Many nonprofits search for grants as a way to diversify their revenues. And if you work at one of these organizations, you may be wondering: is there a grant writing season? How long will it take to work on a grant? What does it take to meet the funders’ deadlines?
When applying for grants to increase a nonprofits’ financial stability, a lot of work is required on the front end.
But no worries: we will provide you with a clear description of the most important requirements to help you navigate your grant writing process smoothly and easily.
Keep an ear to the ground!
Does Grant Writing Season Exist?
So what do we mean by grant writing season? And does grant writing season even exist? Similar to many other aspects of life, there are cycles and seasons in the job of a grant writer as well.
Essentially, the first step to answer this question will be to identify what the grant funding cycle is for your chosen grantmaking agencies and to mark your calendar based on their funding deadlines.
In the daily life of a professional grant writer, many grant seasons may exist, especially when submitting federal and government grants. There are periods of the year in which multiple grant applications are announced and then due.
The majority of grantmaking entities, such as foundations and federal or state agencies, provide funding within specific “grant cycles” because they align their financial disbursement with the fiscal year.
After the grant announcement is released, deadlines for submission may fall within a tight timeframe that can range from thirty to ninety days.
Grant writers, nonprofits new to the grant world, and students interested in submitting grant applications need to know that once they select a Notice of Funding Opportunity or a Request for Proposal that fits their needs, they must mark their calendars accordingly.
Below we’ll reveal some tips for navigating the exciting sea of the grant writing seasons!
When is Grant Writing Season?
Overall, the answer is that there are a variety of grant writing seasons (and they vary), but we are here to provide guidance on the most common ones to help you through the process!
Here is the thing: there might be several grant writing seasons depending on the area of focus of your nonprofit, the selected funding sources, and the type of grant proposal you will be submitting.
Some foundations providing funds for scholarships have grant deadlines in spring (mostly March and April), while other philanthropic organizations willing to support education enrichment have their grant cycles set around deadlines in February and June.
Other foundations may make your life easier by having deadlines aligned with the fiscal year of their State (most commonly from July to October), or rolling deadlines that coincide with their quarterly board meetings.
Instrumentl can help you keep track of your upcoming deadlines and even predict for you when a funder’s deadline is likely to be set based on historical data.
If you happen to be submitting foundation, federal, and government grants, you can safely assume that spring will be the time of the year in which fewer applications will be due and you can plan your vacation!
Stay tuned to learn more about how to get prepared for the federal and state grant writing season!
Is there a federal grant writing season?
Generally speaking, since the fiscal year ends September 30, many federal grantmaking agencies will award the majority of grants from April to September (meaning that you’ll have to work hard from October to March).
Unfortunately, this also implies that you might have to work on the proposal during the federal holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, and Presidents’ Day.
As you might know already, there are 26 federal agencies that release over 1,000 grant programs per year to fund promising projects focused on different topics/categories.
Does it sound overwhelming? It doesn’t necessarily have to be if you know how to be prepared.
For instance, if you are a youth serving agency seeking funds from HHS, spring can be the grant writing season for you.
If your nonprofit provides substance abuse and mental health services to vulnerable populations and seeks funds from SAMHSA, your busiest time of the year will probably be from January to June.
If you seek funds from the Department of Labor, instead you might discover that deadlines are spread out throughout the year (January, February, March, April, and November), with a pause in late Spring and Summer (from May to September).
For the 2021 grant writing season, The Department of Justice actually released several Requests for Proposals that were due throughout the entire year, except for the month of November.
The key to success is being knowledgeable of the specific “grant funding cycle” of the agency you would have to submit your proposal to.
Is there a state grant writing season?
Don’t be surprised if many states have different grant writing seasons!
For the majority of US States (all but Alabama, Michigan, New York, and Texas) the fiscal year ends June 30. For Alabama and Michigan, the fiscal year ends on September 30; for New York on March 31; and finally for Texas on August 31.
How about the US Territories? Only three of them (Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands) have the September 30 fiscal year end date.
So what is the main takeaway at this point?
If you aim at submitting grant proposals to State entities, expect to prepare and get ready to be busy from July to December.
Once you have marked your deadlines, you’ll have to start planning ahead of time for how to meet the different milestones and deliverables due before the final submission of the proposal.
Make sure you get familiar with the funders requirements, gather updated data on the needs of the community you serve, prepare your infographics to showcase your achieved outcomes, and reach out to potential partners to explore opportunities for collaboration or for letters of support (just to name a few steps).
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Regardless if you are a seasoned grant writer or a novice in the field, you’ll need to know how to nail your grant writing season.
We are here to shed light on a few fundamental steps to plan for grant writing season, many of which have a lot to do with project management.
1. Become familiar with your deadlines! Use a grant calendar and your discernment to estimate how many hours you will need to complete the whole work!
2. Split the workload into “smart pieces” of assignments that have to be completed (deliverables) within a specific timeline, and mark the parts of the work that are crucial to achieve the result (milestones). Maybe even help yourself with grant management software!
3. Create a map of all the stakeholder and team members that will contribute to the grant proposal, and ask them ahead of time how many days they would need to do their part.
4. Do your research: gather updated census data/stats on the community you serve and the existing needs, and review recent papers and tools or relevant best practices related to the activities you conduct through your programs.
5. Start creating folders and/or subfolders for the Notice of Funding Opportunity/RFP and all the documentations/materials you will need to attach to the grant proposal.
Grant Writing Timeline
At this point, you may also be wondering “Is grant writing easy? How many hours does it take to write a grant? Is there a formula to it?”.
Grant writing is not easy since it requires you to combine both your creative and technical writing skills. You will be asked to answer specific questions or to provide comprehensive responses according to the funders requirements, and the final result has to be a competitive application!
You may need 30-50 hours to write a foundation grant, 60-80 hours for a state grant, and at least 120 hours to complete more complex federal grants. When preparing, it is a must to properly estimate the TOTAL amount of time you will need to finalize the work.
Remember that you have to study the NOFO/RFP (and it will take from 1.5 hour to 2 hours to do) and consider the total pages of the narrative, being aware that you will probably work up to three hours per page (writing, editing, proofreading).
Then, don’t forget the time you need to create the budget and the attached narrative (minimum 5 hours) and the time to gather the required attachment (5-7 hours for letters of support, resumes/job descriptions/organizational charts and additional hours for other forms).
It is necessary for you to estimate the proper time for the review of the draft. In many cases, the Executive Director or Program Staff will be doing so: be aware that they could return the revised draft to you after a week or more!
Finally, expect to devote at least 5 hours to do your final review of the narrative and the required attachments. Do your math and find your solution!
Now let’s take a closer look and dive deeper into steps to take during the grant writing season to achieve the greatest results.
1. Set a planning meeting
Once you have found the perfect funding opportunity to support your programs, make sure you set a planning meeting.
The agenda for the meeting should cover some crucial aspects of the work to be done, including roles, timelines for milestones and deliverables, internal deadlines for revising the draft, and preferred methods for communication.
As a successful grant writer working tirelessly during the grant writing season, make sure you do your due diligence in reviewing the funder’s guidelines and any available information (e.g. description on funder’s website, past grantees’ program description) to combine with your program specification.
The planning meeting is a perfect opportunity for brainstorming with the team about the main components of the programs you are seeking funds for. It will be crucial to draw the first lines of the project’s logic model (required by many funders). The logic model will be the visual representation of how the different components will be linked and will show the funders how your program will achieve the expected outcomes, thus making a lasting change or offering a solution to a community need.
2. Develop a work plan
Writing successful grant proposals is never “solo” work.
After having defined the roles and the type of contribution for the different team members (e.g. program staff, leadership, management level, development team and quality assurance specialist), make sure that you use the proper tool to develop a work plan.
What has to be included in the work plan?
Your work plan will have to identify, specify and report who will be responsible for doing what and when to successfully meet the internal (and funder’s) deadlines.
For instance: who will be responsible for gathering the resumes? Who will be creating the organizational charts? Who will be reaching out to partners for the letters of support and MOUs?
No worries, there are many available templates out there that can make your life easier!
3. Create and update proposal content
This is the core of the grant writing work during the writing season: it is time to put your skills to work and create the proposal content!
The first source of inspiration for grant writers mainly comes from the passion for (and the commitment to) the nonprofit’s mission and programs. But this passion also has to be combined with the funders requirements.
Oftentimes federal, government, and foundation grants have a series of set questions (sections of the grant application) that have to be answered.
We can summarize these for you:
The need: what are the existing problems requiring a solution? Can you provide relevant data to support your statements?
Program description: how will your program work to address the existing need? How are the program outcomes to be measured?
Organizational capacity: does your nonprofit have experience and capacity to address the need? Has it run similar programs in the past?
Financial request: How will the funds be used? How will your organization be accountable for the program's expenses?
Sustainability: what parts of your program will be kept in place if the required funding ends? What is your plan for diversification of revenues? Have you created meaningful partnerships within the community you serve?
4. Schedule time for a review of your draft proposal
After having created a good draft of the proposal content, make sure you schedule a time for an internal and external review.
Ask your internal reviewers (for instance the development team, direct program staff, your Executive Director) how many days they would need to complete it, and set adequate time to incorporate their feedback.
Some public organizations sometimes offer a free review service to boost the grant writing “quality work” of local nonprofit organizations. Consider that they will probably need at least a week to complete it, but many extra sets of eyes reviewing your draft will pave the way towards the potential victory!
5. Use support tools for the grant writing season
Do you need grant writing support?
There are many companies assisting nonprofits, including Instrumentl, that can help you during the grant writing season with grant tracking and grant management.
If you find yourself overwhelmed and exhausted during the grant writing season, please remember that you can count on these tools to help you keep track of your work and deadlines.
Both nonprofits that don’t have a professional grant writer on their staff or those who need extra help during the season may wonder how hiring a grant writer works.
The best way to source skilled grant writers is always by word of mouth: ask your colleagues of other nonprofits if they’ve had a fantastic grant writer who successfully wrote proposals for them.
How Instrumentl Can Help With Grant Writing Season
Are you ready for the grant writing season and want to know how Instrumentl can help you?
Here are just five ways Instrumentl can help you in your grant writing:
1. Automagical deadline tracking
With Instrumentl, you can save grant opportunities to your tracker so that once a week you’ll receive updates for the next deadlines coming up in your grants calendar.
2. Smart matching
Once you set up a project on Instrumentl, you’ll get personalized grant recommendations based on your nonprofit’s programs and initiatives. These opportunities will reflect good fit funders you can actually start applying for.
3. Premium funder insights
We help grant writers dig into the data trends that matter most in identifying whether a funder is a good fit. We’ll show you things like what percentage of grantees in the last three years are new grantees vs. repeat grantees.
4. Custom reporting
Need a report for a board meeting? Instrumentl lets you create reports in seconds based on whatever project, year, or status you would like.
5. All-in-one grants tool
Instrumentl is the institutional fundraising platform. If you want to bring grant prospecting, tracking and management to one place, we can help you do that. You can start today by creating a 14-day free account here.
Although grant writing season may be hard, we hope you found all that you needed to get ready for nailing the grant writing season and are more knowledgeable of useful tools that can make a huge difference for your nonprofit!
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