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.
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.”
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.
Before looking for grants, I find out exactly what a nonprofit will need to meet their mission goals.
Almost everyone thinks this means money. But, many times a nonprofit will need something else like volunteers. Or, they might need an in-kind donation like equipment or a used vehicle. Maybe, the people at a nonprofit just need someone to talk to.
I try to always be available and listen to staff members talk about future goals for the organization or how they deal with problems. I try not to tell them what they should do but help them figure it out as best as I could. As a volunteer, it doesn’t cost them anything and I don’t mind.
It’s good that there are other people better than me who can find in-kind resources. It helps when the nonprofit staff have a relationship with local businesses and vendors. Nonprofits should work on these relationships in case they need something one day that they don’t have the money to buy.
My ability to find volunteers is not that good, either. Unless I volunteer my wife. Nonprofit staff should develop a relationship with their local community. Get on neighborhood email lists, speak before church groups, or simply go outside and yell for help.
Successful nonprofits communicate regularly with local communities, churches, businesses, social clubs, other nonprofits, and individuals. They build partnerships and share resources as much as possible. They look for other means to solve problems and promote the mission.
Nonprofits and grant writers should not always look for money. There are other ways to get help and usually people are there to help.
Quote: Hope dies last (Studs Terkel)
I have had a busy two weeks writing grants for several nonprofits. I volunteer my time since these nonprofits do not have the money to hire a grant writer (if they can find one in this rural area).
I learned grant writing by working way too many decades for the U.S. Defense Department (DoD) writing budget issue papers. The papers were part of a budget process where everyone tried to steal each other’s money. Designed to submit a budget to Congress each year, the budget process was like the grant writing process. Except, stealing each other’s money was a DoD twist.
Writing a grant is like writing an issue paper. It’s about identifying a need, finding a resource with the money, and justifying the program in a way that builds confidence the money will be spent judiciously. Like in DoD, when a program got funding, someone else received less or nothing.
In DoD, few people cared (it was cut throat process). But, the need is more real in the nonprofit world. When asking for money, a grant writer should care about the program because someone will get less or none. Yes, like in DoD some grant writers don’t care as long as they win. However, grant writing should be a more than winning.
There should be passion for the program when writing a grant proposal. I think this was part of my success in the Defense Department. If I believed in the program, I almost always found funding for it.