Grant Writing: Answering the Question How Will You Meet the Need You Described?

In What Foundation Reviewers Want to Know, Asked or Not we presented the eight questions grant reviewers want answered. Last week we explored the question “What Need Will You Meet?” Today, we discuss how to write about the program you want to implement that meets that need. In other words, the program you want the foundation to fund.

Grant writers often say that the question “How Will You Meet the Need You Described?” is the easiest of all the questions for them to answer. And, it usually is. Usually a nonprofit has a pretty good handle on the programs they run. After all, you serve your constituency through operation of one or programs. In fact, probably most of your organization’s resources are spent administering services to clients. And probably most of those resources are human resources, paid or volunteer staff. With so many people involved in program delivery and so many resources invested in making sure programs run smoothly, it’s no wonder that most nonprofits can accurately describe how they plan to meet their client’s needs.

Answering Why Your Agency Uses This Particular Program

Don’t just dive in and start jotting down the who, what, where, when, and how of your program implementation. First, answer the question of why this program. Why do these specific staff do what they do when they do it and where they do it? For example, are you implementing an evidence-based program? Why? Because it’s been shown to work among a group of people similar to the population you want to serve? If it’s not formally evidence-based, why do you do what you do? What is the rationale behind your program operations? Is there some special circumstance you need to account for to effectively deliver services among your group of clients or in your community?  Is that why you deliver services where you do? Is that why you offer services during the times you do? What about how you deliver services? Are there special characteristics about your client population such that services need to be delivered in a certain way? Or is there something about overall agency programming that specifically meets the unique needs of your clients? For example, the complexity of needs met or necessity for a one-stop shopping experience.

If your agency or program is unique and you have evidence that your programming works, you will use this information not only when you describe program operations, but also in the narratives where you describe what makes your program or agency uniquely qualified to do what you say it will do and where you project how you will know you will be successful in making the impact you wish to make. Of course, if you’re serving a unique population group with unique needs, those needs will also be highlighted in your needs statements. You must mention all the needs your nonprofit wants to meet through this specific programming in your needs statements so that you have laid an objective rationale for why your agency is doing what they are doing in the way they are doing it.

Describing Your Program

This is where you answer the who, what, where, when and how of the program. What is the goal of the program? Who, specifically, are you serving? What will you do to serve them? Who is providing program services? Do they have or needs special training or credentials? Where are your programs providing services? Within what time frame? How do people find out about and enter your programs? What criteria must they meet for program exit? What tools or materials will you use to implement your program? What collaborations do you need to successfully implement for your program to work and successfully meet the total needs of your clients?

You will not only want to describe the program in terms of the organizational journey, you will also want to describe the program through the eyes of a client. The client journey, from when they first become aware of your program to program exit, is important to illustrate. Not only does describing the client journey make operations come alive to the reviewer, it will also illustrate exactly how client needs are met through that specific program implementation. The needs identified in your needs statements lay the basis for the methodology of your programs. The client journey gives a face to the statistics and research findings outlined in your needs statements.

You should also describe the process for how you will measure success. Program evaluation is crucial to program operations. Foundation want to know what impact their donation made on a community problem. What tools will your program use to know success was achieved? Surveys? Pre- and post-tests? Client interviews? Client observation? When will you implement them? How often? Where will you conduct evaluations? Who will do it? How? What happens after you finish conducting your evaluation? Program exit? Entrance into another agency program? Referral to another agency? Make sure you address the processes involved in measuring your programs success as part of your program operations narrative.

The best place to go for information to describe how a program works from beginning to end for the organization is a program manager or director. Go to someone who has experience in and understands how the program works at all organizational levels, from program marketing to final report and account closeout. You will also want to talk with someone who can explain the client journey from program awareness to program exit.  

Be thorough but be concise. Many grant writers have a tendency to go on too long about their nonprofits’ programs because program services use up most of the agency resources, require the most amount of staff to implement, and most of the people in the organization are familiar with them. Even though this section of the narrative may be one of the longer sections, it is not the most important. There are eight equally important questions foundations want answered. Make sure you spend adequate time preparing a thorough answer for each question. 

Stating Your Goals and Objectives

In the formal presentation of your proposal, the foundation will probably ask you to state your programs for goals and objectives. Foundations are interested in both the big, hairy, bodacious issues your nonprofit is trying to address as well as the impact that only a year’s worth of limited funding will have.

 Writing Goal Statements

Goal statements are based in the community needs identified in your needs statements. Your needs statements show what big, hairy, bodacious needs the people you serve face. The foundations you apply to are interested in addressing those same big, hairy, bodacious issues. Your goal statements name those issues and what you plan to do to influence them. In this way, your program’s goals and the foundation’s goals align with one another. Your goal statement lines up your program with the foundation’s mission.

Your goals are the overall things you want to do. They are usually broadly defined and have long timeframes of a few to many years. Like reduce poverty, decrease pollution, eliminate homelessness, increase employment rates, improve self-esteem, raise health indices, to name a few. Whatever your goal is, it is broad in nature and probably takes years from time of program intervention to when your begin see significant results. For shorter proposals and smaller programs, you may only have one goal or two goal statements. For larger proposals, you may have several goal statements.

Your program’s goals should always be a subset of your organizational goals. And your organizational goals should be based on your nonprofit’s mission. If the program you want to implement does not relate to your nonprofit’s mission, don’t implement it. Don’t even waste your time looking for funding for it.  If you apply for funding and get it, you will be on your way to mission drift. Mission drift occurs when a nonprofit’s resources are used for things other than mission. Once mission drift begins, your organizational identity starts to change. If it continues, people will sooner or later not know what your agency stands for and you will lose community support. Not only in terms of your foundation donors, but your individual and business ones too. Foundations will not fund you because your organization is not meeting its stated mission. Individuals will question how their donations will be used. Business will see your agency’s weak identity and not want to partner with you. Remember, you apply to foundations where your mission and their mission matches. Foundations are after mission impact. They like to fund nonprofits who meet their defined missions.   

Writing Objectives

Objectives, as opposed to your broad goal statements, are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-oriented, often referred to as SMART. You will most likely have two or more objectives for each goal. Objectives are usually formulated in yearlong increments. For example, five hundred eleventh grade students will learn how to write essays through the We Can Succeed As Writers writing program as measured by a score of ninety-five or above on the eleventh-grade state writing aptitude test. Notice I have quantified my outcomes in terms of population served, number of people I want to serve, the mechanism I will use to serve them, the time frame in which they will receive services, and how I plan to measure the effect of the intervention. Grant writers constantly ask what magic numbers foundations want to see in their applicants’ grant objectives. The answer is what is achievable and realistic for your organization. Your organization’s program staff, those on the front lines of working with clients, know best what is achievable. Make sure you have program input when you articulate your objectives.

Make sure when you ask your program staff for input, you ask about capacity and timeframes. I have seen more than one nonprofit fail to meet its grant objectives, risking their reputation within the foundation community, because they overpromised the amount of service they could deliver. Or, the nonprofit met the objectives but spent much more money doing it than the grant funding provided. The nonprofit lost money and the program staff resented the grant writer for the extra work required. Yes, they got the grant funding. But the costs outweighed the benefits.

Most nonprofits intimately understand their program operations. In fact, most of their staff and resources are probably directed toward service delivery. Tap into those resources when gathering program information. Ask program staff questions that will help you formulate SMART objectives. Have program directors describe program operations at all levels of the organization. Talk to frontline staff about the client journey. Let the reviewers experience your program through your client journey description. Match your agency’s program’s goals to the foundation’s goals. Your program’s goals should relate to your nonprofit’s mission. If they don’t, the costs of funding will far outweigh the benefits. Although your program narrative may be lengthy, remember it is still only one question out of eight that foundations want answered.

Wrapping It Up

  • Answer the question of why this specific program is the best alternative to meet your clients’ needs.
  • Describe program operations at all levels of the organization.
  • Describing the client journey puts a face to your operations.
  • Be thorough but concise.
  • Goal statements are broad. The time period between program intervention and significantly achieving a goal is usually measured over years.
  • Good objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time oriented.

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