According to Giving USA, “Giving by foundations had a record-breaking year, reaching its highest-ever dollar amount even when adjusted for inflation, and growing to its largest share (18%) of total giving to date in 2018.” Foundations contribute more than $70 billion to nonprofit organizations each year.
If properly managed, grants are an important source of income. They can provide significant support for an organization’s programs, capital campaign, operational costs, and even unrestricted funding. If you aren’t applying for grants, you’re leaving money on the table and neglecting opportunities to sustain or grow your programs.
In my career as a grant professional, I’ve watched dozens of organizations assume that grant funding will be a quick solution to their funding trouble and rush to get a stack of under-prepared applications out the door.
Before you assign someone the task of researching foundations and looking up grant writing tips, do your organization a favor and ask:
Are we even ready to apply for grants in the first place?
5 Grant Realities to Accept First
Before assuming you’ll get grants for your nonprofit, there are five important realities you must accept. If you’re willing to first look inward at your leadership, ideas, and programs, the process of applying for grant funding will move forward more naturally, and you’ll be well on your way to successfully securing grant funding for your organization.
- Building foundation relationships is more of an art than a science. The process of building this relationship is often viewed as a fiscal partnership. Each side of the table possesses something that the other side needs. But the exchange is much more than a simple economic transaction. Your nonprofit is in a valuable position to help trustees understand the gaps that prevent underserved areas of society from moving forward. You are uniquely qualified to carry out the work that will allow a foundation to fulfill its missional goals. You should view yourself as a steward of the foundation’s resources and a source of vital information and reach that the foundation needs to fulfill its own mission. By doing this you will show respect and honor in this relationship, and your nonprofit will be rewarded in the long term.
- Funders expect you to prove that your ideas and programs are worth funding. Do you measure and evaluate outcomes? Will you be able to keep the program running after the grant term ends? Foundation board members are smart people who have evaluated hundreds of proposals. They can sniff out empty language that doesn’t translate to action. At least one person on the board can interpret financial statements. Before they award the grant, this person will point out red flags that show whether or not their grant will be used for the purposes you promise. Make sure you have strong and “grant ready” answers to the common grant application questions for your programs.
- A successful grants program requires strong leadership. Has your leadership created a fundraising plan where grant money makes up no more than 20% of the fundraising goals? Do board members and senior executives take ownership of their fundraising role? That is, do they show willingness to make connections with foundation trustees? Or do they expect the grant writer to do all the work of raising grant dollars alone? Do your leaders promote a positive work culture, listen to staff, learn from missteps, and adjust their approach? Make sure the grant professionals working for your organization have the support of leadership.
- Accept that applying for grants is hard work. It’s not wise to write one generic grant application and send off duplicates to a heap of diverse foundations. Commit the hours and resources to properly explore grant opportunities and build relationships. You’ll need to do your research and make sure you’re a match for all of the foundation’s qualifications and tailor your application to meet the requirements. Hire a qualified grant professional who has experience writing nuanced proposals or invest in training for an existing staff member. Overlooking subtle details might leave you with no grants to show for your efforts.
- Understand that most first-time grant applications are rejected. Even if you do everything perfectly, there’s no guarantee that your request will get funded. A “no” might simply mean “no for now.” Understand that handling rejection is a critical part of building a relationship with the foundation (see #1 above!). Circle back and thank the relevant individuals at the foundation for taking the time to read your proposal. After a rejection, find out what was lacking that could be adjusted the next time you apply. The foundation will respect you more for your dedication, humility, and focus on the cause. Moreover, your willingness to invest the time to make corrections will help prove that your work is vitally important.
If your organization accepts these realities, you probably understand that good fundraising requires both careful skill and committed effort. Surround yourself with the right professionals and you will be successful at getting grants for your nonprofit!
Let’s talk about whether or not your organization is grant ready on a free 30-minute consultation. Contact us here to schedule a time to talk >>