My first question for folks when they tell me they need grant money is, “Do you have a fundraising plan?“ Most of the time, that answer is no. For those rare birds who do have a written fundraising plan, I then ask, “What is your current needs list?” A majority of those folks do not have any idea what that is.
If you don’t know what needs you have, and you don’t have a written plan on how you are going to accomplish your fundraising goals, why on earth do you think you need to write grants?
All too often people think of grants merely because they qualify to apply as a nonprofit, or there is a new federal program that fits their for-profit needs, or they are under the impression that grants are ‘free money.’ These are all bad reasons to write grants as a revenue stream for ANY organization, be it for-profit or nonprofit.
Would it surprise you to know that some nonprofits have never, and will never turn to grant funding as part of their development plan?
I have worked with nonprofits who have been around over 50 years and are just now venturing into the grant world. They take the journey because of the economy, but not because they want to rely on grants. So, don’t assume just because you are a nonprofit organization, you are ‘suppose’ to apply for and rely on grants. That is not the case.
If your organization is in a place that it might be considering applying for grants, these are the things I tell folks to consider:
If you are in a place where you have met your capacity (staff, space, program, etc.), then it might be time to look at capacity building grants so you can grow.
1. If you have a capital campaign, you may consider making grants a portion of that campaign to ensure its’ success and speedy completion.
2. If you are in a field where funding has been cut through your historical funding sources (mental health services for example), then you may need to look to grant funding until you can rework your game plan on how to sustain your organization.
3. If you have programs or projects that are excelling at what they do and you feel grants may highlight some of these opportunities and allow you to do serve more in your field… perhaps it is time to research what is available regarding grant dollars.
I also tell folks to consider this information:
1. If you are creating programs or projects to fit a grant, you have found or heard about, that is not the right order of operations. Decide on your needs, list them, understand them, and then find the grants that fit those needs.
2. If your organization has a budget or a previous year’s budget in the ‘red,’ you may not want to begin writing grants until you have a few years in the ‘black.’ Funders will see you as a risk and often will not look favorably upon your request.
3. If your organization is in its’ infancy, you may find seed money to support your work, but donors and foundations who have been around for a while may require you to show a history of success before supporting you. This can be 3-5 years or more. So, despite a perfect fit on paper, you may not qualify due to the amount of time you have been providing services.
There are lots of nuances to consider before beginning to utilize grant writing as part of your annual fundraising plan. But, there is also a lot to consider each year before you decide to continue grant writing in your fundraising plan, or removing it, decreasing the dollars you hope to raise through grants, or reducing the dollars you need. Your reliance on grants should be strategic, and if need be, consult with peers or other development professionals to help analyze your individual, organizational needs before making these changes.
If you don’t have a fundraising plan, I encourage you to develop one. Next to an organizational strategic plan, it is one of the most vital tools in your fundraising toolkit.
Grant Writing: Free Webinar with Mandy Pearce of Funding For Good
Need to learn more about grant writing? Join us for a free one-hour webinar on grant writing, May 2nd. This webinar will be packed full of information, tools, best practices, examples of the seven elements of most proposals and how to write them, and resources you can use right away. This is what we do, and have been doing successfully for 21 years. Let us walk you through the need-to-know information. Learn more and reserve your seat here.
Keep growing for good!