Here’s a secret (if anyone asks, you didn’t hear it from me.)
About 80% of every grant application you complete is the SAME information over and over.
If you collect all that information upfront, it will save you HOURS of time collecting information, writing a narrative, and putting it into a format. Then you can spend more time on the 20% of the application that is unique to that funder!
What information is in that 80%? I won’t lie -- it is a lot!
At Sharpshooter, we create a Grant Vault for every client and keep it in Grant Holster, which tracks and reports on all our grant-seeking activities.
We go through the Grant Vault every quarter (January, April, July, and October) to update any information that has changed - because clients often forget to tell us about little things like…I don’t know…a new CFO, audit report, or board member resignation.
As a grant professional, how can you create your own Grant Vault?
Here is a six-step guide. This works whether you seek grants for a single organization or if you are a consultant with multiple clients.
Step 1: Determine WHERE you will store this information. You can make this as simple or complex as you like.
Index Cards: When I started out as a consultant and only had two clients, I kept lots of vault information on index cards that I stored in my top desk drawer. This worked fine if I just needed addresses, EINs, mission statements, etc. But it didn’t take long for me to need a more sophisticated system.
Digital Files: Whether you keep your information in a folder on your computer or in your cloud-based drive (e.g., Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox), you should create a folder titled Grant Vault for each organization.
Database: If you use a more sophisticated system like Grant Holster, Monday, BaseCamp or other database, there should be a way you can link your Vault information there, making it deliciously accessible -- I’m talking cut-and-paste heaven!
I’ve created a spreadsheet that includes ALL the data we request from clients. You can view it and download a copy of it for yourself.
Step 2: Identify the TYPES of information you need in the Vault.
Organizing and categorizing Grant Vault information helps you locate what you need quickly AND efficiently determine who will have the information you need (see Step 3).
At Sharpshooter, we use these categories:
General Information - Organization name, address, EIN, mission statement, etc.
Programs: Major program names, main activities of that program, the audience it serves, the problem it seeks to address, key staff members, etc.
Governance & Staff: Board members, board practices, key staff members, number of part-time and full-time employees, etc. If there are resumes or biographies of staff members, keep them here. We consider any volunteer information to be part of this section of the Grant Vault, because volunteers are unpaid employees.
Fiscal & Regulatory: A copy of the organization’s incorporation certificate, copies of audit reports, 990s, financial reports, etc.
Partnerships: More grantors require partnerships and collaborations these days. Keep a list of partner organizations and agencies, along with a description of how they collaborate together. If there are Memos of Agreement, Memos of Understanding, or letters of support from these partners, include those!
Awards & Recognition: Links to news stories, a list of awards or accolades received by the organization, links to their social media.
Notes & Verbiage: This is where you keep that 250-word history of the organization, the one-page description of the mission, etc. There’s no reason to write these fresh every time you fill out a new application. Keep it in the Grant Vault so you can cut and paste.
Step 3: Figure out WHO will get you the information you need.
The Chief Financial Officer might not know who the partners are and the Human Resources Director won’t have a copy of the latest audit.
You have to know the right person to get information from. In some cases, you may not know, so you’ll have some detective work to do.
NOTE: When you ask someone for the Grant Vault information, remember it is NOT on their top priority list! They often don’t see helping you as part of their job. You have to assure them you are actually saving them time by getting the information upfront.
True story: One staff member told me they hired me so they didn’t have to think about grants. I reminded them that attaching fabricated financial statements to a federal grant would be fraud and it would be a lot easier if they just spent five minutes sending them to me.
Sometimes it is really tough to get the information you need. You may need a strategy for getting the information you need. See my article about getting information from people here.
You’ll want to give folks a heads-up that you will be asking for grant-related information and explain that collecting this upfront will save time when there is a pressing grant deadline. Also let them know you will be asking that they review the information each quarter to see if it has changed.
Finally, set a deadline for when you need the information. Even if you don’t have a grant deadline you are working toward, people respond better when they know there is a deadline.
Step 4: Determine HOW they will get the information to you.
Do you want hard copies that you have to scan? Email? A shared folder? Or maybe a combination of all these?
Determine the best way for people to get you the information you need. How they share the information may be different for various people. The CFO may only have a hard copy of the 990, while the program officer has an electronic file of staff resumes they can email.
Just make sure the method of collection is something both you and the provider can easily access and use.
We just started using a new tool called Content Snare (this is just one tool, there are likely more out there). It allows you to create an online “survey” of information you need, then track the progress of collection. For me, Content Snare gamifies the process enough to encourage completion.
Step 5: Keep Going Until It’s Done!
Set a deadline for yourself as well. You’ll need a way to track your progress:
What information do you need?
Who did you ask for it?
When did you ask for it?
What was your deadline?
How are they going to provide the information?
You may create a spreadsheet or table to track this information, or you may use your database.
When you are waiting for information, sending a weekly update can do wonders for reminding those folks who can’t (or won’t) prioritize your request.
Step 6: Quarterly Updates
Having a board list from four years ago isn’t going to help you much. The organization deserves for you to have up-to-date information on hand so you can write accurate grant applications.
Duty of care requires you update the Grant Vault information regularly. At Sharpshooter, we ask clients to review their Vault information every quarter. Some items will never change -- but some items change every time we ask.
Sometimes clients assume nothing has changed and give me a thumbs-up on the quarterly review. Then, when a deadline is looming, they suddenly remember that the board adopted a new strategic plan last year. After this happens once or twice, they tend to pay more attention to those quarterly updates.