Getting the Grant: A Guide to Your First Grant Presentation

by Amy Hooper

If you are new to grantmaking, preparing for a grant presentation can be a confusing and overwhelming task. Whether in person, over the phone, or on a video call, a presentation is an opportunity to convince a funder that you should be invited to apply for a grant. It doesn't take the place of a proposal, but rather gives the funder a taste of the work you are doing in order to decide whether they should invite your proposal. Read on for a guide on landing a grant presentation, what to include, and how to make the most of the opportunity.

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Doing the Groundwork

Some grantmaking organizations do not accept unsolicited proposals or cold emails. This means that in order for a funder to read your proposal or listen to your presentation, you've got to build a relationship first. Utilize any preexisting relationships between people on your staff team or board and the staff at the foundation you're interested in. Once you've got a foot in the door, ask for an introduction to the relevant program manager, as this is ultimately who you'll want to build a relationship with. In the absence of any preexisting relationships, you can try to find a staff member's email on the website, or reach out on LinkedIn.

Preparing Well

So, you've opened a door with the organization and set up a meeting with the program officer. Great! As you prepare for your conversation, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you're as informed and prepared as you can be.

The first, vital step is to ensure that your project is within the parameters of what the foundation might fund. Look through their website and try to find guidelines on the types of projects they give grants to, as well as some organizations they've funded in the past. This will help you to evaluate whether your project fits with their goals. If it doesn't align, you may be wasting your time by chasing the grant. Most grantmaking organizations have tight guidelines on which kinds of projects they will fund. If your project sits outside those guidelines, you'll most likely be turned away, and you're better off finding a funder that aligns more closely with your project.

If your organization's work does sit within the parameters of the foundation's goals, use the website to gain a deeper understanding of the grantmaking process in this organization. Take note of the language they use when talking about the kind of work you do, and try to (subtly) reflect this in your presentation. You may also be able to find information on the timelines they operate on and the amounts they award. This way, you'll go into the presentation well informed about what you might ask from the funder.

Consider the format of your meeting as you prepare. If it's in person or on a video call, bring a slide deck with some high-level information about your organization and its work. If it's an in-person meeting, you can also bring some materials to leave with the program manager — perhaps a one-pager summarizing the project and your organization's background. You may also want to bring someone else with you. The person who made the initial introduction to the organization might be a good pick, or a subject matter expert if the project is particularly technical. If the meeting is over the phone, it may be more casual and conversational, and less in the style of a presentation.

Delivering the Presentation

During the presentation, remember that in most cases the aim is simply to have the program manager accept a grant proposal from you. For that to happen, they need to be convinced of the value of the work you are doing, and that it fits within the grantmaker's funding goals. With that in mind, here are some guidelines for how to structure your presentation and curate the information you include.

History and Impact

Give the program officer an overview of how your organization came to be and your impact to date. Don't flood them with statistics, but explain the work you are currently doing and back it up with some compelling metrics that show its value. If your organization has been around for a while, a growth curve can be a helpful way of demonstrating the development in your work.

Once you've helped the program officer understand your organization as a whole, zoom in on what specifically you are fundraising for. This might be a project, an event, or perhaps general operational support for your organization. If you're running more than one project that you think they might fund, explain each one and give them options: you might be surprised at which project they are more interested in. Incorporate the research you did before the conversation, thinking about the language you use and how to best align it with the funder's theory of change.

A Conversational Approach

A grant presentation is both an opportunity for the grantmaker to learn about your organization and for you to learn more about them. Ask questions in order to better understand what they are looking for and pay attention to the language they use when talking about the issues you're working on. You may want to incorporate some of the language they use into your proposal if the presentation goes well.

Give the program officer plenty of space to ask you questions, too. This is an opportunity to fill any gaps in your presentation and possibly to dive deeper into certain elements of the project. Don't be afraid to get back to them later on if there's a question that requires some research or the help of a colleague.

Following Up

Make sure you don't leave the meeting without a specific, next-step request. Ask the program manager outright if they think this could be a good fit and if they would be willing to read a proposal. It's helpful to have them explain the next steps of the process to you, even if these details are on their website. If it's relevant and the funder is local, you could invite them to a site visit: some program officers do this anyway as part of their process. This can provide a more holistic view of what you do, as well as an opportunity to meet other members of your staff. By the end of the meeting, you should aim to have a clear yes or no answer about whether you will be moving forward with the proposal process. If the answer is no, ask the program officer if they have any suggestions on funders who might be more likely to support your effort.

Importantly, you should maintain a relationship with the program manager, even if you are unsuccessful in proceeding with the grantmaking process. Connect with them on LinkedIn and keep them on your mailing lists if you can, as you never know when this kind of relationship will be useful for a future grant or project.

Getting the Grant

Applying for grants is a delicate and sometimes frustrating process, and the first grants you win may well be the hardest. A grant presentation is a great way to build a relationship with an organization and a way in with funders who do not accept unsolicited applications. Use a conversational and informative approach to showcase your brilliant work and get your project funded.

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