Do you want to know the easiest way to set your development director or grant writer up for success?

Create a stellar program design.

That’s right. Your grant writer can do everything else right: develop relationships with foundation officers, present comprehensive financial reports, craft a beautiful narrative to highlight your organization’s history and prior successes, check all the right boxes, but that isn’t enough to secure dollars.

At the end of the day, your grant writer must have a well-written program design that captures a donor’s interest and compels them to act.

Your organization might have the most gifted grant writer on earth. Still, they cannot be expected to “whip up a winning proposal out of thin air” any more than the world’s best jockey could be expected to win the Kentucky Derby riding a pony. -Marie Palacios

Your grant writer will appreciate it if you follow a few critical guidelines BEFORE you request their support in crafting a winning proposal.

Top 11 Tips for Pre-Program Design

1. NEVER create a program just to chase after grant funds
Grant funds are great to start a program, but rarely provide on-going support. Only pursue funds for programs that your organization has thoughtfully considered, align with your mission statement/vision, and will help you achieve established strategic plan goals.
2. Confirm the need
Demonstrate that there truly is a compelling need for action by your organization by using relevant statistics and credible accounts from community leaders and members within your service area.
3. Conduct a community assessment BEFORE designing a new program
 If you have identified a need/problem in your community, then make sure your board/staff completes due diligence and evaluates which other local entities are working to meet the need.
4. Don’t duplicate. Be willing to partner to bridge gaps
 Once a need has been identified that falls within the scope of your organization’s mission, you might be tempted to tackle the problem alone. Don’t do it. Chances are if the need is truly that great, some other local groups are probably working on the same thing. Get connected and figure out how you can share resources, avoid duplicating services, and partner in such a way that your community can leverage more funding for the project.
5. Collaboration NOT competition
 Program funds are not as readily available as they were a decade ago. Donors want to see how grantees can make the most impact with their dollars and tend to favor proposals that include strong community support and collaboration. If another entity is better positioned to take the lead on the program, are you willing to support their efforts?
6. Evaluate successful programs before designing your own
It’s no secret that evidence-based programs that incorporate best practices have a higher chance for success. Reach out to experts in the field and ask what programs (like the one you wish to create) in the region, state, or nation have a proven track record. Take the time to visit or call program officers to get tips on staffing, equipment, curriculum, capacity, service models, sustainability, etc.
7. Outline your solution

Approach this “pre-design” task as a visioning session. Engage key members of your team and community in a “visioning session” to gather input, brainstorm solutions, and achieve consensus about the best path forward for the new program.

8. Evaluate Resources
Ask your team, “What resources are CRITICAL to meeting program goals? Work together to identify critical vs ideal resources. (human resources, adequate program space, supplies, materials, partnerships, etc.)
9. Who will do what?
Refrain from ambiguous statements such as “current staff will assume responsibility for….” as an excuse for overlooking current job descriptions or NOT hiring new/needed program staff. Confirm if your staff has the time, energy, and expertise to effectively run the program if that is the intention.
10. Define your target population
Be intentional about who the program is intended to serve. It is also important to determine if your organization has established or has the ability to establish the credibility required to successfully engage your target audience.
11. Establish systems for tracking impact

Before your program can launch or your grant writer can craft a proposal, everyone must know what the intended IMPACT of the program is and how success will be tracked, measured, and reported. A program that has a proven history of success is much more likely to achieve long-term sustainability.

If you have checked off all the above pre-design tips, and are ready to brainstorm and organize written components of the program design process, check out our easy to use free tool:

“Grant in a Box: Where Program Design and Grant Planning Intersect”

If you want to get it right the first time and could use some extra help crafting program design and grant narrative templates, be sure to join us for today’s webinar, Time Saving Templates. Register here.

Keep growing for good!