How to Never Miss a Grant Deadline: 9 Actionable Strategies
You’ve probably had that moment when you realize, “Oh my gosh - I had a grant deadline due last night!”
It’s a reality that practically any grant writer has faced at one point in their career.
In this article, we’ll break down how to never miss a grant deadline. We’ll give you a range of tools to fit your grant workflow, help you plan ahead and never have that sinking feeling of having missed a grant deadline again.
Why Do Grant Deadlines Get Missed?
Grant deadlines get missed for a variety of reasons, but the most common ones are:
- Simple procrastination where an application turned out to be more extensive than originally planned.
- There simply were too many grant applications due in the same week.
- The funder changed the timeline on the grant proposal and you or your organization may have missed the change.
- Organizational bureaucracy where you had everything you needed for your grant application actually ready, but someone else in your organization dropped the ball.
Whatever the reason for missing a grant deadline may be, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Let’s dig into nine effective strategies you can implement to never miss a grant deadline.
9 Strategies to Never Miss a Grant Deadline
Strategy #1: Plan out the next twelve months
When your writing-load is on the lighter side (for example, in those few weeks in summer or around the holidays), devote time to planning one full year ahead for your nonprofit’s funding goals.
Look back at your previous twelve-month grant calendar, verify future deadlines (or use your best judgment if the grantor hasn’t posted them yet), and create a plan for your organization’s next twelve months.
Be sure to add the grantors you want to apply to but haven’t yet. You may find these funders in your Researching tab on Instrumentl.
Don’t yet get into the nitty-gritty of data needs, planning meetings, or even how much you plan on asking for (save that for preparing for those budgeting meetings).
For now, simply include the following details:
- Grantor’s name
- Document type (letter of inquiry, report, proposal)
- Key details (has this grantor said they favor grantees who apply early? Is the grantor coming to the end of their strategic plan, and may shift their grant priorities?)
When trying to think of what those key details are, ask yourself:
“Is there any information that I need to keep in mind as I first begin planning?”
Whether you use an old-school spreadsheet in Excel or an online grant management tool like Instrumentl, mapping out the next few quarters can make a big difference in your overall organization.
Strategy #2: Schedule recurring monthly check-ins
Once per month, sit down and look at what you have outlined for your next quarter. Here’s where you’ll get into the nitty-gritty details without getting totally overwhelmed.
You’ll do this on a rolling basis, making sure you’ve got all your priorities straight for the next two months and preparing for what you might encounter in the third. This medium-term thinking is incredibly important for making sure you and your team are all on the same page.
Here’s where you schedule those meetings, let people know what data you’re going to need, and give folks a heads up when you think you’ll need their help.
If your organization isn’t used to using a task management tool, they may find it helpful to set up a standard operating procedure for doing so. For example, on Instrumentl you can set different tasks up by Milestone, Submission and Reporting.
Strategy #3: Differentiate rolling from fixed grant deadlines
It’s not uncommon given the plethora of grants you’re applying for to confuse one grant that has a set deadline with one whose foundation supports rolling submissions.
For foundations you know that have fixed deadlines, be sure to set at least two reminders using your preferred check-in method to review the foundation’s grant application pages and opportunity details.
If you use Instrumentl, this means ensuring you’re constantly pruning your Researching tab. A nice feature about Instrumentl is once you add a grant from your Matches into your Tracker, we will automatically update deadlines for opportunities you keep in your Researching tab.
By doing this, you know that every time you log into your account and review your Researching tab, you’ll only see grant opportunities you can actually apply for vs. ones that may have passed.
In the case where a grant passes, we’ll move it for you to the bottom Archived section of your Researching tab.
Strategy #4: Identify what will require collaboration
As mentioned earlier, a common reason why people struggle with staying afloat with their grant deadlines is because there is organizational bureaucracy where you actually had everything you needed, but someone else dropped the ball on their part.
In the case where you need something in particular for an application (i.e. potentially a collaboration with your finance team in submitting a sound budget), be sure to plan accordingly to the team member or team you’re working with.
Ask them in advance when you are first starting the grant application what their preferred timeline would be for prepping whatever it is you need to delegate to them, and try to leave a week between the deadline you set with them and your final submission date.
Oftentimes team dysfunction can be avoided altogether by simply communicating clearly and effectively up front!
Strategy #5: Create a “traffic light system” for assessing grant opportunities
Over time, you should be able to hone your ability to identify the rough amount of time it’d take to complete a grant proposal after reading the solicitation.
Once you have built up this skill, you should begin to look at the last 15-20 grant applications you’ve submitted and try to bucket them into three categories: red, yellow, and green.
Red grant opportunities are the most intensive. They require several weeks of effort and much up-front planning through checklists.
Yellow grant opportunities are a mixed bag. They could be hammered out in a shorter amount of time from a red grant, but still would require some meaningful bandwidth dedicated to it to get the grant application done.
Green grant opportunities are the easiest. These could be opportunities where you already have an existing relationship with the funder, where you know it’s a simple application, or where you know you can largely repurpose a prior winning proposal to crank out the application in a few days.
By creating a system, you can then prioritize the hours in your day to the different types of grant applications you have to work on.
Strategy #6: Prune your document database
If you’ve been grant writing for a while, you know how helpful it can be to have a template of responses that you can mold new grant applications to.
If you haven’t created this sort of document “database” of sorts yet, start one today!
This can be stored in your organization’s Google Drive of Dropbox, or in your grant management tool like Instrumentl’s Document Library.
Think back to your last handful of applications and ask yourself what you could pull out from one application to use in another.
By doing so, you can save time in your adapting and writing process for new grant opportunities.
Strategy #7: Send meeting invites once you’ve settled on your plan
One of the easiest things you can do to track funder deadlines is to have key checkpoints on the calendar before you begin the application.
Send a Google Calendar invite for milestones in the grant opportunity. Think about what it’d mean to get a proposal to the 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% point.
By having these calendar holds in place, you’ll have regular reminders for yourself about your next grant deadline.
Strategy #8: Use specialized grant tracking tools
A carpenter certainly shouldn’t use a blacksmith’s ball pein hammer for their nails, and you certainly shouldn’t have to use Excel’s little squares to pin down your great big grant calendar.
Use the right tools for the job: Asana, Instrumentl, or a post-it-note spread of your custom creation across your walls can make a huge difference to your work.
Look around online and test out free trials. Everyone has unique ways of thinking about deadlines; try tech tools on for size and make sure they’re the right fit for you before you make a funding request.
When assessing tools, you’ll want to ask yourself these three questions:
- What is taking me the most administrative time when it comes to grants?
- What’s the most laborious process of grant tracking? Is there a tool that’d reduce that friction for me?
- What’s my nonprofit’s budget for additional tooling? How does my nonprofit assess technology purchases?
Strategy #9: Reflect, audit, and revise your process
The key to increasing grant funding for your nonprofit often comes down to how streamlined you can get your grant writing process.
When you streamline, you get more applications done. As such, what you should consider for your next few grants is to log how long it takes for you and your nonprofit team to complete each major task in a proposal.
After your submission is done, create a simple survey for your team asking questions such as:
- What went well with this latest proposal?
- What’s one thing that would have made the grant writing process smoother for this application?
- What’s one actionable strategy we can try for our next grant proposal?
Oftentimes grant writers fall into the trap of sticking to their system just because “it works”, but that also leaves off the opportunity to modify and actually improve their grant writing workflow. You don’t need to reinvent the entire wheel of your process, but a few tweaks can’t hurt to incorporate!
Helpful Tech Tools to Stay on Top of Your Grant Deadlines
Here are three tools you may find useful for staying on track of your Grant Deadlines:
Asana can be a helpful productivity tool for making a grant application pipeline with a calendar view. Be sure to check out their guide to doing so here.
One consideration is that it may take some time to set up your desired workflow in Asana; this is mainly because you’re largely going to be starting with a blank canvas.
Notion can be a step above the productivity tools like Asana because it allows you to make detailed documentation more accessible across a team. You can map pages to one another along with trackers, allowing you to build a meaningful grants calendar for staying on top of grant deadlines.
Similar to Asana, you’ll likely need to carve out some time to create your desired workflow.
Instrumentl brings grant prospecting, tracking and management to one place. With respect to staying afloat your grant deadlines, Instrumentl is helpful for a few reasons:
- Every week, you’ll receive an email that summarizes upcoming deadlines for grant opportunities you’ve saved, as well as any tasks you may have due for the week. This removes the need for a separate task manager like an Asana for tracking funder deadlines.
- Instrumentl keeps tabs on all the opportunities in your Tracker. If you keep fifteen opportunities in Researching for example, Instrumentl will make sure to auto-roll deadlines when they pass, as well as maintain updated grant application deadlines for you.
- With Instrumentl, you can set up tasks for Milestones, Submission, and Reporting, and choose who and how to notify your nonprofit team.
- Instrumentl allows for document storage as well, allowing you to quickly reuse past proposals for new proposals and keep everything centralized.
- By having everything in one place, you save time, apply for more grants, and win more funding.
By having everything in one place, you save the time you’d need to spend setting up a workspace in a productivity app created for something different than grants, as well as the headache of working in a CRM like Salesforce. Try Instrumentl out for 14-days free.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Never Miss a Grant Deadline
Missing a deadline can feel devastating, but that feeling can pass when you implement the right strategies.
Bookmark this page so that the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by your upcoming deadlines, you can turn to one of the actionable strategies outlined to help you stay on top of your funder deadlines.
If you haven’t already, try out Instrumentl to level up your grant management and never miss another grant deadline.