- Drew Burns
Grant Writing 101
Whether you work for a non-profit, volunteer with one, or sit on a board of directors, obtaining funding is always key to organizational success. Although there are numerous community, corporate, government and even educational grants available, many people pass on the opportunity because they don’t know how to navigate the grant process. Following is a primer to help your organization get organized and start taking advantage of the grand funding out there.
The first step is identifying the opportunities available to your organization. There are a lot of different types of grants out there, and it’s up to you to figure out which ones are appropriate for your organization. A large portion of time should be spent reading different requests for proposals (RFP) or applications. Once you have more of an understanding on the types of grants available, you’ll be able to quickly spot a good fit for your organization. Below are some resources for finding grant programs online.
Governmental Grants: Grants.gov – this is the best database for governmental funding. I would spend some time getting to know the website and learn how to use the search functionality of the database.
Corporate Grants: Unfortunately, there isn’t a true comprehensive list of all corporations that give grants. However, most large corporations give out money for grant programs/community needs. A good tactic is to make a list of companies that align with the mission of your organization. Then, make a second list of local large corporations or organizations that may have similar interests. Between these two lists, you should get at least 10-20 companies that have some sort of corporate funding. If they don’t have a foundation or grant program, you could still reach out to them about sponsoring an event. Most organizations enjoy partnering with like-minded nonprofits.
Non-profit Grants: Non-profits do in fact give money to other non-profits! Think of similar associations that may have foundations or other organizations you can partner with to build programs.
Tip: Tracking everything in an excel spreadsheet is helpful! As you learn of a new company or organization with a program, add it to the list in case you want to apply down the road.
Timing the Grants
The grant process can be tedious. There may be several rounds of applications depending on the type of grant. Also, once you’ve applied, it will probably take a long time for the organization to review and award winners. Most organizations will have a timeline of their processes. Be sure to add this timeline to your spreadsheet so you can track due dates and review periods for different organizations. Once you get a better understanding of the different grant cycles, it becomes less overwhelming and you can schedule out what you need to do by month.
Setting yourself reminders in your electronic calendar is also a good tactic. You may even want to create a separate calendar with dates and deadlines for grants. Make sure you give yourself enough time to proof read and let others review the application before you submit.
Tip: Have at least three people read the final draft of a grant submission before you send it out.
Generally, you should give yourself at least three months before the deadline to be working on the application. This may vary on the type of grant, or amount of coordination you must do, but you want to give yourself plenty of time to get it right. There also may be smaller grants that require less effort and you may be able to finish in a few weeks - there are many different grant types!
Tip: Make sure you have all the necessary signatures you might need. People will throw away your application for things as small as that.
Writing the Grants
A lot of grant writing is just coordinating information that already exists and putting it into a plan to get a desired outcome. Most of the information you’ll need is probably already created (on the website, in old files, etc.), but it’s up to you to put it all together into an application that makes sense for whoever is reading it. Some tips to get started:
Read the application in its entirety before you start writing.
Make sure that your organization has everything required to apply and that you think the grant program is a good fit.
If you have questions about the application or process, there will usually be a contact person listed on the application. Don’t try reaching out to anyone else in the organization with questions or about your application, especially board members, review team, etc. But do ask any questions you might have – just be sure to direct them to the appropriate person.
In terms of the writing process, there are some general things you’ll need for every type of application process:
Overview/Abstract/Summary: This is your one paragraph to grab the review team’s attention. It should identify a need for the funding/program, how you plan to implement the program, your commitment to implementing it, how it will benefit the community, and what the intended outcome is. You may want to wait to write this until after you’ve done the other parts of the application, but it’s usually the first thing they ask for.
Organization Qualifications: Think of this as proving your organization’s ability to execute on the proposal if you get the funding. Imagine the reader knows nothing about the organization. A lot of this information can probably be taken from your website or marketing material. Common content includes your mission/vision statements, articles of incorporation (how many years you’ve been doing this), a list of programs, prior grants received, association volunteer numbers/information, as well as a list of officers/staff.
Problem Statement: Or, why the funds are needed. This is a great place to introduce statistics from other reports or past program outcomes. Demographics of populations served will be helpful here. You want to convey that there is a need in the community for what you’re proposing.
Goals and Objectives: All applications are going to want to know these. Broadly speaking, your goals are going to be overarching outcomes of the program you’re proposing. The objectives are measurable tactics or outcomes that support that goal. Most applications will want you to have 2-3 goals with 3-5 objectives. Under those objectives you can also have action items which are more detailed actions that support each objective. Basically, you’re creating a plan for your program that includes your goals (What do we want to do), your objectives (How do we measure it) and action items (The steps we take to get there). Note: Applications are all different and may call these by different terms (strategies, outcomes, tactics, etc.)
Methodology: This is a detailed explanation of how the program will be executed. This can include a timeline of events, who will be involved and details on their roles, how key events will run, details of locations and other organizations involved, how data will be collected, and other information that will be helpful in explaining your plan of attack. It will be helpful here to tell a story, so the reviewers can easily see how things will be carried out.
Evaluation: Note that the methodology/evaluation portions are sometimes (usually) combined. There needs to be an evaluation process that outlines how the data and results of the program will be collected. How will you measure success? What are the key metrics or outcomes are you looking to record/gather? This also includes what kind of surveys you might give to participants to track success. A good tactic is creating a sample survey with the types of questions you will ask. You will need to do some sort of evaluation before your event/program starts to establish a baseline, and then a post evaluation of the program to determine growth/measure progress.
Budget: This portion of the application will outline the costs associated with your program/project. Reviewers will want to know the details of how you plan to spend the money. It is also important to include any additional secured funds from other grants or other organizations. Of note, most organizations providing grants won’t want to fund a project 100 percent, as they like to see a combination of monetary buy in from the applicant, other organizations, or other grants you’ve secured. One way of showing your organization’s contribution is through in-kind funds or items that are donated in lieu of money. These would fall outside the money you would be requesting from an organization. You may be able to get a company or organization to commit to funding a portion of a program or donate a piece of equipment (i.e. sponsoring food). Getting commitment letters from companies if the funding comes through is very helpful. Most programs will have specific formatting instructions when it comes to outlining the budget.
Appendices: This section just includes any supporting documentation that would help your case, or that you may reference in the application. This could include: prior/outside research, staff qualifications/resumes, and a list of other grant funded projects.
Tip: Save your work! You can use the information to improve future applications.
Follow Up and Reporting
One of the other key reasons to keep that spreadsheet is to follow-up on grants for which you’ve applied. You won’t get 90 percent of the grants you write. However, you should follow up to see if there’s anything you can do to improve an application for next time – or if there’s any other direction you should take your programming. Most reviewers will respond and are happy to give the feedback – and they remember. Building those relationships is crucial, because next time they may remember you and give points towards improving.
And, sometimes you will land the grant! Great news! You secured funding, but now you must make sure you comply with anything the awarding agency may have stipulated with the money. In most cases, they will be very clear as to what they expect from you. It’s important to make sure you follow through with these guidelines, not just to keep your funding, but also to maintain a positive relationship with the organization.
Regardless of the size of your association, there are opportunities to secure funding for your programs. In today’s business world, we are all trying to stretch our budgets to get the most value for our members. It’s worth the time investment to research these opportunities and understand what funding is out there for your team to take advantage of. While the process can be overwhelming, it’s rewarding. Writing a grant allows you to evaluate what your organization is doing and compare it to the work of other outstanding organizations. Hopefully this article will help you navigate the process and eventually secure some funding.