Grant writing is often viewed as an inevitable part of running a nonprofit. As soon as that 501(c)(3) letter arrives from the IRS, nonprofits are eager to get to work applying for grants.
But while grants can be a helpful revenue stream, the reality is that they are extremely competitive, and without certain preparedness measures, most nonprofits’ grant writing efforts are doomed to fail. It’s important to take time to develop other fundraising streams to diversify your income base for stability while also getting all your ducks in a row before you write your first grant.
If your nonprofit has never written a grant before, it may be helpful to look at the grant requirements released by a handful of local funders. Find the prominent community foundations and family foundations in your area, and look at their websites. If you can find an application, RFP, or other grant submission guidelines, you’ll get a better sense of what they—and other funders—require for a grant. Can you meet all of those requirements?
Getting your paperwork in order
Most grant applications require a range of attachments: one or two of your most recent 990s, organization and program budgets, a list of current board members, articles of incorporation and bylaws, and more. Making sure you have all of these items organized and ready will help you apply for your first grant. Often, if you don’t have three years of operations and aren’t filing 990s, you aren’t going to qualify for most grants. Be patient, get organized, and then apply.
Building a strong organization
Grantmakers look at grants as an investment, and they want to ensure they’re making a wise one. Your nonprofit needs be strong on multiple fronts to compete with other organizations doing great work in the community.
Along these lines, your nonprofit will need to show the following:
- A strong board of directors with participants from relevant industries; staff should not be part of the board
- Qualified staff members who have strong resumes
- Measurement of outcomes and goals, and progress made towards those outcomes and goals
- A deep understanding of the population served, and strong reasoning—ideally backed up by academic studies—on why and how your nonprofit developed the programs it is running
- A track record of accomplishments and awards as an organization
Without these items, you’re better off waiting to apply for grants.
Diversifying fundraising streams
Another aspect of grant readiness is a strong and realistic budget—and the ability to fund all aspects of your programs and operations. Attempting to do this exclusively through grants will set your nonprofit up for failure, and that’s something readily apparent to grantmakers.
Before you seek out your first grant, make sure you’re pulling in money from other areas like special events, individual donations, and major gifts. This way, you’ll have the ability to operate your programs while you wait to hear back from grantmakers on the status of your application. And you’ll be in a great position to show the strength of your organization; grantmakers don’t want to fund a nonprofit on the verge of closing its doors due to lack of funds.