I have been writing grants for many years. When I started, the best tool for research was a massive physical book that listed seemingly every funder in the country and their priorities. It was updated regularly, with previous editions ceremoniously gifted to emerging grant writers like a family heirloom.
Today, there is an overwhelming amount of information about fundraising available for free online. Nonprofits that are new to the grant process often do not know where to start. They ask questions like, “What are the chances we will receive funding? How long does it take a write a proposal? Should we hire a grant writer to help?”
What organizations really want to know: Is it worth our time to jump into the grant world? Can we raise considerable money via grants? When will the financial resources start flowing in?
Unfortunately, there is no one answer to any of these questions. Every nonprofit has a unique situation, and every grant opportunity is different. Some grants offer $100 awards and others provide $100 million. Some grants can be written in 30 minutes while others take several weeks to develop. And the hardest part: many grant applications do not get funded.
One thing I can say confidently: you do not need to be a professional writer to submit successful grants. Most grant writers that I have met had no formal training. They learned by reading about grants, talking about grants and – most of all – through trial and error. Through rejection and success.
Your main goal for a grant proposal: clearly demonstrate the demand for your services, how you would deliver them with the potential funding, and the impact they will have on your community – and show how all of this aligns with the funder’s stated mission.
Improve Your Grant Writing with These Best Practices
1. Is It a Good Fit?
Before you even start filling anything out, do everything you can to make sure the grant opportunity is a good fit for your organization. Do you meet all the qualifications? Does the funder typically offer grants to organizations like yours? Do you feel confident in their match with your core programming or are you stretching to meet their guidelines?
I once spent many hours writing a proposal. Mere minutes after I submitted it, I received a message back saying the proposal was not a good fit for the funder. This was dispiriting…but it helped me learn about the next two concepts.
2. Accept Rejection
Even for a great cause, such as your nonprofit, not every funder will be willing or able to offer support. Even if you write a beautiful and compelling grant, most funders receive many more applications than they can fund. Try not to take rejection personally. After pausing for quiet reflection or taking a walk or eating Oreos or whatever your self-care routine consists of, ask if the funder would be willing to provide any feedback about areas that you could have strengthened. If they seem open to discussion, ask if they are aware of any other funders who might be a better fit for your cause.
3. Get to Know the Funders
If they offer webinars or give presentations, this is typically the best way to learn details about specific opportunities and engage. Follow a foundation’s social media accounts. Read their annual report – especially the financial statements and grant lists. Once you have a sense of who they are and what they care about, you can better make the case about why them funding your organization is such a wonderful idea.
Their job is to give away money, and we, as grant writers, try to make their job as easy as possible. An essential step is understanding where they are coming from.
4. Read the Instructions, Read Them Again
Answer every question on the grant application – and if a question has multiple components, answer each of those in the order they are asked. Even if a question seems repetitive, try to answer it as best as you can. Google any words or concepts from the instructions that are unfamiliar. If you are still uncertain about what they want to know (and the funder provides their contact information), ask them to clarify.
5. Build Relationships with Other Nonprofits in Your Field
Try to view them as collaborators in building a stronger community and not as competitors for finite grant resources. If you hear that one of these organizations received a grant, congratulate them. Later, you can respectfully ask them for advice about how you might be able to apply in the future.
At its best, the nonprofit world is a true community. People have been very generous with me, and I always try to share what I have learned in return. If you have a specific question, please feel free to reach out to The Vella Group.