Legally, any organization that is registered as a 501(c)(3) public charity with the IRS can qualify to receive grant funding. However, to be one of the top 10% of requests that get funded, there are ways to increase your chances of getting your idea in front of the review board. If you read my last blog and you’re grant ready, the next step is to put yourself in the shoes of the grant reviewer. Ask yourself these questions first, and you’ll be more likely to get the support of foundations.
9 Questions to Increase Chances to Qualify for Grants
- Have I done my homework? It’s a pet peeve of foundation staff when organizations cannot demonstrate a close match between their mission and the mission of the foundation. Even if their objectives aren’t clearly stated on a website, research the funder going back several years and look for patterns. Do they tend to fund the same organizations year after year, or do you notice new nonprofits, giving you the impression that they prefer new start-ups and innovation? Where do you fit in this spectrum?
- Am I being donor-centric? Think like the grant maker when you design your case for support rather than just saying, “We have this really cool program and need the money”. Don’t use reverse arguments suggesting that the absence of this program means there’s a need for it. Avoid industry jargon, buzzwords, and acronyms that make no sense to the rest of the world. Better yet, ask for feedback from others outside your organization who know little about what you do and find out if it makes sense to them.
- Am I offering a new approach? You may be tackling a problem that will never go away and foundations realize that many societal issues will never be solved completely. However, funders are interested in solutions that show you’re an expert on current knowledge, aware of what’s been tried, and that you are building on what works. Overusing terms like “unique” or “innovative” will not impress a grant reviewer, so avoid using them and prove that you’re offering a new approach instead.
- Is this project a true priority? If you are committed to the project no matter what, convince the funder that you have some skin in the game. Foundations like to help get things started but they don’t want to be the sole funder. They want to know that you have a plan after the funding goes away. Talk about the pilot you funded from your own resources and convince them that you’ll invest energy in building a strong base of support from other donors and volunteers.
- Am I bringing in others? Keep in mind that you are working with the people you’re trying to help, not doing things to them. Foundations want to see that the communities you’re helping have some say in how programs are designed and carried out. Show that you’re willing to work collaboratively with other organizations that share your mission. Foundations want to fund comprehensive approaches to problems and that means linking with outside partners.
- Am I willing to learn? Demonstrate that you put high priority on evaluating your project at all stages of implementation and that you’re willing to invest in outside evaluators to assess your work. Many funders expect you to include a portion of the budget for evaluation. This will demonstrate to them that their funds are being used not only for the project itself but to wisely invest in the future.
- Have I carved out enough time for writing? The proposal is a delivery system, and poorly written, it will disguise your fundamentally great idea. Grant writing takes time and it’s very unpleasant for grant reviewers to read through proposals that seem thrown together. Not making a grant reviewer angry and annoyed as they read through your proposal is important! Clearly state your objectives and if it doesn’t directly relate to the project at hand, don’t write it. If this is the first time describing the project in writing, please allow time to have the language reviewed by others who work outside the subject area and make sure it’s educational, unambiguous, and clearly illustrates how the money will be used.
- Is my presentation pleasant to look at? Whether your request is online or on paper, make sure the formatting is attractive and easy to follow. Use sans serif fonts such as Calibri or Ariel that are more pleasing to the eye. Don’t overuse differing font styles, type sizes, or too much underlining. Break up sections with clear headers so the reviewer can jump to the information quickly. Whenever possible, break up long paragraphs with bulleted lists. And at all costs, please have someone edit your proposal before it’s submitted to make sure its devoid of grammatical errors and typos.
- Have I followed all the instructions? Foundations field hundreds of inquiries. You will show respect for their process by triple checking instructions on how to communicate with them or submit proposals. If you do not adhere to their process, you’ll be wasting their time, and this will reflect poorly on your organization.
If you’ve asked and addressed these questions, you will outshine the competition and increase your chance of qualifying for grants!
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