As Executive Director of a young and fast growing nonprofit, my time at Nine13sports is typically focused on fundraising. It’s been my job to make sure we can meet the payroll that allows us to deliver great programs to thousands of students here in Central Indiana. Anything beyond the immediate needs of our organization is often put on the backburner. I stress about what has to be achieved within the current week for Nine13 to thrive and survive. Planning for our organization’s development in the weeks or months down the road always sounds good in theory, but is often impossible in practice.

A year ago, I made the decision, with the support of our board of directors, to hire a grant writer on a nine-month contract. Our decision, although shadowed by concern about the initial cash outlay, was made solely with the hope it would greatly improve our success on being awarded grants. Our success rate during the first three years of operations was abysmal.

Erin Hedges and her team at Hedges & Associates were brought into the Nine13 family to provide grant writing services. It was a new era of learning about how to improve our organization’s business model, and it came with the loss of much sleep. Was Nine13sports really ready to commit to the financial support of a grant writer? What if hiring a grant writer didn’t improve our grant success rate? What if Nine13sports was never destined to be appealing to the grant making community? What if . . . what if . . . what if?

Fortunately, my fears were founded in worry and not reality. Working with a grant writer was challenging at times and required me to be open-minded. Our first few meetings were based on conducting an in-depth review of our entire operations to see what improvements could better position our appeal to the foundations awarding grants. Hedges & Associates came fully prepared and armed with the wisdom gained through their experience working with other nonprofits over the years. They were confident that implementing their suggestions would positively impact Nine13sports’ ability to grow.

My learning experience continued in the process. I tend to be impatient and wanted to see an immediate return on our grant writer investment. However, all who work with foundations in the nonprofit world know, there is nothing quick about the grant application process. It took months of my pacing and stressing before we started to see the first trickle of success and momentum begin to become evident. First we received a small grant. Then we received a couple of medium grants. Finally, Nine13 was awarded its largest foundation grant to date. Our grant writing partner was batting an impressive 80% success rate on the grant applications they wrote and submitted on our behalf.
Suddenly, Nine13sports, who had secured $12,000 in grants in 2014, was awarded more than $100,000 in new grants between August 2015 and March 2016.

In all fairness, we won’t give our grant writer all of the credit for this astounding success. I’ve worked incredibly hard to build meaningful relationships with these foundations and their key people. I’ve always strived to better understand their foundations’ goals and to position Nine13sports to be best suited for these opportunities. But there is no question, adding a professional grant writer to our arsenal of organizational tools has been a decision that has paid off many times over. I look forward to our continued growth and success in this arena.

Please feel free to reach out to me about your experiences with a grant writer. Let me know how you managed to make the leap.

As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to Nine13Sports.

Tom Hanley

Tom Hanley

Executive Director at Nine13sports
Tom Hanley is the Executive Director of Nine13sports, a nonprofit organization that promotes health, wellness, and exercise for local youth between the ages of 8 and 18 using bicycling as the gateway.