Grant Seeking 101: Thinking Like a Reviewer

You’ve worked hard. You’ve determined your organization is grants-ready, searched high and low to find the best grant, and written an application that would make your English teacher proud. You’re almost there! But you’ve got one last step before you hit Submit—take one last look at your application from the perspective of a reviewer.

When I served on a committee that reviewed grants, I learned a lot of things I wish I’d known as an applicant. I’ll share some of these insights to help you improve your application by thinking like a reviewer.

Show Your Impact

The biggest takeaway? Grantors don’t know you. They often don’t know what your organization does or how the work has positively impacted your community. They rarely know your organization on a personal level. They don’t know that your organization is legitimate. Even if it looks legitimate, grantors don’t know that the funds they give you will be put to good use, or that you’ll be easy to work with after you receive the grant.

Imagine for a moment that you don’t know anything about your organization but want to learn. What’s the first thing you’d do? If you’re like over 90% of the world’s population, you’re going to Google it. Reviewers are very likely to Google you, look you up on social media, and check out your website. It’s crucial to consider these “non-application” parts of your application with the same critical eye you apply to the rest of your proposal. What will people see? Will the search results put your organization in a good light? Do your website and social media prominently refer to the projects you’re talking about in your application?

Ideally, a web search will bring up your organization’s website and social media presence, and then some third-party articles about your organization’s work and how amazing it is. In the months leading up to your deadline, reach out to local media outlets and see if they will share a story about your organization’s impact. While you should be connecting with local media year-round, it is especially important to do this now, so grantors can find recent stories confirming that your organization’s work is effective.

Try to make your organization’s website the first search result. To improve your organization’s web search ranking, update your website regularly and optimize the content to index better in searches. You should also take a critical look at your website and its content. Does it look professional? Is it easy to use and navigate? Does it reflect your organization’s brand and match the story you tell in your application?

Be sure your social media presence complements the content on your website. Stack your social media accounts with stories and information about the populations you serve, so it’s easy to visualize the impact your organization makes every single day.

Connect with Grantors

Think about it: Would you be more likely to give money to someone you already knew and trusted, or to a total unknown? Unless you really enjoy gambling, you’d probably go with the former. Grantors are the same way—they like to feel a sense of connection to potential grantees. Building personal connections not only helps you to learn more about one another, but also helps you build trust.

Social media is an excellent tool to start connecting with grantors. Follow the grantor on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram so that you know what they’re up to. (Bonus: This can also help you tailor your application content to better connect to their interests and priorities.) Engage with their posts. Repost content that is relevant to your organization and share it with your audience to show that you’re a team player working toward the same goals.

However, don’t rely solely on social media to connect with grantors. Use every channel available to show grantors that you’re interested and that your values align. Pick up the phone and call them—or, even better, arrange a meeting with someone who works for the grantor. Building these personal connections not only helps you to learn more about one another, but also helps you build trust.

Remember that each interaction is a trust-building opportunity. Form a good impression by being easy to work with. Offer multiple availability times for meetings, respond quickly, and supply grantors with the information they need. Whether the grant you’re applying for is large or small, every grantor wants to feel like their decision to fund you will make a meaningful impact. They don’t want their grant to be a drop in an already overflowing fundraising bucket or too small to help your organization implement meaningful changes. Make it easy for reviewers to find the language they will need to advocate for you and show your impact to the review committee. Provide specific language and numbers that demonstrate the need for your organization’s work and the positive changes it makes in the community.

Building a relationship with the grantor before you submit your application can pay huge dividends when it’s time to review the application. It makes the difference between a grant reviewer asking, “Who is this organization?” and one exclaiming, “Oh, this organization! We’ve been talking with them for a couple of months now. They’re great!” Which organization do you think will get the grant?

Next time, we’ll cover what to do after your hard work has paid off and you’ve received the grant. In the meantime, if you’re looking for more tips and tricks for thinking like a grant reviewer, check out Blackbaud University’s Organizational Best Practices workshop OBP: Fundraising—Grants.