A guest post from Abby Teare at GrantsPlus
Grants are an important source of funding for many nonprofits. They provide critical support for programs and projects that help to further your mission. Grants also allow your organization to form lasting relationships, which you can leverage for future growth.
However, finding grant opportunities and funders that align with your organization’s mission is a highly involved process. Once you find an opportunity that could work for your organization, you’ll need to submit a well-crafted proposal to stand out from other nonprofits competing for funding and convince the funder that your program or project deserves their support.
In this guide, we’ll walk through six do’s and don’ts of nonprofit grant seeking related to these key areas:
- Identifying Grant Opportunities
- Building Relationships With Funders
- Preparing Your Grant Application
Identifying Grant Opportunities
Don’t: Pursue Grants You Have a Low Chance of Winning
When you first start looking for grant opportunities, it can be tempting to apply for as many grants as possible to make sure you secure some funding. However, this strategy quickly becomes ineffective because each grant proposal requires a significant investment of time and effort for your organization to complete.
Instead, you’ll want to pursue grants that your organization is likely to secure. To determine your organization’s chances of winning a grant, ask yourself these questions:
- Do your nonprofit’s values and goals align with the funder’s?
- Do your organization and the specific initiative you’re trying to fund meet the funder’s eligibility requirements?
- Would the grant’s scope and requirements work for that initiative, or impede it?
- Does your nonprofit have a history of support from this funder and/or a personal connection to them that could lead to a relationship?
- Can your organization compete with other potential applicants?
- Will you be able to submit a thorough application before the deadline?
- Are you prepared to manage the grant effectively and report to the funder as required if you secure the funding?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, you likely have a strong chance of winning the grant and can continue pursuing it. But if you said no several times, the grant probably wouldn’t be a good fit for your nonprofit, so you should concentrate your efforts on other opportunities.
Do: Look for Grants From a Variety of Sources
While you shouldn’t apply for every grant that comes your way, you want to research many opportunities to find the right grants for your nonprofit. Grants can come from a number of different sources, including:
- Local, state, and federal government agencies
- Private and family foundations
- Community funds
Each of these grant sources provides different benefits for nonprofits—and comes with unique challenges. For example:
- Securing government grants boosts your nonprofit’s reputation, but they’re typically the most competitive, require your organization to manage a tight turnaround window, and carry significant reporting requirements.
- Foundation grants are usually simpler (though still competitive) to apply for, and you typically will need to develop a relationship with the funder to be considered.
Weigh your options carefully and consult with grant seeking experts to make the right decision for your nonprofit.
Building Relationships With Funders
Don’t: Submit a Grant Application Cold
Many funders offer grants by invitation only. Even if a foundation has an open grant application policy, which isn’t common, they’re much more likely to consider your proposal if you build a relationship with them first.
When you identify a potential funder, see if one of your nonprofit’s board members or active supporters already has a connection with them. This person could introduce your organization to the funder and start the relationship-building process.
If this introduction goes well, try scheduling a call or meeting with the funder to discuss your nonprofit’s work in more detail and gauge their interest. Before the meeting, research the foundation’s history and values so you can structure your talking points around the funder’s interests. Also, remember to send a follow-up after the meeting to provide additional resources the funder may have requested and thank them for their time.
Do: Communicate with Funders Regularly
After your initial meeting, you’ll want to keep your organization on the funder’s radar. First, look for organic opportunities to continue communicating with them. Representatives from foundations often attend nonprofit conferences and panels, so use these opportunities to meet up again and ask to keep in touch.
If a funder seems to be interested in your nonprofit after a few meetings, invite them to tour your organization or attend an upcoming event. Allowing the funder to see your mission in action can open up a natural space to ask if your work is a good fit for one of their funding opportunities.
Preparing Your Grant Application
Don’t: Wait Until the Last Minute
Although nonprofit grant seeking becomes easier once you’ve gone through the process a few times, finding the right opportunities and building relationships with funders will likely take months. You’ll need to plan well in advance to leave enough time for your organization to prepare a grant application before the funder’s deadline.
A sure way to have your proposal rejected is by failing to follow all the funder’s instructions. Late submissions typically won’t be considered. Plus, you likely won’t have enough time to craft a well-written grant proposal, double-check your budget calculations, and ensure you’ve met all of the other requirements if you start the application too close to the deadline.
Do: Prove Your Nonprofit Is Worth Investing In
A grant application that follows instructions is only a winning grant application if it also makes a strong case for why your organization deserves funding. Funders typically view grants as investments which can benefit your nonprofit in the long run. If you successfully secure, manage, and report on a grant once, the funder will be more likely to consider your organization for funding in the future.
You’ll want your grant proposal to be both informative and inspiring. Convince the reader that your organization will use the grant to address an important need and can achieve the goals you’ve set. Back up your ideas with concrete data and compelling true stories, and pay special attention to the budget section so the funder can see exactly how their investment will make a difference.