Grants are often considered the focus of the grant writer or grant manager. Many nonprofits do not realize the importance of board involvement in the grant seeking process. The board does have responsibility in financial and legal oversight of the organization, but they also hold responsibility in facilitating pre-award participation to improve grant award success.
First and foremost, your board of directors is responsible for development of your strategic plan. This includes a grant seeking strategy that engages the overall organizational strategic plan. In order for this to be effective, it is important for board members to learn about the grant process as it is very different than sales-minded donor procurement. Foundations have expectations that your organization must adhere to in order to qualify and that involves reporting of how funds are utilized. As such, this means that before any grant proposals are submitted, all budgets, sustainability plans, and financial obligations are addressed by the board so that the foundations are assured that your organization is reliable and capable of utilizing the funds as requested and without complication. This also includes the overall fundraising strategy of the organization outside of grant seeking efforts.
Board members are also expected to be involved in accepting or denying a grant award. Foundations may not always provide what is requested. In some circumstances, the award may be severely insufficient in order for the program goals to be met, thus requiring changes in the program goals. In some instances, if the timeline for use of funds doesn’t warrant adequate time to procure the remaining funds, it will be impossible to meet the needs proposed in the initial grant request. If the foundation is unwilling to negotiate a change in terms to meet these circumstances, it may mean denying the award. Other instances may involve scenarios where a foundation’s requirements may pull your organization out of alignment with its mission or other obligations. Not all grants should be accepted. The board must be involved in this decision.
Board members are also expected to make financial contributions to support the organization. Some foundations do request this data to demonstrate dedication to the organization’s mission by its own board members. Any weak links in your board can have an impact on grant award approval or denial. This includes board member involvement in procuring local connections with community members. Community relationships and support are also key factors that can impact approval or denial of a grant request.
There are occasions when it is appropriate for a board member to engage the grant writer with their personal expertise for a particular grant proposal. This may involve pieces of the narrative, recommending research, or standing alongside the CEO for funder site visits. Presence matters not only in the eyes of the funder, but if a board member can provide key ingredients to make a proposal more likely to be approved because of their own knowledge of that foundation or history, then they should do so.
Board members do not have to fully know how to prepare a grant proposal and navigate the grant application or management process, however it is important for them to understand what foundations are looking for and what is expected of them as an active board member in the eyes of potential funders.
Grants are an integral component of every effective development plan. This means that board members must understand the process, the obstacles, the expectations, and be willing to participate in the process as required. The Executive Director/CEO of the nonprofit and the grant professional can play a role in educating board members. However, it is on the board members to individually take ownership of learning more about the information that is provided to them. Holding unrealistic expectations, demands, and short-sighted comprehension of the process can actually hinder all grant seeking efforts.
Policies & Procedures
One major factor that can be done to facilitate this process is for the organization to generate a policies and procedures strategy in relation to grants. This includes any pre- and post- award activities. The creation of policies and procedures ensures that the organization and board members fully participate and understand what is expected of them and how the grant process works so that everyone can work more effectively in the procurement of grant funding to move the organization’s mission forward.