As a grant writer and CFRE, I spend quite a bit of time working with nonprofits to ensure that they’re grant ready and able to secure funding in support of their programs.
By far, the most common requests I receive in regards to fundraising are related to how to secure that oh-so-coveted grant funding. The nonprofit leaders I work with are passionate and driven to fulfill their missions. Most believe that once they have established their nonprofit and received a positive 501(c)(3) determination, the funds will come easily.
It’s almost as if there is a mistaken notion within the nonprofit sector that you can simply plant your determination letter in the ground and grow a magical grant tree. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that grant funding is a highly competitive arena, and in order to be grant ready, nonprofits must be well-prepared.
Before dedicating time and financial resources to the development of grant proposals and applications, it is essential that young not-for-profits first invest in the necessary foundation upon which to build a solid base of grant funding.
When working with nonprofits in the startup phase especially, I have often found that the most difficult part of developing an effective grant proposal is obtaining the specific and detailed information necessary to include in the proposal. While it seems to me that nonprofit visionaries should have a plethora of information about their cause ready to roll off their tongues at any moment, all too often this isn’t the case. For instance, nonprofits should easily be able to offer a passionate delivery about what they do, whom they serve, and how they do it best.
Far too frequently, young charities jump the gun on their grant campaigns. Then, when they’re asked to describe their mission, capabilities, prior program impact, target demographics, measurable objectives, and program evaluation plans, most administrators find themselves stumbling over the answers.
So how does your organization ensure it is grant ready? In an effort to get you thinking about whether you’re truly ready to take a leap into the grant arena, here’s some information that will ensure you’re ready to jump into a solicitation of grant funding.
To get your nonprofit ready, you’ll need to know your mission in and out. Be prepared to describe your organization’s specific mission and communicate how you work each day to fulfill that mission.
What inspired your organization’s founding? What have been the major milestones since? Has your organization received any recognition for its efforts? How many have you served? What measurable impact did your programs have? Be able to provide success stories to demonstrate your capabilities.
How have you sustained your organization thus far? Who are your major contributors? How do you fundraise? How much money has been raised toward the proposed programs, and how was it fiscally managed?
Can you show that there is really a significant need for your organization’s programs within the community you serve? Do you have reliable research on hand to show statistical data on the problem you address? What do you know about the degree of other efforts being made by other organizations to combat the same problem?
Are you able to promote members of your board or staff as responsible, knowledgeable nonprofit professionals? Be prepared to describe their education and experience. Convince me that they are competent leaders.
Know the difference between a goal and an objective. Develop objectives that are reasonable based on your organization’s demonstrated capabilities. You must be able to provide measurable objectives, and these objectives must tie to the data you have in regard to the need.
Do you really know, step-by-step, how you will meet your objectives? Are you aware of everything and everyone that will be involved, down to the smallest detail? Have you engaged the necessary partner organizations? Implemented a pilot?
How will you evaluate the success of your proposed project? Take the time to develop a scientific plan for evaluation and know who will be involved and what cost will be incurred. Be able to describe what aspects of your programming will be evaluated and how the results of the evaluation will be utilized.
It’s one thing to be grant ready, but you must think past the grant award period. Exactly how will you continue to fund this project once the grant funds run out? How diverse is your fundraising plan? Is there a plan for self-sustainability? Be prepared to convince funders that their current contribution will lead to long-term future impact.
Learn to develop a precise line-item budget. Know the difference between an operating budget and a project budget, and learn how to allocate your administrative costs within each program. Be able to describe how line items were calculated.
Marketing and Branding
If you want to know more about anything these days, where are you going to look? You’re going to turn to the almighty Google, of course. The same is true for potential grant funders. Once your proposal has sparked the interest of a foundation, their team will likely check out your website, your social media, and your crowdfunding pages. They will use the power of the internet to learn more about your reach and your history, and from there they’ll often draw a conclusion in regard to your organization’s image, governance, and capacity. Make sure you have a nonprofit website, which includes comprehensive, up-to-date content and features.
Before you can be grant ready, you must be sure that your organization is up to date with all state and federal regulatory compliance requirements. If your organization is behind on required filings, a funder may believe the organization is not managed well enough to appropriately administer any funding received. Prepare evidence of good standing with the state, registration for solicitation of contributions, and 501(c)(3) exemption. Make sure that all past 990 forms are readily available and know that 990-Ns will not satisfy a grant funder.
Make Your Nonprofit Grant Ready
Once you have all your plans laid out, you’ll need to explore the various types of grants available that meet your qualifications, including foundation grants, federal grants, and other government grants. Identifying the specific grant opportunities under which you may apply can sometimes be a daunting task. Having the right tools for research can significantly reduce the time and effort allocated to funding research, allowing you to dedicate more of your valuable time to fulfilling your mission.
For most organizations, foundation grants are the best entry point into the grant arena. Federal grants and other government grants require much more work and experience and often require matching funds, so typically those opportunities are best suited for nonprofits that are further into their life cycle. But we’ll learn more about those options in another post.
Need an assessment to see if you’re grant ready? Think your nonprofit is ready, but need help with grant writing and research? Get help from the experts.
CharityNet USA’s grant professionals have the tools to draft winning proposals and conduct quality funder research, identifying the opportunities that may be ideal fits for your organization based on your unique circumstances. Our team of experts is skilled and trained in all aspects of nonprofit management, including grant writing. Contact us at +1 (407) 857-9002 today.