Using a Scrum Framework to Win More Grants

Originally posted by GPA on September 20th, 2019. Read the original blog here
I was excited to read Jillain Veil Ehnert’s article How to Herd Cats: Compression Planning ® 101 last month. Compression Planning ® is an Agile framework, and as many of you have learned about me, if there is one thing I love talking about as much as grants (my family and the 1000 Islands aside), it is Scrum.

Veil Ehnert’s article made me reread the excellent blog that colleague Julie Boll, GPC, wrote for our DH Leonard Consulting blog last October, How to Herd Cats…Using Compression Planning and remember her four tactical tips for using Compression Planning.

Both posts made me chuckle that two grant professionals would both articulate that the reason they are thinking about using an Agile framework like Compression Planning is because of the struggle with getting numerous stakeholders focused on a large scale goal or project. This is a similar reason why I find that Scrum is so attractive to nonprofits, not just for one single project, but rather as an overall operating system.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is an adaptive, repeatable Agile framework that equips individuals and organizations in how to thrive in a world where change is the only constant. Scrum is not about specific software. Scrum is a uniform approach to doing work, assigning work in teams, and iterating work successfully over a long period of time.

Who you are as a nonprofit organization, who you serve, and what you offer stays the same. The way in which you approach planning your work, engaging with your stakeholders, and developing and iterating your programs and services is what will change as a result of adopting the Scrum framework in your organization.

How do we use the Scrum framework to help our clients win more grants?

We use the Scrum framework in running our internal teams at DH Leonard Consulting, but we also use Scrum patterns in our facilitation of our client interactions. Our clients are not trained and do not need to be formally trained in Scrum. What they want to focus on is how implementing their grant calendar is less stressful for their team members, but yields higher results in terms of grant applications submitted and dollars awarded.

The iterative nature of grant application drafting is a process that aligns well with the Scrum framework. Instead of iterating on the design of a widget or a new app for our phone, we are iterating on the narrative and supporting components related to a successful grant application.

Our grant application check-in meetings with our clients are focused, short phone calls with the cross-functional grant team on the line including finance, data, program, etc. The point of the meeting is not to get into the weeds, but rather to check-in with the team to understand the basic Stand Up questions: What happened to move the team toward the goal (successful submission of a competitive grant), what is happening toward that goal today/in the upcoming days, and then most importantly, what impediments, if any, the team is facing.

An additional way that we have adapted the Scrum framework is the mock review process. In the mock review process our team uses, three lead writers who were not involved in the application drafting, review the application against the guidelines and the grantmaker rubric. This process provides another chance for iterative feedback and improvement before the final release.


Interested in professional development? Our team offers trainings every month! These include 2-hour webinars, half, full, and multi-day sessions, along with a handful of on-demand webinars. We also offer full credential courses including Scrum Master and Product Owner. 

Need a custom training for your organization to introduce Scrum or help credential your whole team? We offer private trainings as well. Learn more about the professional development we offer here.