Having spent the better part of ten years reviewing all manner of funding requests and proposals for the Treasury Board of B.C., it became clear that there was a set of activities that determined a successful funding proposal from a good, but ultimately unsuccessful one. It’s not about a great document, engaging content, or a topic that is top of mind with the stakeholders – those are all critical part of the process, but the key is having a comprehensive plan for marketing/socializing/communicating your request.
A standard (and successful) strategy for funding proposals starts with a clear, well-documented proposal that demonstrates the problem/need, what the funding will be used for, and what the outcomes will be (please check out our previous post on business case content if you missed it). However, beyond that minimum, successful proposals take a multi-faceted approach to making their request. The funding request becomes a project, in the sense of a dedicated set of resources, with a specific goal and time-frame to complete it.
Some considerations for your funding request project would include:
Timeline & Resources
When is the submission deadline? How early can submission be accepted? Backing up from there, how long will each of the steps take? Are there any holidays or vacation times to consider? Who “owns” this submission (executive sponsorship)? Who is available to work on this? How much time do they have available? Who has the pen?
Map out what you need to get done and by when, assign the resources, and make sure you allow a time contingency for the unexpected. If you need to bring in additional resources, weigh the cost against the organizational risk of not getting the funding, or burning out staff in the process.
Prepare your proposal documentation
Every organization will have a different take on what the best form of documentation is; I’ve seen everything from YouTube videos and animated PowerPoint decks to enormous spreadsheets with almost no supporting descriptions. The key is to communicate the problem, clearly explain your solution and show how (and when) you will measure success.
The cost comes last – if you haven’t clearly demonstrated the need and how your solution helps the funder solve that problem, the price is irrelevant. We will work with you to develop the key pieces you NEED, along with the supporting information to ensure that the key questions are answered in advance, for every probable reader.
Do a stakeholder engagement map
Do you know who the supporters, the indifferent, and the naysayers to your proposal are? What amount and type of power do they have over the outcome of this request? How firmly entrenched in their views are they? Is there room for movement?
The stakeholder engagement heat map gives you the basis to develop a plan for marketing your proposal. For those who may oppose your proposal, what would they need to move to neutrality, or better yet, support? Are there changes you could make that will show good faith in addressing their concerns? Anything you can do to reduce the opposition will help to mitigate the risk they are to your proposal. Don’t forget to reinforce the support you already have – if they feel taken for granted, you could lose that support. Care and feeding are required. For the indifferent, how can they be nudged to supporting your proposal? The swing vote is often the largest contingent, so the sooner you can determine more clearly where they stand, the faster you can begin to treat them as either support or opposition.
Document the plan, assign responsibilities for contacting and lobbying of each stakeholder, and set up a report back internally to determine what additional follow-up may be required. This is an iterative process, not a once-and-done thing.
Arrange an in-person meeting
Wherever possible, an initial discussion should take place in person. Often, the phone is the next best option, but why not Skype or Lync? However, be prepared! The idea isn’t to just “go for coffee” over the phone, it’s to get key information about what the funders are looking for, and to provide a basic introduction to your proposal. With practice, you’ll be able to have the remainder of the discussion be about how their needs can be supported by your ideas.
Keep in mind that approvals often go through many levels, and each level may want something different (same theme, but nuanced), so be prepared to have three or more of these meetings if the funding you’re seeking is substantial. Try to match ranks whenever possible.
Note any ideas and follow up on them! Additional research may be required, new stakeholders may have been identified. Add them to the stakeholder engagement map and note the linkages between stakeholders. Based on your conversation, set up a meeting to see how this new player fits in, and be open to re-evaluation of any previous made assessments.
This is just a very high level overview of things to consider in “marketing” your next funding request. Each item is a topic that can be expanded upon, and I will endeavor to do so as time permits. There’s a lot more to a successful funding proposal than a great document. It’s a lot of work, but an excellent opportunity to build relationships and expand your network/circle of influence.