Grant Funding for Nonprofits

As tough economic times continue and donor support gets thinner, nonprofit organizations will need to aggressively pursue various sources of grant funding in order to stay afloat. Tough times also mean the competition for grant funding will be more fierce than ever before. The competition may be stiff, but grant funding opportunities for nonprofits are still out there.

Sources of grant funding for nonprofit organizations

Main sources of grant funding for nonprofits include the government, corporations, and private foundations. These grantors will vary greatly in terms of the specificity, subject matter, amount of funding provided, and the desired scope of submitted proposals. In addition, it may be easier for some nonprofits to win grant funding in a recession than it is in a boom time. State and federal government agencies have increased their grant funding for nonprofits as a result of the economic stimulus bill. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided lots of  grant opportunities for nonprofits of all types. Be sure to perform a thorough search by going online to the government’s website for the Recovery Act.

Searching for appropriate grant agencies

Finding the right nonprofit grant funding agencies to fund your grants can be a daunting and time-consuming task. An internet search will pull up many websites where you can search for sources of grant funding online. When using online directories to find grant funders, these tips can save you time and effort:

  • Refine your search criteria before starting. Relevant criteria may include your key words, subject matter, target audience, geographic location, or other parameters that match your goals.
  • Identify the type of support your nonprofit is seeking: new program, general operation, etc.
  • Look for grant funders who have an interest in your specific subject matter and who fund the type of grant support you are seeking.
  • Look for granting agencies in your geographic area.

Get to know your prospective grant agencies

After you have identified several promising sources of grant funding for your nonprofit, start doing your research. What are the grantor’s goals and objectives? How well do they match those of your nonprofit? Read all the information on the grantor’s website, including the types of grants they have funded in the past. Familiarize yourself with their grant guidelines and make sure you can supply all the information they request. Pay attention to deadline dates.

Tailoring your grant for each grant funder: Do not send the same version of a grant proposal to multiple grant funders. Instead, target your grant to each agency so that it immediately captures the attention of that agency’s program officer, or whomever will be reviewing your grant. Craft custom cover letters that let the funder know you’re knowledgeable about their interests, and that your interests are a good match. Note that some sources of grant funding will request supplemental materials to be submitted with your grant proposal while others will not. Government agencies, for example, often do not require that grant applications include a cover letter. Submit only—and all—the materials which are specifically requested by the grantor.

Generic proposals

One of the most critical aspects of writing a winning grant proposal is to tailor your grant to complement the goals of the granting agency. In other words, know your grantor! What is their mission? For what purposes are they providing grant funding? What results do they hope to foster? If you forge a strong connection between your mission and that of the granting agency, your proposal will have a greater chance of being funded.

Not enough detail 

As an intimate member of your organization, your level of familiarity may actually be an obstacle. For one, you are already fully committed to your cause. Further, organization executives or staff may be so absorbed in the day-to-day business of fulfilling the group’s mission that it’s hard to step back and clearly and carefully explain the big picture. Certain details of your organization and mission will be so obvious and so familiar to you that you won’t even think to include them. However, always remember that the people reading your grant may be hearing of your nonprofit for the first time. Even if you know the grantor, or have received funding from them before, you should still provide complete information about your nonprofit.

In the organizational information section, provide concise details regarding your organization including: Its history and mission statement; the recipients of your services; a description of your programs; an overview of your successes; and why the grantor can trust you to use funds responsibly and effectively. Do not address targeted problems with broad solutions. Offer explicit details about the actions you will take to address the problem.

Too much detail 

While some areas will be lacking in information, inexperienced grant writers often include too much detail in other areas. While it’s important for your grant proposal to tell a compelling story, don’t get carried away with a lot of superfluous information. In other words, don’t spend pages waxing eloquent about the problem or your ideals. Get to the point quickly and use concise, objective examples to illustrate your successes—rather than vague or subjective anecdotes.

Too much emphasis on the ‘why’—not enough on the ‘how’ 

Of course, why your mission is vital is important. But after stating the problems, your proposal must focus on presenting step-by-step solutions. You must approach the grant-writing process like you’re a for-profit business. Your grant must include measurable objectives and an explicit plan of action. Include what records or data you will collect, and how you will measure your program’s accomplishments. You may also be asked to provide a logic model.

Poor writing

The person reading your grant will probably have read many others that same day. This means reviewers will have little patience for bad writing. Make sure your proposal is reader-friendly, and that it tells a compelling story without being overly sentimental. Avoid jargon and buzzwords. Do say how the grant agency’s goals fit with your objectives, but never cut and paste phrases from their guidelines into your proposal. Write a clear, informative and engaging grant proposal that grantors will enjoy reading.

Circular reasoning 

Circular reasoning is a veritable death sentence for grant proposals. Circular reasoning can be explained like this: When the problem being presenting is defined as the absence of the solution that is being offered. For example, “The problem is that our county lacks an environmental watch-dog group. Therefore, forming an environmental watch-dog group will solve the problem.” Be sure to avoid circular reasoning in your nonprofit grant proposal.

Inadequate or unrealistic cost analysis 

Nonprofit organizations tend to low-ball figures when seeking funds, thinking that the less they ask for, the more likely they are to get it. This is not necessarily true. Agencies would rather invest more and see your objectives fulfilled than grant you less and see it wasted. Unrealistic estimates also make you look fiscally inexperienced and unknowledgeable. In your budget section, document projected income and expenses. Also include in your grant proposal whether you have other sources of funding or have applied for other sources. Rather than making your nonprofit seem less needy, additional funding sources may be a benefit. Most grantors will not want to be a nonprofit’s sole source of funding for a project.

Lack of quantitative data

Granting agencies want to see statistics. They want to know that your objectives and your results are quantifiable. For-profit businesses include such information as a matter of course. But nonprofit grants are often too light on hard data. To show that you are knowledgeable about your area, your grant should include historical data, statistical analysis, graphs and figures, and long-term projections whenever appropriate.

Avoiding the above common grant writing mistakes and implementing these grant writing tips will help your nonprofit to write winning grant proposals that secure grant funding!