process, check out these 7 steps to promote board involvement.
Adapt each step to best fit your nonprofit’s unique development needs, and revisit as necessary to foster a culture of genuine engagement.
1. Establish a Shared Understanding and Language of the Fundraising Needs of the Organization
Individual contributions are something that board members are well attuned to, but the larger development landscape can be daunting, especially for newer board members.
Collaborate with your fundraising committee to establish a shared language and understanding of what your nonprofit’s fundraising needs are, where your strengths lie, and where you could use improvements.
This could involve investing in tools like grant dashboards and other tracking mechanisms so that future board and staff members have previous standards to compare their efforts to.
Once everyone is on the same page, honing in on grant opportunities that your leadership is passionate about becomes infinitely easier.
This leaves less guesswork and more space for deliberately coordinated grant searches that ultimately lead to more awarded grants.
2. Demystify the Grant Writing Process for Everyone
What is grant writing, exactly? And what is this “grant lifecycle” everyone keeps talking about? What goes into the grant reporting process to foundations and governments?
These are the questions general board members ask themselves when they hear reports on grant-related activities without the context that comes from being involved in the process from the beginning.
This gap in communication can continue indefinitely unless you take it on yourself to incorporate grant writing transparency into your board engagement strategy.
Even board members who do have some understanding of your nonprofit’s grant writing efforts might still feel cut off from the process if they are not given the chance to provide input.
Make sure to leave time and space for board members to discuss hesitancies and reservations without fear of reproach.
Doing so will drive engagement by fostering clear channels of communication and will help you win more grants by creating space for the board to spend their time and energy spotlighting different grant opportunities.
3. Nurture an A-Team for Your Fundraising Committee
Make sure when you are creating your fundraising committee that you tap board members who complement your nonprofit’s grant writing team and who are interested in (and hopefully even passionate about!) the grant writing process.
If you already have a fundraising committee in place and they aren’t focused on grant writing in particular because that annual gala always feels like it’s right around the corner, consider creating a subcommittee.
This subcommittee can promote even more board engagement in fundraising and can broaden its focus to include the crucial grant writing arena.
4. Actively Engage the Full Board in the Grant Seeking Process, Not Just The Fundraising Committee
Once you have your A-Team fundraising committee on the job, think about ways that you can periodically communicate your work with the full board. Develop a calendar of reporting that leaves room for questions and input on the grant writing process.
Promote a climate of transparent communication that leaves space for general board members to bring ideas to the table, such as RFPs, networking events, and other key components of the development process that are key to identifying grant opportunities.
Think about ways that you can engage other board committees in the grants lifecycle.
For example, maybe some board members could identify opportunities for media promotion that you could include in a grant proposal to illustrate your nonprofit’s capacity for publicizing the grant-funded project.
You could also create an open forum that allows for board members to become more involved in the grants process as their interest and availability changes over time.
Understand that peer review is critical to successful proposals and regularly seek out board members outside of the fundraising committee to proofread proposals or double-check demographics.
5. Plan the Fundraising Committee Calendar and Stick To It
Clear and thorough communication is an absolute necessity for the preparation and submission of grant proposals.
This is especially true when there is increased goal-setting from leadership for your nonprofit’s strategic fundraising milestones, for example an increase in grant proposal submissions as part of yearly strategic planning.
Make sure that your fundraising committee is able to meet on a regular basis and also that they have strategies in place to make up for time lost when inevitable rescheduling occurs due to life circumstances.
Grant opportunities have deadlines throughout the year, so it is important that regular communication occurs so you can hit as many of the well-fitting opportunities you identify as possible.
6. Think Outside the Box When Approaching Grant Funding Opportunities
When you’re working on writing grants, it’s important to check each box that the funder has set out for you. But when you’re working with your board of directors, it’s important to think outside of the box and take a tailored approach to how you can creatively engage each of the individuals who are on the grant writing team.
Set some time aside for the grant writing team (including your board members!) to brainstorm. Remember that to apply for opportunities like innovation grants, you need time to genuinely conduct discussions on innovating.
The grant writing landscape is constantly changing, so incorporate time to discuss relevant new research and studies.
The more fresh eyes there are on an issue, the easier it is to find a solution. If you are in a rut when it comes to finding grants, tap your mobilized board to look at how you might discover new opportunities.
7. Celebrate the Wins Together and Lead With Stewardship
Finally, remember to take time to celebrate your successes and also time to reflect on things that need changing.
Not every grant proposal will be awarded, but each new proposal created is a win in some way—you either build an awesome new relationship with a funder, or you learn a bit more about why that relationship isn’t a good fit altogether.
You also have a chance to identify areas of improvement for both staff members and board members.
Whether the grant proposal is funded or not, remember to take time to celebrate your hard work and to always lead with stewardship first. These amazing volunteers just donated their time and energy to further your shared mission, and that’s a truly awesome, heartfelt endeavor!
Fostering positive reinforcement will help you maintain a high level of excitement for when the next grant opportunity arises and will help keep overall morale up.
Additional Tips & Tricks to Engaging Boards & Effective Fundraising
Once you have your grant writing board engagement strategy in place, here are some helpful tips to ensure a cohesive climate of strong engagement and comprehensive fundraising.
As Always, Lead With Strategic Board Recruiting
Think about who is at the table and who isn’t at the table but should be. Remember that a well-crafted board of directors should be reflective of the community you are serving and should be composed of individuals who are the best fit for your organization’s needs.
As your nonprofit’s needs change over time, so should your board with new members, each rotating roles and responsibilities to identify opportunities for growth.
Create Your Own Board Engagement Survey
One of the best overall ways to ensure that project expectations are met is through measurement tools and internal self-evaluations. This holds true for nonprofit boards of directors, and there is a great array of self-assessment resources provided by the National Council of Nonprofits.
Clarify Roles and Expectations
One of the easiest ways to lose engagement from your board is to allow for a climate of confusion, where board members are uncertain of their roles in your nonprofit’s activities.
Periodically check in with your board members to make sure they understand what their positions are, what the expectations for those positions are, and that they are comfortable with those expectations.
Emphasize Team Building
At its core, a nonprofit board of directors is a team. Your role as a grant writer is to be a coach and cheerleader for the grant writing team! Lead with that mindset toward other board activities as well.
Remember that for many of your board members, there is a strong social component to their volunteering, and opportunities for team activities should be built into your nonprofit’s structure.
Encourage Productivity Between Board Meetings
It is easy to make promises at board meetings and much harder to make sure that those promises are followed up on leading up to the next meeting.
Make sure that there are clear and active communication channels between staff and board members that are working together on projects.
Create Opportunities for Professional Development
Board members frequently experience shifts in their roles as your nonprofit grows and evolves. Remember to provide them with opportunities for growth in the new areas that they are being asked to advise in, like the development webinars and workshops available from Instrumentl.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Engage Your Board to Help Win More Grants
Creating a nonprofit culture that promotes ongoing board engagement in fundraising, grant writing, and overall organizational operations is a challenging undertaking that has an incredible return on time invested.
By promoting transparency, communication, and involvement in the grant writing process, you can ensure that your nonprofit receives the grant funding it needs to carry on its programs and activities that truly make a positive change in the community you serve.
If you’re looking to generate concise, comprehensive, and eye-catching reports that appeal to your board members, try Instrumentl free for 14-days.
Instrumentl’s unique features help you illustrate each part of the grant lifecycle, from research to reporting deadlines. Lose the pages and pages of basic spreadsheets and provide your board of directors with a streamlined, attractive deliverable that allows them to easily engage in the grant writing process.
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