Did you know that only about 10 percent of all grants written are funded? While it’s hard to attach a scientifically-determined success rate to the process, that figure is the industry standard, making grant writing a notoriously difficult undertaking.
Finances are always tight in the nonprofit sector; if you run a small nonprofit, you’re likely dealing with even more financial restrictions. Even if your organization is successful, operating an efficient and effective program on a small scale, it’s likely challenging to make sure the doors stay open and the lights stay on year after year.
So it’s even more important for small nonprofits to invest in grant writing cautiously. You’ll want to make sure you get a good return on your investment, whether you write grants in house or hire someone outside of your office to do the work.
Here are three tips for small nonprofits interested in grant writing.
1. Get grant ready
It’s important for nonprofits new to grant writing to be prepared. Don’t rush headlong into grant writing without making sure you have everything in place to be competitive. This is an important consideration whether you’re big or small, but small shops will need to be extra prepared to go up against the big guys with national or international recognition.
In the industry, grant writers call this process grant readiness. Building a financially stable organization, measuring your programs’ successes, and developing a strong board of directors are all important steps in the process of becoming competitive for grants.
Funders want to know they’re making a solid investment in an organization that is not only changing the world but has staying power.
2. Build relationships
Consider grant writing a relationship-building process. You’ll want to hit the pavement and start conversations with grantmakers, rather than simply sending in applications cold. This is a great tip for any nonprofit, but this sort of political relationship building is especially critical for small shops.
Figure out who knows whom in your community. Does a member of your board play golf with someone at a local foundation? What other connections does your circle share with local grantmakers? How can you invite local grantmakers to contribute to your organization’s culture, whether it’s inviting them to an event, working together on a special program, or simply sitting down and discussing how your organization can work with them to lend assistance to your community.
The more you’re willing to talk to the funders you’re thinking of approaching for grants, the higher your success rate will likely be. And you’re setting your organization up for receiving grants year after year from the same sources.
3. Start locally
In addition to building relationships, you’ll want to look locally for grants. Apply to grantmakers that are located in your immediate area and concentrate most or all of their funding locally.
This is useful in a few different ways:
- It’s easier to build those all-important relationships if the funder is near you.
- There’s less competition for local-level funding than national-level funding.
- These funders are often more accessible as you learn the ropes of writing and managing grants. They’re more likely to answer the phone when you call with questions and walk you through difficult parts of the application or even attend your program events.
Overall, while it may take more time for small nonprofits to get their grants program firing on all cylinders, it’s usually a worthwhile pursuit. Just make sure you don’t stretch your resources too thin and limit grant funding to about 10 to 15 percent of your budget’s income. Plan to rely more heavily on individual donors and fundraising events.