Grant planning doesn't start with finding a grant. I get dozens of inquiries like this every year.
" We provide decorated Christmas trees to low-income families. We need a grant to assist us in purchasing 100 trees. Please help us find grant money for this worthy cause" Rcvd. Nov. 1
Requests like this don't take into account the lead time needed to find a grantor, and certainly doesn't allow any time for the grantor to respond. Grant planning requires you to be proactive, not reactive.
Grant planning requires foresight
Grant planning begins at least one year from the time you need the money and it starts with refining your mission into a program or programs with a budget, and a specific, measurable goal. Here are some of the questions I asked this particular nonprofit.
How many trees do you need? What is your budget? Are there trees available at a price that will allow you to furnish 100 trees? Have you worked with vendors (tree farms, direct sellers, etc) to get a discount? Do you have a contract to provide the trees at a stated price? What size trees do you need? What about transportation, both to you and to the recipients? What species of tree do you want? Do you have alternatives? How do you qualify people to receive a tree? Can you store the trees, or do you need them very close to the distribution date? Who has supported this cause in the past?
Setting up a prospect calendar
Typically, foundations plan their giving cycles at annual, semi-annual or quarterly intervals. The application closing date for the grants might be as much as a year ahead of when the grant is awarded. That's why this is called grant planning, not grant getting.
After you have mapped out the when, where, how much and why for your appeal, it still has to fit into the grant calendar for the foundation. That means finding the prospective grantors well ahead of the opening date of the grant application or RFP date. Arrange your prospective targets in a format that allows you to sort by RFP opening date, closing date, amount available, and enter those into a working calendar or spreadsheet.
If your targets are local, establish some sort of relationship with them ahead of time. Follow them on Facebook, or go to events they frequent. Find out who is on their board, and look for common associations with your board. Check to see if they have a prequalifying phase (an LOI or online qualifying protocol). Look at their previous giving patterns and assign a priority to the ones that are most likely to respond well. There is no sense in "shotgunning" your requests to any and all foundations that have only a very remote connection to your cause. That's expensive both in terms of time and money, and seldom results in an out-of-the-blue award.