Grant writing is a must for non-profits.
At any given time, there are hundreds of millions of dollars floating around in the fund development atmosphere waiting for you to apply. But the one thing all those grants have in common is you can’t win them if you don’t apply. Read that again, you can’t win them if you don’t apply. Grant applications can seem like major work and overly difficult for those who have no experience in writing them. Understand that if they seem overwhelming to you then you can hire a grant writer or a service to write the grant for you and in return you pay them a portion of the grant. Their involvement will not guarantee you the win, but it can at least get you in the running. Some services only charge you if they win the grant and others will charge a flat fee of the grant total whether you win it or not. It is a good idea to get assistance when you are writing for a larger grant that is over $25,000 and has an application that is multiple pages. Smaller grants can require as little as a few paragraphs from you which highlight the program you are writing for and your organizations mission. In this blog we are going to discuss some of the important steps in grant funding. Take all or some of what you read and start applying it to your fund development plan sooner then later.
Define your mission and the programs that support that mission. Mission creep is when you step outside of your mission and try to become an expert in an area that is not within the scoop of your mission and vision. Mission creep hurts your organization by taking focus away from your effective programs and it hurts the professionals in the areas you creep'd by creating competition for funding and clients. Stay inside your box and allow others to do the important work you don’t offer via your own programs. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Instead consider collaboration with those other programs and possibly write a grant that allows those professionals to collaborate with you and support your programs and clients with their expertise.
Let’s organize your non-profit programs with this easy activity. Grab a piece of blank paper or a large white board. Write your mission and vision on the top of it. To the left list your clients by category (for example: women, men, dogs, cats, community parks, veterans, waterways, domestic violence survivors, blood donors, etc.). To the right list the areas you provide services (for example: Spring Hill, Hernando County, Florida, USA, International, etc.). Under the mission and vision start listing the programs you offer by title only and use all capital letters (for example: HOUSING, FOOD INSECURITY, HEALTHCARE, SAFETY). Leave space for details under each program. Once you have them all listed erase any that overlap and try to simplify them as much as possible with broad categories. Now that you have them listed and simplified you can go in under each one and list the details of each program. These would be what the program supplies for the client (for example: HOUSING- Rental assistance, shelter, counseling; FOOD INSECURITY- Hot Meals, Food distribution, vouchers; HEALTHCARE- Inpatient support, Vouchers, Medical payments, Information). Continue to reference the mission and vision, client list, and areas list on the left and right of the activity sheet. If you question how one of the programs falls within the boundaries you have set, then highlight that program with a marker. You can go back to any you have highlighted and reevaluate if that program should be part of your organizations focus. Our caring nature when working in the non-profit sector can often lead us down rabbit holes regarding how we want to help our clients. Understand that all these rabbit holes are distractions from your mission and can hurt you by consuming valuable time and resources that could be used to focus on your Core Services. Once your list is defined you have now been able to identify your Core Services with the words in all caps. This worksheet is a summary of your organizations scope and you must stay within these boundaries when applying for grants or you will be working against your success.
It is time to start searching for grants. Use the list you made of Core Services to search within grant databases for applicable grants. You can now simplify your search by area, client type, and program type. If you find a grant and it doesn’t fit into your organizations scope, then it is not the grant for you. Do not waste your time. Do not create new programs just to get funding into your agency. Try to fund the programs you already are effective at implementing. You can come up with new programs and add them to your Core Services, but they should be well thought out and relatable to your mission. These need to be developed prior to looking for funding and not because of available funding. That will change your motivation and thus cloud your judgment on the necessity of the program in relation to your mission. You must be good stewards of the funding and can not bring funding in for one program just to use it for another program. Some of the grant databases are www.grants.gov, www.grantwatch.com, www.grantstation.com.
Another way to search for grants is to think about the community around you and make a list of larger state and national retail brands. Think about grocery stores, clothing stores, home goods stores, banks, gyms, craft stores, gas stations, sports teams and more. A lot of state and national brands have foundations to give back to the communities in which they serve. For example, Aldi’s has a grant program if you are feeding children or teaching healthy nutrition programs to children. Mary Kay has a grant program for organizations who serve domestic violence victims. The Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation has a large grant program for local non-profits in a variety of categories. Capital City Bank helps fund programs for financial security. Make sure you have representation of that brand in your community. Many of these smaller grants are in the format of an online application and can be done by an amateur. It is still important to read thru the grant requirements and to research the grantor, so you write the best grant possible. When searching for these types of funding opportunities go to the brand website and look for categories or sub pages with keywords such as Community Involvement, Give Back, Foundation, Philanthropy. They don’t always make it easy to find the information.
Consider making a list of any social service groups in your area such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions Clubs, VFW, and others. Many of these organizations do not have programs they fund in house and are non-profits themselves, often they have funding set aside to support local non-profits. I am a member of a Rotary club in Brooksville and we have available to use yearly a District Grant up to $30,000 in funding and an additional $30,000 + funding for international projects. Our club must match 100% of the funding given to us but we are creative in finding ways to utilize that money in the local community. Two years ago, I wrote a grant for the club for almost $12,000 to support literacy programs in the county. We funded over 6 different programs with that money. This past year I wrote a multi-club grant for $22,800 to fund programs focused on initiatives to support children in our community. We funded almost 12 programs with that grant. Our members submitted programs to be considered in the funding and we determined need. Most of our members are on the boards of those programs or have heard about the programs thru other channels. Our club invites community partners to be educational speakers at each of our meetings so we can learn about their programs. I suggest you ask to speak at various clubs to get yourselves known to the community. We get letters from local non-profits often asking for consideration for funding. You could research each organization’s focus and consider sending them an “ask letter” for funding consideration. An “ask letter” is a summary about your mission and programs to include data on how many or how much you have helped the local community. Think about what information you would want to read about for you to give someone money and include it in on your letter. Be strategic with your ask and try to time it a few months before their new fiscal year. Many boards will start to finalize future year budgets a few months prior to the new fiscal year. You can find out this information by reviewing their websites or social media pages and see when their changing of board members happens. You should highlight the programs that include the areas of focus for whom you are asking for the funding. Kiwanis focuses on children programs. Rotary focuses on health, clean water, and education. Lions club focuses on vision and hearing programs. Be prepared to get turned down more than awarded but if you received just two out of ten requests that is more then you received in the past. You may also be considered for future funding if you can establish a relationship with that group. Offering sponsorship's at future events you host is a great way to thank them for the funding. It can go a long way to make a public statement or even write a press release for the local news. This is something that wont cost you any money and goes far to help promote the groups support of your program and good work in your community.
Let’s review a few things to remember when applying for grants. One of the most important steps in applying for grants is to make sure you follow the grant rules. Stay within your lane and within the boundaries you have defined with your activity sheet. Do your research on who you are asking for funding from. Be thoughtful and strategic when you are filling out applications or creating your “ask letter”. Create a timeline for funding requests and incorporate those into your business calendars. If you are not awarded a grant request and you know it may be available in the next funding cycle, then you can create a date on your future calendar to start looking for the grant application announcements. This can insure you allow dedicated time in your schedule for the fund development tasks. Do not be discouraged. A good award rate is only 20% of all the grants you apply for. Grants should not make up all your funding resources. Instead they should be in addition to fund raising, self-sustainable programs, and investments. Grants come and go and are never guaranteed. The Source offers fund development consolation to dig deeper into your fund development planning and support your funding growth. We hope you have enjoyed these Ideas That Deliver.