Category Archives: grant writing

Build the Project’s Funding First

Before I write a grant application, I build a spreadsheet with all of the project’s funding information (revenue and allocation or expense). I use the template pictured above. Once I know exactly what I’m funding, the writing goes a lot easier.

This template is only for a project, a subset of the organization’s mission. A foundation usually requests the nonprofit’s total budget as a separate attachment. Also, many foundations want to see operating funds separate from a project, not together. A grant application should be specific.

(Hint: many foundations fund a specific project rather than the more general operating funding.)

The critical part of building a project’s funding is the percentages. Foundations want to be a partner in a project, which generally means less than a fifty percent investment. What the percentage is depends on the foundation. I try not to go above thirty five percent in any category. But, this is only my guideline based on my opinion, which is not necessarily a good opinion or a valid guideline.

In any case, a nonprofit should be flexible when building a funding plan. Salaries can be included as long as they are for the project and the foundation allows salaries funding. If not, then I list salaries in Other Cash Support. Either way, I never have the foundation pay for the employee benefits. These costs give the impression of operating costs.

Besides the percentages, the other important part is the categories. The template has standard categories meant to be general, while being somewhat specific. Making things too specific can create confusion. A lot of foundations are okay with these categories.

Some foundations have their own budget template. I can complete their template with all the information from my spreadsheet. Plus, I have done the analysis that they may do to figure out how much of the project they are funding.

Writing a grant request is not easy. Getting the costs settled makes the writing less complicated. After all, it is mostly about the money.

Special Grant Requests

As I posted before, nonprofits should always keep a conversation going with people who might support their mission. This year, I was involved in grant requests from two foundations. Both foundations solicited requests outside their application period and focus areas.

The first (foundation A) had a new director who wanted to expand the foundation’s area of interest. Maybe there were other internal motivations. The other (foundation B) received an unexpected endowment.

News for both grant requests came mostly through word-of-mouth. Foundation A representatives came to the area and attended meetings where they spread the word. Foundation B already had a grant request process, which had closed and decisions made. They notified those nonprofits who had applied.

Both foundations posted information on their websites listing what they fund, what they won’t, and guidelines. The normal stuff. However, this information was not complete and not really that clear.

I called foundation A and the administrator easily explained what they wanted in the application. Such as what to mail and who to address on the application. I also got some background information as to why this foundation was soliciting grant requests, which helped in the grant write up.

Foundation B had a special link on their submission webpage to get the application. However, the special focus areas meant several nonprofits would not qualify. Someone else made the call to the foundation and found out that everyone who applied under the regular application process was eligible, regardless of the special focus areas.

In both cases, everyone who found out about the special grant requests were eligible for money. Many nonprofits in the area did not apply either because they had not heard about these grant requests or never contacted the foundations to clarify what was required for the submission.

Lessons learned.

Branding

Every grant submission is an opportunity for a nonprofit to brand themselves. This means anyone seeing the logo (yes, you should have one) or unique acronym (you should have this, too) will know who the nonprofit is and what they do.

Businesses use branding to attract customers. Branding in nonprofits let foundations and donors know immediately what they are funding. Seeing the logo and acronym is an eye catcher for people to remember the nonprofit’s purpose. Of course, branding is not easy.

Coming up with a logo and acronym is difficult (be sure no one else has it). But, it’s not impossible (yeah, easy to state). Despite the difficulty, nonprofits should create a branding before writing grants or asking for donations.

The branding should be why the nonprofit is helping people. Those working and volunteering at the nonprofit should take the lead in designing the brand and not hand it over to strangers who may charge a large fee. In the end, use a graphic business who may charge little in exchange for advertisement or other benefit. Keep a branding simple.

An example of a branding could be some use of the letters in a nonprofit’s name (a.k.a. acronym). Also, use of a unique font (minimize color choices). Definitely make everything legible. Also, a logo and acronym can be the same thing.

No one knows a nonprofit more than the people who are there every day. They should help in creating the logo and acronym because they are the ones who first must accept it.

Branding helps a lot in grant writing, particularly in lengthy requests where the brand can be placed everywhere for emphasis. This is what writing a grant is about – having as many people as possible know who the nonprofit is by a glance.

Begin to write the grant request

A grant request should be personal, unemotional, and informative. The request should read as if the grant writer faced foundation people who already heard others ask for money. The writer should make something of the request that is unique to the nonprofit.

As the saying goes: easier said than done. Yet, it is easier if the opening documents set the correct tone. All grant requests start one of two ways. A letter of inquiry (LOI) or a cover letter. An LOI asks for the application with nothing following. The cover letter introduces the application’s documents.

While the application is important, the LOI or cover letter set the tone for everything else that follows. The LOI and cover letter introduces the nonprofit, the project to be funded, and the purpose for the submission.

The LOI must give more information to get the application by stating the nonprofit’s goals, objectives, and how they match with the foundation. There is not enough room for details. Summarize the summaries. The writer will edge toward stating the facts, but add a little sincerity.

A cover letter is like a handshake. All of the project information is in the following documents. Such as details about the project, a budget, and confidence the foundation’s money will be well spent. The cover letter is a welcoming and an opportunity to give details about the project’s successes that is not found in the application.

Some people may say a grant application is a matter of filling out forms. Of course, it is not that simple. It is a matter of understanding the reason a foundation would fund a project and explain this with unemotional sincerity. Spend some time on the LOI or cover letter and this could help lead to a better application.

Relationships (again)

I wrote an earlier blog post about the relationship between a grant writer and a nonprofit. This time I’m writing about the relationship between a nonprofit and a foundation.

Whenever money is involved, relationships become more important than the money. Foundations want confidence nonprofits can spend money efficiently and effectively. Nonprofits need money to do this. Both sides should talk.

The nonprofit’s managers should take the first step and start a conversation by calling the foundation’s leadership. This should be done before any written grant request is submitted.

Starting a dialogue is not a problem when a nonprofit has stories to tell. Such as how they improved someone’s life. They can talk about documented results and plans for the future. Things stated in a written request, anyway.

This is what it’s about: people talking to each other. Many nonprofits write grant requests without ever talking to the foundation, hiding behind the submission process. Having a dialogue is a substantial bonus.

It gives the nonprofit’s managers a more personal way of telling who they are, what they are about, and why they want to help people. However, at this time they should not talk about the money.

That is only for the written grant request. Conversations are about building a relationship, which should lead eventually to a visit between the two organizations.

Whether the nonprofit’s managers talk to the foundation’s leadership or not, I always try to talk to the foundation’s staff before applying for a grant. I have had some great conversations that were very helpful in writing the grant request.

Nonprofits and foundations should talk to each other to get a better understanding of each other’s needs. This so they can continue succeeding.

P.S. which cow is the nonprofit and which is the foundation?

Getting Organized to Tell a Story

Telling a Nonprofit’s Story

Before submitting for grants, nonprofits need to be organized and ready to tell their story. Like querying a magazine to publish a short story, the story has to be ready for submission.

One of the most important places to be organized is the nonprofit’s online presence. Many times, what a nonprofit has online is as important as what they provide the foundation.

Every nonprofit should have at least their own website and Facebook account. The website is where they do business. The Facebook account is where they interact socially with the public. When a foundation receives a request for funding, they are likely to go to the nonprofit’s website and Facebook to learn more about them.

Another important item of communication is the elevator speech. I pretend to explain what a nonprofit is about while riding an elevator five floors with a foundation president. The doors close, the person is a captive audience. The doors open and they are gone into the masses. Hopefully thinking about how great the nonprofit is and not about how I was pestering them.

The elevator speech is not a mission or vision statement. It is a summary of what the nonprofit does and why they exist. It should be placed on the website’s home page and as an introduction on all requests for funding. Something easy to remember (or at least the highlights).

Once a nonprofit’s story is known, writing a grant is just a matter of following the foundation’s guidelines and templates (not really, but the asking is easier).

What I learn from creative writing that I use for grant writing

Writing short stories has helped me a lot to write grants. Not the part about making stuff up, but how to think creatively and find places to send my stories (or grants).

Creative writing develops characters, introduces conflict, and presents a solution (mostly). A grant writer develops the story behind a community’s need and finds the resources to fund that need.

Yeah, this doesn’t really compare that well. Maybe with examples.

For example, writing short stories gave me the skills to write concise. I learned to write in the active voice and be conversational. I learned how to move a plot along quickly to a conclusion.

Grants require concise writing because of limited space. A writer has to tell everything in as few as words as possible. Like in short story writing, every word counts. Writing in active voice helps.

Active sentences use fewer words and explain things more directly. Also, using words from everyday conversation help define a need better than using broad, scholarly words.

Short story writing also helps in research. With each story, I try to match what I wrote with what a publisher would accept. I learn to follow the guidelines exactly when submitting. This is the same for submitting grants. The simplest thing is to follow guidelines, which is where most people mess up.

Finally, all writing requires editing skills. There are an over exaggeration of material to learn from, but the best is to simply re-read what was written. Over and over.

Ask questions about each separate thought as if someone is reading it to you and you have questions about each separate thought. Don’t be upset if you yell at yourself for writing some nonsense. It just needs to be rewritten.

In the picture, who represents grants and who is about creative writing?

How to find a grant

Most grants come from three places: U.S. Federal Government, State Governments, and Foundations. Everything else could be called donations.

I recommend that nonprofits stay away from Federal grants. Many times, the reporting and management exceeds the nonprofit’s resources. More importantly, Federal grants can mandate requirements on how the nonprofit should operate.

State grants are usually funded by Federal money. However, the State may not have the same reporting requirements as Federal, making them a good source.

The best way to find State grants is to talk with an elected official where the nonprofit is located. They usually know or have access to State grants. The State’s website may have information on grants, but it is usually easier to find the department that may have grants and call the contact.

Most nonprofits apply to foundations for grants. There are three types of foundations.

  • Corporate which is funded by a large company.
  • Public (or public charity) who receive money from different sources.
  • Private foundations which are generally funded and run by a few individuals or a family.

One of the best ways to find a corporate foundation is driving around the area. Pick a large company and do an internet search by typing in their name followed by “foundation.” Corporations are likely to fund a grant if they have a significant presence in the community. Talking to the manager of the store or business is a must.

Private foundations are difficult to find because they rarely have websites. The best way to find a private foundation is word-of-mouth or through newsletters of other organizations. Once I find a private foundation, I call them. They may tell me how to apply.

There are databases that list grants. Some are free, but most cost from $100 to $1,500 per year. Some libraries have accounts to these databases that a member can use. I used some of the lower cost databases and found more grant opportunities doing my own internet search.

 

We’ll Meet Again

I recently finished a Saturday morning, six week grant writing class at the local community college. The teacher had a good, outgoing personality and was informative, being a professional grant writer for several years.

Not the teacher’s fault, but I didn’t learn a lot since I’ve been writing grants for a while. It was a good class anyway, since I met other grant writers or grant writers-to-be. This is important.

Finding people who do what you do. People who might give some help when needed or who you could help. I certainly could always use help.

Even though the class ended and everyone went their separate ways, like the song “We’ll Meet Again”, you never know when you’ll meet again. “Don’t know where, don’t know when.”

Relationships

Every grant writer and staff from a nonprofit should take time to meet each other in person. This may sound like ancient advice since social media lets people keep their distance. But, people build a better relationship not by throwing electrons at each other across cyberspace.

A personal visit does two things:

  • Gives the grant writer an opportunity to tour the facility and meet the people working and supporting the organization. The grant writer can also get to know the community being served.
  • The nonprofit has a chance to understand what the grant writer can provide and if there could be a relationship. In the end, it is the grant writer who can go away and the nonprofit is left with the results.

Just like everywhere, there are good and bad people. The internet has shown that bad people can find good people and vice versa. Meeting in person can help both sides figure out who is who.

If a grant writer and nonprofit staff cannot meet, at least do video conferencing. And, do it once a week because a monitor is not quite the same as face-to-face (again ancient concept that worked well in the past).

I think that the most important thing about grant writing are the relationships. These should include not only grant writers and nonprofits, but the people providing the funding or other resource.

Many foundations want a conversation. They want a relationship with the nonprofit staff and a grant writer should help bring the two together. A foundation should not be seen as a source of money, but people who want to invest in the nonprofit’s mission.

Really, all of this grant writing is not about the papers and processes, but about people talking to each other. I’ve been working on getting people money for years and it all comes down to relationships and shared views.

Communicate, write, and submit. But, talk about it with all the people involved.