grant writing

Be Positive

When writing grants, be positive.

So many grant requests start off talking about how bad things are and all the things that need to be done for the nonprofit to succeed. Don’t do that.

Being positive is not difficult. A grant request should outline how things will be improved with the foundation’s money. A grant writer should discuss the past only as background and not about all the things that went wrong. From the background, lead quickly into what will be accomplished with the foundation’s funds, the progress to be made, and (more importantly) the people who will be helped.

I once had a nonprofit focus their efforts on closing down if they did not get more funding. Many times, negativity like this creeps into a grant request without the writer realizing it. This nonprofit needed to put that negative energy into what they would do with the grant money they received. They should plan for success for many years.

Yes, the worse could happen but there are many more good things that could happen instead. Foundations want to support nonprofits who are optimistic, hopeful, and confident. People want to give to positive people.

Before writing the grant request, decide it will be successful. There will be rejection and failure, but don’t make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let negativity come from the foundation for missing an opportunity to help people. Do not make it easy for them to send a rejection.

A Nonprofit’s Turnover Rate

A turnover of staff (employees leave and are replaced) greater than forty percent over a six month period is not good for any organization and can be critical to nonprofits. This should be a warning sign to grant writers that it may be difficult working with the nonprofit.

A high turnover can mean a continuous change in mission direction, different goals, redirected priorities, and always new people to work with. Sometimes nonprofits need this change and it is understandable that staff leave as a result. It is important that the grant writer know why so many people leave.

Besides a planned overhaul of the nonprofit, the most common reasons staff leave can be underpay, no upward mobility, and excessive workloads. However, I think people who work for a nonprofit do so because they believe in the mission. They want to stay despite the low pay or even working conditions and it takes a lot of negativity to discourage them to leave.

While negativity can come from other employees, I find that staff leave more because board members overstep their authority and/or the executive director’s lack of leadership.

A grant writer may try to change this situation. However, if they decide to get involved, they are not writing grants and have assumed a different role in the nonprofit. Eventually, the leadership leaves and/or the nonprofit fails. That is when the grant writer is most needed.

How to Build a Relationship

Building business relationships between nonprofits and foundations are different (and should be) from personal relationships.

The strongest business relationships are built by sharing an experience or event in a joint venture. As an example, in a local catastrophe the nonprofit and foundation can work together in recovery efforts. Later, they should have developed an understanding of how each other operates or not. Even with partial success in the joint venture, a strong relationship can develop.

Another example is a long time commitment with each other. Trust is built over the years because the nonprofit is able to spend the foundation’s money efficiently and effectively while meeting all the reporting requirements. The foundation knows they can rely on the nonprofit to manage projects and money accurately.

Other relationships are built by shared interests between the primary board members of both organizations. This interest is usually outside the mission areas of the nonprofit and foundation and could include shared work activities, similar hobbies, or family relatives.

These are positive ways to build relationships. There are also negative ways such as accumulating political capital. Politics is everywhere and not just in governments. I won’t go into specifics because I don’t recommend this, but a person builds political capital through “owing favors.”

Having a positive relationship is important for many reasons. One of the primary advantages is:

      • A nonprofit has a support system when they need help in a crisis (usually financial)
      • The foundation has a viable source they can contact when they want to help people in the community

The most important ingredient of all these examples is communication. Whether sharing an experience, knowing each other for years, or have like interests, relationships are built on conversation.

Out-of-cycle grants

A secret of many foundations is they sometimes issue grants outside their normal grant cycle. These out-of-cycle grants are usually by invite only based on the relationships between board members of the foundation and the nonprofit.

I’ve written before about building relationships and nowhere are they more important than these types of grants.

Out-of-cycle grants generally have no restrictions or deadlines. They are open grants based on the foundation wanting to help the nonprofit. This help could be the result of the nonprofit’s success in local catastrophes, continued support to the community, or an opportunity for the foundation to make an impact that reflects back on itself.

Nonprofits should submit to a foundation’s grant submission process. However, the nonprofit’s board and executive director should also pursue out-of-cycle grants by building relationships with the foundation board members.

If someone wants more information on out-of-cycle grants, add a comment with your contact information.