Key Areas to Grant Writing Success
Recently Nonprofit Pro featured a blog from Leigh Kessler where he relates fundraising to the marketing he does for Charity Engine. He recounts a story about a great promotion he was doing at a conference that ended up having little engagement: “In a pre-screened target audience of more than 4,000 people who literally spend every day asking people to give them money for their organizations, I only could find 1 percent to take mine!” Through this experience he reminds us that as fundraisers, we must be diligent and have well planned and executed strategies. These are the heart of fundraising in general but they are crucial to a successful grant writing strategy. But what does a well planned and executed strategy look like?
With grant writing, there are a few key areas that, if done well, will lead your efforts to success or, if done poorly, will lead to failure.
Before even starting a grant writing strategy, ensure you have a fundable organization. Even the best developed application to the best matching funding source is going to be a flop if your ministry is not well-organized. Do you have clearly written by-laws? Do you have a diverse funding base? Do you have a professional and polished website? What about your marketing material like brochures and newsletters? Do you have a carefully tracked budget? It is crucial that you address your ministry’s fundability before approaching foundations for support so that your efforts are more likely to be successful.
When your ministry or nonprofit is approaching a foundation to request grant funding, especially on your first approach, it is vital that you can easily relate the foundation’s passion to your own. At the heart of all foundations is a desire to make the world a better place by funding organizations who are addressing the areas they care most about, and although a foundation may have a large amount of money to contribute they typically will not veer from their area of interest. What that means is that if you have programs that are working to empower people to move out of homelessness, then approaching a foundation whose interest lies with funding art programs in schools is not only going to be a wasted effort but will also build a negative reputation for your organization. You must research foundations and funding sources who care about the things you care about and target them.
Once you have researched the appropriate funding sources, find out about their application requirements. Some foundations want a phone call while others only accept a letter of inquiry. There’s no hard and fast rules on the application process for foundations. While many are similar, foundations vary greatly on their processes and preferences. If the foundation you intend to approach requires a face-to-face introduction and you mail your generic fundraising material, they will immediately dismiss your request without consideration. When a foundation has a specific application requirement, they expect you to follow it. Not following their guidelines for requesting funding is likely to leave them questioning whether you will follow through with the programs for which you are requesting funding.
When developing the material to send to your ideally matched foundation, it is also important that you not make assumptions about your audience. You never know who will be reviewing your application, so you want to take some steps to ensure that your application is understandable by most. Don’t write at an inaccessible scholarly reading level. Avoid field-specific jargon and acronyms or ensure necessary terms are fully explained. A foundation may be interested in your ministry’s field of work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are actively working in the field. If a reviewer can’t understand your materials, your application will be put aside.
One of the most important, and often most overlooked, areas of grant writing success is persistence! Have you ever heard the phrase “Don’t quit before the miracle happens”? Well, as corny as that may sound, it’s true! Just because a foundation said “no” to your first request doesn’t mean your effort was wasted and you should give up. Sometimes “no” really means “not yet,” so don’t walk away yet. You can find more about this on our post about reading and understanding your rejection letter. When you add persistence to the other areas of a successful grant writing strategy, you will secure funding.
Although there is never any guarantee with grant writing, almost every ministry can see success with a properly developed grant writing strategy. On average, we see successful ministries securing about 30% of their budget from grant writing. These successful ministries all have a few things in common: they have fundable ministries, they’re approaching the right funding sources, they follow the funder’s requirements, their applications are easy to understand by any reviewer, and most of all, they don’t give up. Addressing these areas will greatly increase the likelihood your ministry’s efforts will lead to success!
If you need assistance in developing a successful grant writing strategy for your ministry or nonprofit, please contact us today for a free consultation. We look forward to hearing from you!