Recently I presented a workshop on grant proposal writing at the Dress for Success Affiliate Leadership Conference in San Francisco.
Dress for Success (DFS) has a reputation as a place to pass on professional clothing. Their work goes beyond giving professional clothing a second life: DFS is an international organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.
To prepare for the session, I spoke with executive directors at several regional affilates. Each mentioned the challenges of securing funding. One mentioned her hope that she could hire several staff members, one who would do more program-related work and the other who would do more fundraising.
“We’re completely overwhelmed,” she complained. “We don’t even have time to organize the clothes that are coming in. Grant funding would give us the staff to organize our inventory — it could really help us out.”
What’s wrong with this picture?
If I were a potential funder, I would have a hard time approving funding for an organization focusing on clothing that told me they didn’t have the staffing to organize their closets. If the basic systems aren’t in place, I would not trust that this organization would use my funding strategically.
So before sending off a grant proposal, what should this DFS affiliate do?
Take some time to step back and set up the basic systems of managing their inventory. Make sure that they feel competent and successful at those basic systems. Then, seek funding to build on that success.
This advice applies to any non-profit organization. What are the basic systems that keep your organization moving forward? If you want to find funders to invest in expanding your work, you’d do well to make sure that those systems are working well. And if not, before you apply for grant funding, take some time to organize your “closet” of hiring, inventory, data or financial management.