For most non-profits, grant fundraising can often seem like a crapshoot – you do some research, write some grants, and then wait for the mail to see which way the dice rolled. Sometimes you get two or three bites from foundations, sometimes none at all.
Grant fundraising doesn’t need to be frustrating, so long as you do it the right way. If you want to be successful with grants, you need to go into it with your eyes open, remembering these basic facts of grantwriting:
First, foundations are fickle… far more fickle than individual donors. Grantmakers change their guidelines on a whim, move into different mission fields, set seemingly arbitrary rules, and in some cases will reject your application for reasons having nothing to do with the outcomes your non-profit is producing.
For this reason, grants should never be your primary source of fundraising. You should always put most of your emphasis on individual giving, and use grants to supplement those efforts.
Second, grantwriting is a numbers game. Many foundations and grant consultants will tell you otherwise – they will say that you need to select a few, highly targeted foundations and spend weeks lovingly crafting your applications. You need to fully customize each application to ensure that it matches the grantmaking organization. And, if you don’t win the grant, it means you did something wrong and need to wait and try again next year.
Baloney. If you are only writing 2-3 grants per year, it is highly unlikely that you will ever receive grant funding. Grantwriting is a numbers game. You need to submit lots of grants if you want to win. You need to make sure you are meeting all of the application requirements for the grants you are seeking, but also need to send out lots of applications. In my experience, if you are writing good, solid grant applications, you will win 1 out of every 5-7 grants you apply for.
If you understand both of these points, you’re ready to launch into grant fundraising. Here are some tips for winning more grants for your non-profit:
#1 – Have a Grantwriting System
Every non-profit that is seeking grants need to put a grantwriting system into place for their organization. A “grantwriting system” is simply a step-by-step process that you go through each year to win grant funding, and should include the following steps:
– Project Selection: What projects at our organization would be good candidates for grant funding this year?
– Research: What foundations would be good fits for funding our non-profit this year?
– Templates: Your non-profit shouldn’t be writing each grant from scratch. You should have 2-3 grant templates that address each of the projects that you want to fund through grants. For each grant application you submit, simply modify the template 5-10% to meet the grant application criteria.
– Grant Calendar: What are the deadlines (letters of intent and grant applications) for the grants we intend to seek this year?
– Responsibilities: Who will be responsible for submitting each of our grant applications?
Put a grantwriting system in place at your non-profit so that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel each year as you seek foundation funding.
#2 – Use Well-Trained Volunteers for Grant Research
Many smaller and mid-sized organizations successfully use well-trained volunteers to conduct grant research. These non-profits will show a handful of volunteers how to use a tool like the Foundation Center Online (either a paid version or a free version available at a Regional Foundation Center), and then set those volunteers to work looking for grants that might work.
If you decide to use this strategy, my advice is tell the volunteers that when in doubt, they should include the grant as a possibility – you want them bringing you back too many grant options, rather than too few. Once the volunteers have returned with their work, the Development Director or grantwriter can sit down and look through the options to decide which are the best fit.
#3 – Don’t Be Afraid to Pick Up the Phone
Many grant fundraisers are afraid to pick up the phone to call foundations and discuss their grant applications. Don’t be. I know that many foundations like to act like they are the Great and Powerful Oz sitting high above the fray below, but they are just like any other donor… and just like any other donor they sometimes need to be cultivated and nudged.
To be sure, there are some foundations that loudly proclaim, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” If that’s the case, respect their wishes. But for other grantmakers, there’s nothing wrong with picking up the phone to ask questions about their grant guidelines, check to make sure an application was received, and when being rejected for a grant… calling to see what you can do next time to make sure you get approved.