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Beware the "Spaghetti Method" of Grant Pursuits

Updated: Apr 19

Beware the "Spaghetti Method" of Grant Pursuits

When we onboard new clients, I always like to give a few warnings up front. We ask a lot of questions and are eager to learn everything possible about your organization and its mission. And one more, slightly less practical warning:

We might drive you nuts with a few guiding words of wisdom we like to repeat over…and over…and over again.

The most important of those phrases?

“What gets measured gets improved”

It gets to the core of why fundraisers struggle - we work to hit big financial goals but sometimes don’t know how to get there. Giving is rarely linear, and it’s hard to measure progress toward a big goal when funding comes through inconsistently.

The solution to this is to measure your activity - how many solicitations are you sending? How many calls are you making? How many grants are you pursuing?

The last question is the trickiest. You want to apply for all of the grants that are a fit for your organization and do so in a way that is strategic, relationship-driven, and built for long-term success.

That doesn’t mean applying to every grant under the sun!

I call this the “spaghetti method” of pursuing grants. It’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks. You’ll certainly have activity! The problem is you won’t have activity that is likely to lead to positive results.

It’s not uncommon for organizations to get caught in this cycle. Instead of getting in front of funders and building relationships, they generate a high volume of applications that are likely to go nowhere. A good “lottery ticket” grant is never a bad thing, but it’s dangerous to build your whole grant program around those lottery tickets.

Instead of the spaghetti method, here are some tips for building a winning grant program:

  • It’s all about relationships: Grants feel anonymous sometimes, but there’s always a human being (or team of human beings) on the other side of the application. Reach out to the funder and try to get guidance and build relationships before applying. It’s a good chance to practice another fundraising adage I like to remind clients of: “if you ask for money, you get advice, but if you ask for advice, you get money”

  • Measure the right activity: The number of applications submitted shouldn’t be the only metric you track. How many meetings are you scheduling with prospective funders? How many stewardship calls have you made to existing funders? How much time have you spent prospecting funders who may align with your organization? Measures like this will give you a more complete picture of your success.

  • Buy lottery tickets…sometimes: Yes, sometimes there will be a grant you can submit without a prior relationship. It’s most likely a big, national funding opportunity with far more applicants than they can ever fund. It’s great to pursue those when your workflow allows for it! I call them lottery tickets for a reason - you never bank on them hitting, but if they do, they can be transformational. Be strategic about these and use them as a chance to test your message and, if they aren’t funded, see what kind of feedback you can get.

Building a successful grant program takes time, patience, and a lot of deliberate relationship-building.

Going for quantity over quantity may look good on your activity tracker, but it isn’t likely to lead to your ultimate goal: consistent funding.

Measuring the right activity and making the right strategic grant decisions is tough, but Team Kat & Mouse is here to help! Reach out for a free consultation to learn more about how we can help.

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