Best Practices in Grant Seeking: Beyond the Proposal

With thousands of new nonprofit organizations created every year and government funding increasingly hard to come by, competition for private grant dollars has never been greater. While many guides promise tips and strategies for constructing the perfect funding proposal, Saadia Faruqi's Best Practices in Grant Seeking: Beyond the Proposal looks past the proposal itself and advocates a more holistic approach to grantseeking.

Faruqi's approach encompasses not just the grant writer or development professional, but the executive director, board members, program and public relations staff, volunteers, and even clients. Indeed, Faruqi argues that integrating all aspects of an organization's operations in the grantseeking function encourages a greater understanding of the process among staff and board and, in the process, makes the organization a stronger candidate for funding in the long term. As she writes in her introductory chapter: "It is rarely enough to write excellent proposals and sit back, waiting for them to get funded. No matter how brilliant the writer, it is not the proposal that gets accepted — or rejected — but the program and the people who run it."

True to that concept, only one chapter of the book focuses on the actual writing of the proposal; the remainder explores what should happen within an organization before and after it applies for a grant. The text is divided into four sections, each describing a different stage in the foundation fundraising process. Faruqi opens by discussing the steps an organization should take in advance of that process: engaging board members in fundraising; developing community relations; designing and evaluating programs; and building collaborations with other agencies in the field. The next two sections focus more directly on approaching foundations and contain guidance on creating a grants system, researching and communicating with prospective funders, composing the actual proposal, and managing a successful site visit. A final section outlines strategies for proper stewardship and relationship-building with funders after the grant has been awarded.

Faruqi has nearly ten years' experience as a grant writer and consultant, and many of the insights and case studies included in the book derive from her research into the grantseeking strategies of nonprofit organizations. In 2004 she published a study of grantor-grantee relationships in the Journal of the American Association of Grant Professionals, which subsequently led her to conduct surveys and in-depth interviews with staff at more than two hundred nonprofit organizations and twenty foundations across the United States. Based on her findings, Faruqi highlights the best practices of organizations with successful grants programs and provides recommendations on how other nonprofits can put that information to good use.

Indeed, the most valuable parts of the book are the best-practice case studies and funder perspectives. The former include clear examples of proven techniques used by existing nonprofit organizations; the latter offer critical insights into the foundation review process, particularly with respect to some of the less obvious factors that can affect a funder's decision to accept or decline a proposal. Faruqi also includes helpful checklists at the end of each chapter that can be used to assess organizational or professional readiness for the grantseeking process.

Despite the book's claim to contain the "first-ever research on factors affecting foundation grants," many of the approaches Faruqi describes are fairly well known. For example, the idea that having an active board regularly involved in fundraising contributes to grantseeking success is not a new idea. Still, the concepts she puts forth remain relevant to the long-term sustainability of any foundation fundraising program, and the recommendations outlined in each section will be especially helpful to new nonprofits developing a grantseeking strategy for the first time. While Best Practices in Grant Seeking may not be the first — or the last — word on grant writing, it would be a worthwhile read for any grant writer or development professional looking to gain a leg up on the competition.