grant writing

Getting Emergency Grant Money

Grant money is slow to get. There’s the application period, evaluation phase by the foundation, approval (hopefully), and then a period of time before the nonprofit gets the check. What if a nonprofit needs money now?

The “now” can be some catastrophic event like a hurricane, wildfires, or a virus that affects a lot of people. When this happens, foundations send checks out of cycle and without the need for much paperwork. Yet, there are “now” events that affect only one nonprofit.

This is why relationships are important. But, don’t run to a foundation asking for help when something happens. Evaluate the emergency situation, gather facts and data, reasons for the emergency, and plans for a solution. It is very important to lay out all this information before meeting with the foundation’s board members.

A grant writer should write up a complete explanation with a way-ahead. Most people understand that emergencies occur; however, they are not willing to give money that may not solve the problem. The key is assuring confidence the emergency is under control.

The emergency may not be in total control by the nonprofit staff and leadership. Yet, it should be enough that there is a reasonable chance of success. Foundations (like most people) enjoy honesty.

I wrote this blog because of a recent similar experience. A nonprofit I worked with was renovating an historic building. Of course, old buildings do not like to be renovated. When they are opened, they reveal surprises.

I convinced the nonprofit staff to step back and evaluate the situation. The building was still standing (yeah!). The immediate goal was to keep it that way. We are in the process of collecting photographs, getting help from a local architect, and presenting our findings to a local foundation. A work in progress, but things look hopeful.

Getting Beyond the Current Issue

Here comes the obvious: the coronavirus has impacted getting grants.

The rejections I and others receive usually explain how funding was redirected toward coronavirus issues. Or there are more requests because more nonprofits have lost donations and are applying. I think another big reason is the downturn in the economy and drop in investments. Foundations are understandably cautious about spending money. I would be.

Yet, this blog is about looking ahead in a positive way.

I’ve already written about how to work toward a post-virus future. This blog is about dealing with the frustration that nonprofit leadership and staff may express as grant requests are rejected and donations drop. It’s easy to say “Keep Calm and Carry On”, but it’s not easy to deal with lost income and rejection.

I can only offer communication as an option. In a crisis, people should talk. This includes those working for the nonprofit, volunteers, and grant writers. Discuss funding issues more often. Encourage each other to find new resource opportunities. Contact other nonprofits with a similar mission, even those in another state. Share information instead of competing for resources.

It is important not to let the rejections and frustrations take over. Not only for the nonprofit’s leadership and staff, but the volunteers and grant writers as well. Support each other. Maybe even invite some foundation members to join in a conversation of how to get beyond the current issue.

As Studs Terkel said, “Hope dies last.”

Grants: Just the Right Words Without Stressing Out

All grants limit the number of words in an application. Therefore, each word must count for something. The decision for a grant writer: what to put in and what to leave out.

When I write a grant, I answer the questions supported with data. I try to use words and phrases the foundation expects to be in the grant request. In the end, I want the reader to come away with a clear understanding of the project and that the nonprofit can successfully complete it. All this without leaving the reader with more unanswered questions.

This is certainly not easy to do and I attempt it with a lot of trying.

Based on the grant application, I use several writing techniques. One of them is like baking a cake. I write an outline (get out the recipe), fill in the data (bake the cake), and put in additional information (icing and sprinkles).

Another technique is to take keywords from the grant application and foundation website, use them as headers, and write a paragraph or two on each keyword. I put the paragraphs together like a puzzle into the correct section of the grant application.

Still another way is to take the grant question, strip out the key words, and focus the write-up on these words only. Afterwards, I put in the words the foundation wants to see. In the end, I make sure I did not duplicate any information or data.

Most important, a grant writer should not feel pressured to put in something about the nonprofit that does not relate to the grant request. Nothing should be forced.

Even after writing many grants, it is still difficult to get the words right in the limited space allowed. I keep trying.

The Changing Criteria for Grant Applications

I have been researching grant applications and found that many foundations are funding only COVID-19 issues. However, I did find some foundations who are not only continuing their regular grant process, but have broadened their acceptance criteria to allow for more applications not related to COVID-19.

As an example, I recently wrote a grant request for a nonprofit who did not qualify a few months ago. The foundation changed the criteria by dropping some of their restrictions. Also, they extended their deadline allowing more time to apply.

With donations down, it is important for nonprofits to find other revenue streams. I always keep an eye out for those foundations that have similarities to a nonprofit’s mission, but do not generally meet the selection criteria. There’s always a chance that these close-but-not-close-enough foundations will change. And many do make changes during upheavals in the economy or other events (like now).

If the foundation’s website does not show any updates, call them. There are some who have changed things around without updating their website. (See previous blog posts about maintaining relationships.)

I usually spend just a few minutes a day researching grants. That way I feel it is less like a job, which is important since I’m supposed to be enjoying this.

Opinion piece: I saw many nonprofits had to close because the government did not consider them essential. Even though the nonprofits were addressing critical social needs in the community leaving people to suffer. What is essential and what is not has not been clearly thought out.