Prospect Management & Draft Review
Individual support strategies and skills to learn to better manage prospective applicants.
Individualized support helps to ensure that the desired amount of competitive proposals are received. By providing 1-on-1 support opportunities leading up to an application deadline, applicants are able to receive guidance on how to present their ideas in ways that are best suited for the opportunity before they are reviewed by decisionmakers. By reading applications in advance of the deadline, program staff can provide insight into areas that need to be clarified or if the scope of the project needs to be adjusted to be a better fit for the program.
This extra level of support is one that is not often provided by other funders but greatly benefits applicants that have good ideas but little fundraising experience. Sprout’s long history with catalytic funding programs acknowledged that not all good ideas have development staff assisting them in writing proposals. Wanting to help prospective applicants present their ideas in ways that would resonate with decisionmaking committees, staff began not only hosting regular information sessions but also agreeing to in-person and phone meetings to help applicants in a more individualized way. This evolved into reading drafts of proposals leading up to the application deadline and also hosting working breakfasts and deadline day office hours.
- Is there a way to help applicants overcome barriers to applying?
- Where or how can I speak with prospective applicants in a way that best utilizes my time while still meeting the applicants where they are?
- What is some feedback or comments that I hear from reviewers regularly and how can I help applicants incorporate this feedback before they even apply?
It is recommended that program staff are open to in-person meetings, calls, and email correspondence regarding the funding opportunity. This often includes discussing the eligibility criteria, ideal characteristics, and criteria, along with providing feedback on ideas to help ensure that the scope and focus of their proposal aligns well with the funding program. This is also a good opportunity to inform people who are not eligible or unlikely to be funded that they are not a good fit for the program before they dedicate additional time to applying.
As a way to manage a large influx of inquiries, ask that prospects schedule meetings and calls during specific timeframes that are dedicated specifically for applicant support. There are a variety of online scheduling tools that allow applicants to sign up for time slots, allowing you to set parameters for the conversations. This often encourages prospects to prepare for the meeting in advance, coming with developed ideas and questions already in mind.
A flagship support service Sprout offered was draft feedback. It is recommended that drafts are only accepted up until one week prior to the application deadline to ensure that there is adequate time to provide meaningful feedback and allow the applicant to make updates based on the recommendations.
Methods We Love
Holding open office hours. Setting open office hours near the application deadline allows program managers to provide one-on-one support in a more casual setting. By working with people individually, community members are able to ask questions, receive personalized feedback, and provide materials that they may have had difficulty submitting due to technological requirements (online forms, scanning, video entries, etc.). It helps to do this over a cup of coffee at a local café to make it feel like two colleagues are talking about the proposal instead of an applicant pitching their idea to a funder.
Hosting working breakfasts. These Saturday breakfast events typically took place a week before the deadline and were used to discuss draft application feedback and answer last minute questions from applicants. By having 2-3 hours set aside for the event, applicants were able to meet with program staff on a first come, first served basis, allowing people to have coffee and pastries as they waited. When possible, program staff reviewed drafts in advance of the event so that the time spent one-on-one with the applicant could be used to discuss the feedback instead of reading the proposal.
Brokering partnerships. Making connections between people, either one-on-one or in group settings, helps local innovators extend their reach. When discussing an idea or upon reading an application draft, it is helpful to share ideas for other partners and resources that can strengthen the project, making email introductions when appropriate.
Building a robust database. If you have the resources to invest in a robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, you can help to eliminate silos between programs through notes and tags. While a contact or former applicant might not be a good fit for a current program, they may be an ideal prospect for a different or upcoming program based on their focus area, geographical location, or target audience. And while building relationships is important to the process in general, having a system that helps make the connections or systematically pulls relevant people and projects from previous funding programs is always a helpful place to start.
Giving too much confidence. Some proposals will not be supported, regardless of how much applicant support is provided. Make sure not to make any promises, instead using phrases such as “if your project is recommended for support” instead of “after you receive funding.” It also helps to share a typical funding percentage with people or let them know approximately how many people have shown interest in the program compared to how many grants are available to clearly communicate that while you are helping to strengthen their proposal, it is still a competitive process that requires all high priority proposals to go through full consideration by the decisionmaking committee.