Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to Your Grantor

Mar 28, 2024 | Grant Writing

An arm holding a red phone

Last week Kimberly and I led a workshop for area police chiefs and other command staff. We spent time talking about what grants can and cannot do and how to build a grants team without a grant professional on staff. We spent a lot of time explaining that competitive grant applications do not happen overnight.

The most pressing question we received after the presentation was: what should I do when my program isn’t progressing as planned and I still have grant money to spend?

To me, the answer is simple, but I realize if you are new to the profession, that is a worrisome issue. We often assume if even the smallest thing goes wrong the funder will suspend or terminate the grant, take our remaining money, and never want to work with our organization again.

If you’ve never experienced this feeling before, or you have and still haven’t resolved the issue, let me be the first to tell you this:


Sorry for the shouty ALL CAPS, but I needed you to hear me.

Here’s a list of just a few of the issues I’ve had with grant funding before:

(1) The only item on our budget was a bus, and as soon as we went through the bid process and selected our vendor they informed us the chassis we needed was out of stock and so the bus we ordered would be delayed six months.
(2) We offered a free tennis program for youth whose first language was Spanish, and no one signed up.
(3) A three-year grant program turned into seven because of delay after delay, all out of our control, happened.
(4) We did not spend all the grant money even though we purchased every item in our budget.

How did I solve each of those issues? I picked up the phone and called my funder. (If phone calls are not your jam, email works too.) Each time I explained what was going on, shared a few thoughts on options I thought might work, and then asked the funder if he/she had any advice on how to best move forward. More often than not, they started with a comment along the lines of, “Well the last time that happened, we did this…”

Trust me, if they’ve been in their role long enough, they have heard it all. Funders would much rather you tell them when things are going haywire the second you realize it. Because if you wait weeks or months until your next report, the problem is probably getting worse.

Here’s how we solved those issues I listed earlier.

(1) We discussed several options for moving forward and ultimately decided the best solution was to stick with the current vendor (by far the most affordable). The funder gave us a six-month extension to ensure we had time to implement our programming and meet our objectives.
(2) The funder suggested that we did not reach our intended audience if no one signed up, and they gave us more time to advertise and offer the program again. We updated our marketing plan and later had a full class of students.
(3) I updated the funder with every issue and bump along the way. We were given extensions on a case-by-case basis, and eventually the project was completed.
(4) I submitted a budget adjustment with plans for how to spend the remaining money, in line with our current programming needs, and the funder approved it. The remaining money was spent before the grant deadline.

The trick is to always be open and honest with your funder. Do not be afraid to call or email with any questions or concerns. Their job is to help you succeed in your programming. And remember, unless the program officer is new to the job, they’ve probably seen it before and have a simple solution for the problem.

Am I promising it will always end happily ever after? Certainly not. I lost a grant once because six months into a one-year program we had spent $0 of the $80,000 grant award. That was a hard lesson learned, and a story for another day, but still another example of how no grant goes right. If you don’t engage with your program officer, the consequences are going to be worse.

So listen up: when things go wrong, call your funder and work it out.

Amanda Day
Fundraising HayDay

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