Don’t let ‘mission creep’ infiltrate your grant seeking

There might be a disease making its way through your school district. It sounds like something you might pick up from summer camp. What is it? Mission creep.

Typically, mission creep has infected nonprofit organizations that rely on grant funding for part of their budget. Though I haven’t heard any district grant writers raise an alarm about this phenomenon, after reading a recent article I started wondering how prevalent mission creep might be in education.

What is mission creep? Originally applied to military operations, the term refers to the expansion of a project beyond its original goals, especially after some initial success—to the point that it becomes untenable.

Basically, if your district is chasing after grant dollars for the sake of trying to secure money rather than furthering your district’s mission, or if you are proposing a project that hasn’t been carefully planned, you’ve got mission creep. It also means that your district doesn’t keep its mission in mind when pursuing grants. In the worst cases, district grant writers might even be asked to "alter" the district’s mission in a grant proposal, to make it sound like there is a fit between the funder’s intentions and their proposed project.

Why is mission creep a problem? Many funders will ask you to discuss the need for your project, and funders typically expect this need will relate to the mission of your school district and will fit into your district’s strategic plan. Some funders might ask about your district’s ability to carry out the proposed project, based on its expertise in that area. If you cannot show any expertise, funders might question your district’s ability to meet the project’s goals and objectives. Worst of all, funders probably will be able to put two and two together and figure out that your district is just trying to grab some grant funds. When it appears that you are merely chasing money, your chance of winning a grant plunges to practically zero.

Here are some key ways to avoid mission creep:

1. If you have been asked to write grants that have nothing to do with your district’s mission, have a serious discussion with your administrators. You should explain the issue in detail and note that it is difficult, if not impossible, to be funded for a project that has nothing to do with your mission and strategic plan.

2. Only identify potential funders whose intentions are an exact match for the type of project you want to implement and your expected outcomes.

3. If a district staff member comes to you with a project idea, make sure it matches your district’s mission and relates to your district’s strategic plan. If it doesn’t, explain the issue and see if there are ways to revise the project so it fits better with both your mission and the funder’s intentions. If there aren’t, the project idea should be dropped.

4. Make sure grant seeking is part of the strategic planning process for your district. As projects are identified, ask whether they are potentially grant-funded projects. Begin looking for funders only for those projects that lend themselves to grants