If you work in the nonprofit space, you are already very much aware of how critical funding is to the success of any nonprofit. Perhaps you’re wondering if grant writing is in fact a good idea for your own organization.
The short answer to that question is almost always yes. You’re doing great, important work and there are people and places ready with checkbooks in hand to fund that work. It’s not that simple, of course, or there wouldn’t be the constant struggle to find funding that most nonprofits face.
If you’re going to venture into the grant writing arena, you need to be fully prepared. You should be ready to answer the following questions before you even begin to start researching or writing grants.
Do you have the time?
Grant writing is hard work. Nobody is holding up a sign saying, “Free money here.”
The actual writing part of grant writing is often less time intensive than the research required before you can start. A simple Google search will not hand you a robust list of opportunities to apply for. You will have to do your homework. You’ll have to search databases and government websites and (if you’re smart) explore where other organizations in your field are obtaining their funding from.
Even after you’ve successfully navigated all of that, your list of potential leads has only begun.
You’ll need to learn more about each funder. Specifically, you need to know:
What are their areas of focus?
What are the timelines for submitting information?
Who have they funded in the past?
The simple fact is this: you need to be prepared to know everything you possibly can about funders before you can ever tell them everything wonderful about your cause.
Do you have 501(c)3 status?
While 501(c)3 status is not required to go forth and do great, life-changing work, it is important in the grant world.
You will find that tax-exempt status is a common stipulation made by funders. This does not mean that you cannot find grants. You can choose to seek only those grants that do not require this status. You can also explore the possibility of working under the umbrella of an already tax-exempt organization.
Are you actually qualified to provide the products/services you’re promising?
The potential for funding can make us do crazy things, like promising to deliver a world-class product or service that we have no experience with. Resist that temptation.
Seek out grants that are a fit for what you are already doing or are clearly capable of doing. Remember your mission and only explore opportunities that are aligned with it.
Are you clear on your motivation for grant writing?
Do you see grants as a quick fix to save your organization? Or do you see grants as a tool to increase the impact of your work?
If your motivation is salvation, you are in trouble before you begin. Grants are not meant to rescue you. If it takes a grant to bail you out of financial troubles, when that funding is gone, you’ll be right back where you started.
Grants are typically meant to improve the quality of services rendered and/or to reach and serve more people in need. If that is your motivation, you are starting off from a fantastic place.
Do you have other plans to finance your work?
You cannot (or should not) plan to financially survive on grants alone. If you do, then you are always one lost grant away from catastrophic outcomes for your organization.
You should approach grants as one prong of a multi-pronged approach to funding and should have a plan in place that breaks down where your anticipated revenue will come from.
Are you ready for rejection?
You will hear “no”. Often. Be prepared for that.
You also need to be prepared to learn from the rejections. What can you do differently next time?
A “no” does not equate to “never”; it is simply “not this time”. If you pay careful attention, you’ll be more likely to hear “yes” next time!
Are you prepared to answer to someone else?
A successful grant application means your organization will have additional funding/resources. That’s wonderful! But those resources often come with stipulations.
You will be expected to submit reports, answer questions, and address any perceived deficiencies in the programs/services you are funding through these monies.
If you are not comfortable with an outsider staking a claim on what you do and how you do it, you should be very clear upfront regarding what kind of accountability will be required of you from any potential funders.
Are you clear on your answers to these questions? Are you ready to get to work?
Randi Cairns is Creative Assistant for Heeren Content & Strategy. She is a non-profit professional with expertise in non-profit development, fundraising and donor engagement, grant writing, strategic planning, and community outreach. Randi is also a published author who excels at tying content/copy to strong emotional calls to action.