When many start-up nonprofits think about raising money, they often think “I’ll apply for a grant!” It makes sense since nationally, corporations and foundations disbursed $87.7 billion in grants in 2018 alone! Winning grant funding is far more complex, however, than simply submitting an application for a great idea. It’s a sophisticated and often challenging process that can require you to think about your organization, programming, and financials in a new way.
The more prepared you are to submit grant proposals, the better your chances of receiving funding. Launching a grants program can be a long and detailed process: the six questions below can help you understand, prep for, and launch a successful grants program.
Does your funding goal match the grant type you are applying for?
With so many different types of funding options in the nonprofit world, how do you know which ones to apply for? Unfortunately, closing your eyes and pointing a finger at your options won’t cut it. Research which type of funding matches your nonprofit’s aim or goals. Corporations and Foundations will fund different types of projects: general operating, program-specific grants, capacity building grants, endowments, capital grants, and more.
Once you know what type of funding you want to pursue in your proposal, make sure you’re ready to put those funds to work. Don’t submit a proposal for a specific program (that may not even be ready to launch) when you really need unrestricted funding. Know what you need, and clearly articulate that in your proposal.
It’s also important to make sure that your project closely matches the grantor’s funding priorities. For instance, if you are a conservancy organization focused on aquatic animals, don’t apply for a grant for Big Cat conservation. Both are conservancy, but your organization isn’t a good fit. That’s okay - just keep researching!
Do you meet ALL the grant qualifications?
This question might seem trivial but it is perhaps one of the most important factors in submitting a successful grant applications. Meticulous attention to detail will go away in winning grants. If you don’t pay attention to a grantor’s qualifications, you could be hours into writing an application only to realize you don’t meet all of the qualifications, and if you submit a grant for which you aren’t qualified, your request will be declined.
Before you start writing, make sure your organization is a match with the funders’ priorities. If you have questions about your qualifications, ask the grant officer! Foundations are there to help, and they’d rather answer your email now than decline your proposal down the road. They are always there to help you along the application process.
Have you tailored your application to the specific funder?
This question is in direct relation with the previous one - so I am just going to tell it to you straight: generic grant applications won’t work. Unlike thank you letters for birthday gifts; you can’t duplicate grant applications and send a boat-load off to every single funder. Each and every grant application is different: funders want you to answer unique questions, provide specific attachments, and share distinctive financial reports. Tailor your information to highlight EXACTLY what the foundation is looking for. If they ask for a red apple, don’t think a green apple will suffice.
Do you have a diverse fundraising plan?
Don’t think that winning one grant will fund your program for the long-run. Eventually, that funding may fall through, and you’ll be scrambling to win another grant or find another individual funder. It is important to have a diverse and robust list of grant prospects, and to continually be prospecting for new funders and submitting applications.
Two key rules of thumb can help: expect a maximum 25% return on grant proposals (meaning for every four you submit, one will be submitted) and try not to have more than 20% of your overall organizational funding come from grants. That way, no matter what happens to one grantor or funder, you will be financially secure.
Do you have a grant writer that knows what they are doing?
Grant writing is a significantly niche job. Making sure you have someone who knows what they are doing is important. Although, we’ve said it before, and we will say it again, grant-making is only 25% writing and 75% project management. Knowing what goes into the grant application process can make or break your application. Even if you choose to send an existing staff member to a grant writing boot camp, it will be well worth it.
Do you have data that proves your programs work?
This may be the most critical question to ask yourself before writing the application - and why I saved it for last. Even with a fantastic grant writer, messy data can prevent the grant writing process from even starting.
Long story short: data wins grants or proposals. Need I go on? Ok, I will. Organized and easy to understand data is key to winning grants. Having your data together just makes the grant application writing that much easier and fluid. Data scattered everywhere is a nightmare to track down, enter, and analyze. A grantor wants to be able to look at your data and see that your program does, in fact, accomplish what you say it does.
If you’re scratching your head wondering what data you can provide funders, you may not be ready to submit grant applications yet. That’s okay. Take a step back and focus on building and evaluating strong programs. The rest will follow.
By asking yourself these questions, and honestly answering them BEFORE you start the application process, you will be saving you and your team time and effort. Organization and preparation are key for creating grant applications that get funded. And remember, even if you get a ‘No’ this time, you are setting yourself up to get that ‘Yes’ in the future. So keep at it!
Want to know more?
If you want help with this or have any questions - don’t hesitate to contact us. Together, we can set you on the path to award winning grant proposals!
P.S. Need more help kickstarting your fundraising? Download our free Fundraising 101 White Paper today!