A message from The Grants House: Solicited & Unsolicited Grants – which one are you ready for?
A grantee organization usually seeks restricted Grants in one of two ways – through Solicited and Unsolicited Opportunities. The former is usually published on the Grantor's (donor) website or can be found in numerous grant opportunity databases online. As the name implies, the donor is tendering to potential implementing partners and you have to submit a proposal or concept note in response to a Call for Proposals. Keep in mind that it also means that the donor has likely done a fair bit of planning before going to tendering and has a strong notion of what they are looking for – they may even stipulate the outcomes or results you are supposed to achieve, right in the tendering document.
The latter – an unsolicited proposal - is where an implementing agency may be proactive and can reach out to donors with good ideas that they want to pitch. Usually, those ideas are aligned with the implementer's own strategic priorities much more closely than a solicited call.
How do you know it’s worth your effort – and what is the Return on Investment?
A solicited proposal rarely provides an opportunity to communicate with the donor to refine the strategic outcomes, geography, partners or sectoral priorities – at least not until you’ve been approved. An unsolicited proposal, on the other hand, affords your agency the opportunity to communicate, maintain relationships and co-create a proposal with the donor directly, right from the beginning of the process. So, consider it this way –
1. A solicited proposal is a lot easier to find and respond to. The proposal is usually a
cookie-cutter template, defined by the donor and you need only meet the eligibility requirements to apply. Your level of effort is much smaller in the search stage but you get very little opportunity to communicate with the donor and your win ratio might be low. To pass the technical and merit phases of the donor's approval process, your proposal usually requires a lot more investment of funds and person-power at the get-go. So, you obviously have a lot more to lose if you’re not awarded the funds. However, the reward is that once you are approved, you can get unparalleled access to the donor, heightened and more visible credibility, and a strong communications avenue for future discussions (and sometimes even intel on upcoming opportunities).
2. An unsolicited proposal, conversely, takes a lot more effort at the front end. You must keep up with development and sectoral priorities, frequently scan for opportunities at national and global levels, attend multiple meetings and you need to energize your cross-functional teams to work together in identifying opportunities and assessing their priority within your program. Then, you need to network, create relationships (or maintain them) and find a contact in the donor office with whom to pitch your idea. However, you may only need a lite concept note at this stage, with which to make that presentation. So the investments are often more heavily into your organization (rather than the proposal specifically) and you have less to lose if you’re not awarded the funds. However – you’re usually crafting the proposal with the donor anyway, so your chances of being awarded are pretty good.
So which one is right for you?
If you’re concerned about risk and getting a higher win ratio – maybe the second option is best. If you like to gamble – have a high degree of confidence - or already have a pretty good win ratio with the donor – then maybe the first option is a good one.
At The Grants House, however, we argue that you need to be Grant Ready for either of these scenarios. So the bigger question is – are you just being opportunistic or do you have a longer-term Grants goal in mind?
A solicited proposal certainly requires that your organization is grant ready and prepared for the rigorous approval process ahead. However, even the unsolicited route means you should have a sustainable and consistent grants strategy in mind – and that you think about the implementation capacity of your organization. After all, you need to grow and replace those grants eventually. A solicited grant submission only has a limited tarnishing of your credibility with the donor – after all, you’re 1 of potentially 100 that are rejected, let’s say. However, in an unsolicited opportunity, your risks go up substantially with that donor – especially when you get to the post-approval implementation stage. Thus, your attention to grant readiness should be similar in both cases.
Not Knowing What you Don’t Know
At The Grants House, we’ve highlighted the principal pitfalls for every organization – “Not Knowing What You Don’t Know.” Don’t worry – our in-depth Grants Training Courses walk you through what “Grant Readiness” means, based on years of experience. Once you have gone through the grant readiness checklist, you will be able to integrate those strengths into every proposal – whether solicited or unsolicited - ramping up your likelihood of winning!
Being Grant Ready means you can –
a) establish eligibility for all types of grants
b) prepare yourself to be technically ready for every proposal
c) identify and use the tools and guidance to glide through the donor’s ‘merit’ approval stage
d) create your own donor landscape mapping (to identify funders, sectoral priorities, future opportunities, etc.) and competitor environmental assessments
e) identify your Grants Value-add Proposition (which highlights your uniqueness to a donor, your point of difference, along with your Grant strengths)
f) develop Capacity Statements through your Grants Value Add Proposition
g) implement an Influence strategy
h) engage in Networking, and so on.
Being Grant-Ready refers to your staff, your tools, your organizational culture and your Grants Systems. From inception to closure, a proposal to fund a project requires that you address your Grants preparedness end-to-end. That means you need to start by building up the foundation for writing a proposal (such as a bid summary, Go/No-Go scorecards, defined limits of authority, clear terms of reference for staff, a concept note template, a business case outline for approvals, etc.). You require clear communications between your organizational departments (no silos!) and clear understandings with potential partners, in advance. Your acumen in writing and using appropriate tools (e.g. logic models, budgets, causal pathways, etc.) should be strong – or you know where to obtain those resources quickly. You may need specialized skills in gender, human rights, climate adaptation and environment, sectoral expertise or emergency response and preparedness (as needed).
Your grants systems should be able to expedite decisions, approvals and funding within 24-48 hours of identifying an opportunity. As you proceed with the proposal (or concept note), your staff needs to work within strict deadlines and often in a high-stress environment. Unfortunately, this is often taken for granted (no pun intended!) – but Grants are frequently seen by staff (especially non-grant staff) as ‘extra work’ or above what they are normally asked to do. This is where building a strong grants culture is needed, to mentor teams, strengthen communications, create clear objectives and motivate staff at all levels, to submit a high-quality proposal in a - too often - short timeframe.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that the post-Covid environment has come with a change in the funding landscape. Priorities have shifted, sectoral objectives are changing and there are ever more demanding global objectives that donors wish to address. Senior leaders in non-profit and profit organizations realize the need for diversification and for creative fund-raising opportunities – which includes non-traditional partners and stepping outside of their comfort zones – and even their sectoral areas of specialty.
The good news is that there are thousands of Donors still providing billions of dollars to humanitarian opportunities – domestically and internationally. However, it requires that we – as the potential recipients of that funding - understand what types of donors are there (e.g. bilateral, regional, multi-lateral, foundations, institutional, etc.), how money moves through the international aid framework and is allocated, and requires that we prepare our organizations for that funding – by being Grant Ready!
The Grants House has everything you ever wanted or needed to know about the Art and Science of Grants Acquisition. Our Grants Training Courses are top in class and have received exceptional feedback, as well as proven assistance to organizations building their grants strategy. Whether it's for your organization's capacity strengthening, for an individual staff member or for HR orientation and onboarding, we have the Grants training for which you are looking.
Join Us today at The Grants House, www.thegrantshouse.com - and join hundreds of others who have become Grant Ready!