The concept behind this old saying is that a chosen course of action should match the cause of the course of action.
Nowhere is this principle more true than in grant writing. When you choose a grant to pursue, one of the basic rules is that your project or program or proposal should fit the goals of the grantmaker as closely as possible. No matter how good your ideas may be, if they do not match up with those of the grantmaker you are sunk…
Here’s an example. You have a program designed to deal with inattention during school, and it is targeted to 3rd and 4th graders. Logically you think that this is an educational improvement program, so you apply for a grant from a private foundation whose stated goals include “assisting high school students in refining their objectives when choosing a college major.”
You reason that since success in college is related to choosing a suitable college major, and choosing a suitable college major is related to formative experiences during the years leading up to high school, therefore your program should qualify for consideration by this grantmaking organization.
So you put hours of nights and weekends into writing your application narratives, researching and citing studies that tie college success to positive school attitudes fostered in lower grades. You create a convincing series of logical steps connecting your elementary school program to later success in college.
You proudly send in this product of your hard work, only to be summarily rejected. “WHY?” you ask yourself…
The answer is that your proposal did not fit with the grantmaker’s goals, so they determined that your project would not be a good use of their funds. “WHY?” you ask again – “my program is great, well thought-out, and a nearly-guaranteed success! Why would they not fund this excellent opportunity to affect young people’s lives? WHY?”
Here’s why: when you choose to apply to a grant program you must select from among a group of programs with which your project is a match. Otherwise you will only see rejection, and that is simply not worthy of the effort you are putting forth… So you have to find a square-peg grant program into which you can fit your square peg project.
1. Do an initial broad search to identify potential donor organizations. Search using broad terms such as “grade-school success” or “elementary school success.” This will return a fairly large number of possible donor programs, depending on your topic.
2. For each program, read carefully the portion of the donor’s website that lists their areas of focus. Throw out the ones that don’t come close to what you are doing. It’s o.k. to stretch a bit to get potential fits, but don’t go overboard.
3. Take the ones that are left and scrutinize the grants they have awarded in the past, with emphasis on the past three years. This is because donor organizations, like people, may change over time, so finding a close correlation on a grant they awarded in 1986 may not be of value to you if they have not awarded anything close to that since then.
4. By now your field of “possibles” will have dwindled significantly from where you started in step 1 above. You may have only two or three, or even just one left. Don’t be discouraged. You have done what many grant writers cannot bring themselves to do – you have been realistic. The more realistic you can be during this initial search and screening, the better your chances of success.
5. Now take the ones that are left and look at them hard. I mean really hard – do not delude yourself, because that path ends only in pain and wasted time. Look at them really hard, and satisfy yourself that your proposed project really does fit into their criteria. The guiding fact to remember is that donor organizations generally have pretty specific ideas what they want their money to accomplish, and if you fit into that often very-narrow slot, you have a chance of success. If you don’t fit into the slot, you may as well go throw rocks in the ocean, because that is how much chance you will have. Sad but true.
6. Now that you have searched, winnowed, and been brutally honest with yourself about your chances, make your determination whether or not to apply. It is altogether possible that when you get to the end of the gruelling path described above, there will be nothing left of your original list. If so, thank your lucky stars that it has only taken you this long to find out. Many grant writers don’t find out until after they have labored on an unproductive application that didn’t fit the funder and they got rejected, and even then many don’t figure it out…
7. If you have anyone left at this point, take a deep breath and dive in. Give it your all and prepare a knock-their-socks-off application, because you have worked hard so far to clear the way and increase your chances as far as possible. Write your application, follow all the “no-sticky-ups” and other tips in these posts, and GO FOR IT! Your project matches the donor’s goals and you have done your homework with “due diligence.” Write your application and submit it proudly. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but your efforts so far will have increased your chances immeasurably over those who just “shotgun” their submittals and hope for the best.
And that is what I mean by “Let the Punishment Fit the Crime…”