Meet Lauren Steiner, founder of Grants Plus
, a fundraising consulting firm that provides customized services, which can include grant proposal writing, grants office management, funding research, major donor strategy and fundraising coaching. The team includes 14 fundraising strategists, grant writers and philanthropy experts.
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
I was working as an attorney when I recognized my career choice wasn’t making me happy. I watched as the partners above me -- especially the women -- struggled and sacrificed to climb the ladder. But the ladder to where?
It was important to me to do good work that I was proud of, that would make a difference in the lives of people around me. I left my firm to join the nonprofit sector as a fundraising and development officer. However, I soon realized I still hadn’t found the work/life balance I needed. I also wanted to find a way to help more nonprofits raise more money. Putting these two desires together, the idea for Grants Plus was born.
Since 2007, we have grown rapidly from a team of one to a team of 14. In a unique reversal of the traditional male dominated workplace scenario, we recently hired our first male consultant. Up until then, we have been a team of all women.
The success of Grants Plus demonstrates that meaningful work doesn’t need to come at the expense of a well-lived and balanced life. At first, we achieved this by setting up a nontraditional company structure: a virtual workplace of independent consultants working flexible schedules, and committed to the same high standards.
But we didn’t stop there. As we grew, we needed to find ways to support a larger team and more clients, without losing our workplace values and culture. We still accommodate flexible schedules. Some members of the team work from home and others from our downtown office.
How did you come to recognize a need for the services Grants Plus provides?
Every nonprofit organization is looking to raise more grant funding. But that’s tough to accomplish, especially for organizations with a very small development team, or no dedicated fundraising team at all. In my own experience working at a nonprofit, I needed to bring in more support for grant-seeking by hiring a consultant. But I found that I was still spending too much of my own time to work with the consultant to get the job done.
At Grants Plus, we respect that our clients have very limited time. We focus on getting up to speed quickly and using our clients’ time wisely. Because we know the whole process of grant seeking so well, we can help them raise more money more efficiently than they could on their own.
As far as we know, there isn’t another company like Grants Plus anywhere. While there are plenty of independent grant writing and fundraising consultants, there isn’t another company we know of that brings together so many seasoned writers and nonprofit professionals into one team.
What is your biggest pet-peeve in grant writing?
Too many organizations under appreciate the importance of relationships in the grant seeking process. Just like you wouldn’t cold call an individual and expect a fat fast check, an organization shouldn’t count on a big grant from a foundation they have never engaged with.
At Grants Plus, we advise organizations on how to build relationships to open the door to new funding opportunities. Making a phone call or having a meeting to introduce yourself and the work of your organization can mean the difference between a grant and a decline.
What project or client sticks in your mind?
Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland
is an amazing organization where thousands of at-risk Cleveland youth engage in fun activities in a safe environment. It has been thrilling to help their staff raise grant funding for their core mission and new projects. We have been successful because we work so well together as a team. They provide us with the inspiration, stories, data, and direction we need to do our job of identifying funding opportunities and positioning the organization and its programs in the best possible light.
How does your office celebrate your clients’ successes?
We love to find ways to share our excitement with our clients. A couple of years ago, we rented a bus and visited clients at their offices for an impromptu “Our Clients Rock” themed party, complete with cupcakes and music. This year, we are hosting our clients for an evening of wine and conversation with Connie Schultz, whose work as a writer illustrates the power of words to bring attention to pressing community issues. We hope this will be a fun way for our clients to enjoy time with other members of the nonprofit community.