Grants can be a great source of funding for non-profits of all sizes. While every organization – no matter how small or large – should be focused primarily on individual fundraising, grants can be a great complement to your other fundraising efforts.
If you want to raise as much as possible for your organization through grants, it is essential to keep these 8 fundamental concepts in mind:
#1: Good Research is Half the Battle
Legion are the non-profits that submit grant after grant without truly understanding the funding foundation’s key giving areas or application requirements. Don’t make this mistake.
You may be running the best, most innovative, and most effective soup kitchen in the world, but if you apply for a grant from an organization that focuses on education initiatives, you will never get the grant, and the time you spend writing and sending the proposal is completely wasted.
It may take you 20 minutes to do a good amount of research on a potential funder, but that research could save you a day’s worth of grantwriting by preventing you from applying for a grant you don’t qualify for.
#2: You Need to Build a Stable of “Regular” Grantors
One of the biggest keys to grant fundraising success for small and medium sized non-profits is to build up a stable of regular grantors who fund your organization every year, every two years, or as often as their guidelines allow. As a rule, these grantors will be local and regional foundations who provide small and medium-sized gifts in the $1,000 – $50,000 range.
It may seem easier to apply for one or two mega-sized $250,000 grants, but competition for those size grants is fierce and often national or international in scope. Instead, focus on building a supportive group of foundations in your area who fund your work on a regular basis. Many smaller non-profits regularly raise $50,000 – $100,000 per year in grants through $5,000 and $10,000 gifts, and only have to do minimal work to keep those grants coming in year after year.
#3: Funders Want to Understand the “Story” of Your Non-Profit
It may seem like grant applications are all legalese, but the truth is that the funding officer who is reading your grant proposal wants to understand the story of your non-profit. In fact, they need to understand the story of your non-profit if you want to win the grant.
Your entire grant proposal should be telling a story – the story of your work, your mission, and your grand vision for the future… the vision you want the foundation to invest in. Learn how to tell that story in every grant proposal you write.
#4: Funders Want to Make Good Investments
Every foundation worth its salt wants to make sure that the organizations it funds with grants are financially stable and acting with the highest integrity. In short – they want to make good investments.
All other things being equal, if a foundation has to choose between two non-profits to fund, one of which has clear financial records, a good accounting system, and studies that show the effectiveness of its work – while the other has only the most rudimentary financial reports, a haphazard accounting system, and only anecdotal evidence that its programs actually work, the foundation will fund the first non-profit every time.
Remember – your non-profit needs to show that it is a great investment worthy of grant dollars.
#5: Funders Want to Change the World
Grantmaking institutions are looking to make good investments, but they are also looking to change the world for the better. This is why foundations would rather fund programs that are growing and projects that are doubling in size, rather than providing grants to simply maintain the status quo.
Foundations see the money they give out in grants as “seed” money for future growth. If a foundation gives you $100,000 to fund a new education program, it is almost always with the assumption that the program will eventually become self-sufficient. Then, having changed the world for the better through that $100,000 gift, the foundation will move on to other projects and organizations.
Make sure you are casting a big vision in your grant proposals and showing funders that investing in your work will allow them to change the world through your non-profit.
#6: Funders are Overwhelmed, thus They Look for Ways to “Disqualify” Organizations Easily
If a foundation gives out ten $50,000 grants per year, chances are that they get 100-500 proposals from organizations seeking to win those grants. Like the non-profits they fund, foundations are generally understaffed, with far fewer grant officers than they need to give each proposal the time it really deserves.
One quick way to cut the workload at foundations is to disqualify non-profit organizations that fail to meet all of the application criteria set out by the foundation.
Applying for some grants is like filling out the Publishers’ Clearing House Sweepstakes form… you need two of these, four of these, place a sticker here, sign this but not that, and be sure to include your grant claim code in red ink on the back of the envelope, or else you don’t qualify. For other grants, all you need is a one page application and a self-addressed envelope. Know the rules for your grant proposal before you begin.
#7: You Need a Grant Fundraising System
Super-successful grant fundraising requires a system – an easy to implement and scalable system for finding and applying for grants and stewarding funds once they are won. Don’t just throw everything up against the wall to see what sticks… you’ll drive yourself crazy!
#8: Be a Person, Not a Corporate Identity
Finally, if your non-profit is sending out dozens of grant proposals each year, it can be easy to slip into “corporate identity mode.” You know this is happening when you sign your grant proposal cover letters with “Sincerely, The Board of Directors of the Northwest Community Center.” Likewise, when your proposals are full of legalese (“Per paragraph 3B, said non-profit shall be solely responsible for the allocation of funds to the programs listed on page 41”) you know that you in corporate-speak-land.
This is a mistake. Grant officers are people. Grant committees are people. People want to hear from other people, not from a nameless, emotionless automaton or committee. Be a person, speak like a person, write like a person, and your organization will win more grants.
Photo Credits: Ervins Strauhmanis, Tim Pierce