Have you ever been approached by a donor who wants to fund a new project at your nonprofit organization? Sure, the project isn’t on your priority list—or anywhere close. But here’s a donor, ready to write a check! What do you do?
We know how tempting it can be to just say yes. Especially when cash flow is tight.
And, sure, sometimes accepting that project grant turns into a great opportunity and a long-term funding relationship. But sometimes a grant really is too good to be true.
How can you know when to pursue a grant opportunity and when to pass?
The Importance of Having a Strategy to Evaluate Opportunities
Whether as nonprofit leaders or as individuals, the question of whether to go after an opportunity is something we all deal with.
For example, here at Funding for Good we were recently tempted by a headline about a town in Southern Italy that is offering 30,000 euros (equivalent about $30,000) to people who move to the village. It’s hard not to let your mind wander. Imagine a cozy house in a historic Italian village, delicious food, and sun-drenched summers on the beach.
But of course, reality is always a bit more complicated. In this case, to qualify people will need to purchase a home in the village and become residents. Which means uprooting your life significantly.
The questions you might ask when considering whether to move to Italy—or pursue a grant opportunity are surprisingly similar:
Does this opportunity align with my long-term vision and goals?
The trick is that knowing the answer requires having a clear long-term vision and setting goals. That’s one of the many reasons we recommend nonprofit organizations invest in strategic planning.
When Deciding Whether to Pursue a Grant, Start with Your Strategic Plan
A nonprofit strategic plan will outline your organization’s vision, mission, strategies, and planned activities over a 3-5-year time horizon. It will also detail how you plan to evaluate your organization’s overall success.
With your strategic plan in hand, you can easily assess the grant opportunity by asking questions such as:
- Will this project help your organization achieve its mission?
- Does this project align with your organization’s planned strategies?
- Will this project contribute to your organization’s long-term success and sustainability, including achieving core metrics?
If you answer no to any of the questions above, you’ll want to pause and reconsider whether to pursue the grant.
Grant funding should not take away from an organization’s mission.
But what if your nonprofit doesn’t have a strategic plan?
Key Questions to Ask Before Pursuing a Project Grant
If your organization doesn’t have a strategic plan, or if you’re still uncertain whether to pursue the grant opportunity, here are some additional questions to consider:
- Is this a new project or an existing project? If it’s a new project, does it align with your organization’s priorities or does it represent mission creep?
- How many new hard costs come with this project grant? Be brutally honest. Will you have to hire staff, pay for a consultant, or host an in-person event? After considering new hard costs, how much funding will be left?
- Will the grant cover the full cost of the program, including overhead? Or will you have to raise additional funds? If you need additional funding, how much time will that take your development team? What other funding opportunities might you miss out on because your staff is working on this project?
- If you accept this grant, will there be opportunity costs? For example, will your program staff have to spend weeks organizing an event instead of working on other priority projects?
At the end of the day, not every grant will benefit your organization. And, as counterintuitive as it sounds, sometimes turning down funding can help your organization achieve its goals faster.