The Truth About Grant Writing
We’ve all heard that line “You could get a grant for that!” Or even seen those late night commercials advertising how easy it is for you to get grant money to start your business. We get phone calls and emails from people who have been told “The Gates Foundations has millions they want to give away; you just have to ask for it!” or the ever popular “minorities can get millions in grants to start a business!” Don’t be fooled and don’t get swindled by pie-in-the-sky promises. With nearly 20 years of experience in grant writing, we have worked with many ministries and nonprofits to secure grant funding; however, there are some caveats to that.
Many have come to us with a distorted view of foundations and the grant funding market. Unfortunately, many nonprofits are taken advantage of because of this illusion. With that being said, it’s time to address the truth about grant funding, and empower ministries in their pursuit of this illusive capital.
“The [Insert High-Profile Foundation Name Here] has millions they’re just dying to give away!” We hear this line a lot with all the various high-profile foundations: Walmart, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Chik-fil-A, and others. The truth is that while they do have a large funding pool they are not handing money out like confetti at a ticker-tape parade. Bill and Melinda Gates created the foundation to invest in their personal view of positive changes for the world. The foundation is designed to help successful nonprofits grow, and because they have a prominent name, they get multitudes of applications which means securing funding from them is highly competitive. Generally speaking, the larger the foundation, the more extensive and thorough is the screening process to obtain funding. The best opportunity for most organizations is foundations in their community that closely match their own mission and vision.
“We want to start a business/nonprofit/shelter/ministry but we don’t have any money, so we need grants.” This is a common predicament we are approached with. People come to us with brilliant ideas, and end up disillusioned when we explain that start-up funding is extremely rare (and relatively non-existent to fund for-profit ventures) and because of its scarcity it is also extremely competitive. This circles back to the idea of foundations wanting to invest in positive changes for the world. They want to see the highest return for their investment. They want to invest in organizations that can show what they are doing has a positive effect on the topic the foundation is passionate about – usually with a proven track record. Foundations also want to join with others investing in worthy projects. A foundation approached for start-up funding will wonder why you expect a stranger to invest in your project (and in you), when your closest friends and family members have not felt moved to support your project.
“Our organization is struggling for funding, so we need grant money to save us.” Unfortunately, if a nonprofit is at risk of shutting their doors, they are unlikely to secure grant funding. This is similar to nonprofits that have been operating solely on the contributions of the founder. Foundations see a lack of donors and financial support from individuals as a red flag. Having a strong and diverse funding base emphasizes that the organization is legitimate and is addressing a true need. Foundations want to see support on an individual and community level; they want to see that the board believes strongly enough in the organization to financially contribute to the cause. When a ministry is in a financial spiral, a foundation will likely believe there are other issues and contributing financially will likely be a lost investment.
The truth about grant writing is that it takes a lot of work to develop a successful grant writing strategy. There is a lot of organizational development that should happen even before the grant writing strategy is initiated. Once the organization is in a position to implement a strategy, then planning and research will be fundamental to long-term success. Researching for the best matching funding sources will ensure that your efforts will be worthwhile, and knowing those funding sources to which you apply in depth will help you develop compelling requests. Following all the funding sources requirements and guidelines is usually not difficult but can often be very specific, and when developing your submission materials be careful to follow any instructions the funding source provides. Once you have submitted your well-developed materials, you may yet get a rejection; however, don’t be discouraged as it may take two or three requests to a well-matched foundation before your ministry secures funding. Developing and implementing an organized, consistent and persistent approach is what will ensure your grant writing strategy is successful.
The truth about grant writing is that it is a viable supplement to your nonprofit or ministry’s current funding base. In our many years of experience, we’ve seen organizations who implement a successful grant writing strategy secure about 30% to 40% of their annual budgets from grant funding. As we discussed earlier, foundations want to invest in successful organizations, so when they partner with a successful ministry they tend to continue to contribute year after year.
If you are considering developing a grant writing strategy for your nonprofit or ministry, contact us for a free consultation. We can give you insight into your programs fundability, the number of foundations that focus on programs like yours and how many foundations are near you geographically. We offer the free consultation to help you discern whether grant writing would be a worthwhile investment for your nonprofit. With our varying levels of service we can help you determine the best steps in developing your strategy based on your specific needs. We look forward to speaking with you.