To some nonprofits, grants may seem to be a magical source of money. A funder wants to give $1,000,000 to a nonprofit that serves meals to homeless veterans? That’s us! Give us the money please!
The process is, of course, more complicated than this, and underestimating the steps needed to write a grant application can lead to what would have been a successful infusion of new funding to turn into an abject failure.
Here are just a few of the key concepts that nonprofits should keep in mind when pursuing grant opportunities.
- Play to Your Strengths: If you find a cool grant for a project you would like to do, but currently do not offer, you may view this as a great opportunity to get that specific program jumpstarted. However, nonprofits should be aware that a key to a successful grant application is playing to what you do best – supporting the programs and operations that you already have a good track record on. Organizations (especially the government) will be much, much more likely to entrust you with funding if you have consistent experience and the proof to back up your concept.
- Do Not Assume: As a nonprofit, you may be working on a project that you believe everyone would equally agree is good, important, and worth funding. Who could possibly be against or not recognize the need to feed homeless veterans? No matter the objective value of your specific project, there is never a good excuse to skimp out on contextualizing a problem and why it’s so important to fund. You need to clearly and plainly lay out why the challenge you are addressing is significant enough to merit funding, and why your program does a good job at solving or alleviating that specific challenge. Be concise with your reasoning, but make sure to cover all your bases and ensure the reviewer is left with the same understanding of the problem that you already have.
- Be Authentic: Don’t be tempted to overemphasize or embellish what they do and what they want to do. This is understandable, as everyone wants to put their best face on and present themselves in the most favorable light. DO NOT DO THIS. You want to write an appealing application, but it needs to be rooted in reality. Be wary of inflating the value of your operation and of overpromising what you can deliver.
- Make it Personal: The funder will lay out what your application needs to look like, but beyond that, it is up to you to make it personal and to make a connection with the reviewer. Talk about the history, the identity, and the emotional impact your nonprofit has made and continues to make in your local community. Metrics are important, and too much fluff should be avoided, but don’t forget to include at least some language that gives life to your organization.
- Record Any Data You Can: Though it has always been important, now more than ever, organizations wanting to tap into grant funding need to show they have a ready and sufficient process to record the results of what their proposed program will do. If, at the end of the day, you end up with only a receipt for $100,000 worth of food you say you handed out to homeless veterans, that’s not good enough! You need surveys of how the food impacted the veterans, the change in their lifestyle, pictures, testimonies, written feedback, evaluations, statistics on backgrounds, and so much more. And most importantly, this process cannot and should not be cobbled together. It needs to be professional, organized, and high quality. The grant-funded program is of course the most important aspect, but the evaluation aspect is just as critical to the success of a program and of demonstrating the seriousness of a nonprofit in securing funding.