9 tips for writing successful nonprofit grants

Whether you’re just off the blocks with your fundraising plan or plotting next year’s move, at some point you’ll come up against the question, “Should grants be part of our plan?”

The short answer: Yes, but with a caveat and some consideration. Here’s why it’s at least worth starting the conversation:

  • $60 Million: The amount foundations (independent, community and operating foundation grant makers) gave in 2016, according to Giving USA. This represents 15 percent of all donations in the year, putting grants ahead of bequest and corporate giving.
  • 154,000: The number of grants a group of the nation’s largest foundations gave in 2014, totaling $22.4 billion, the Foundation Center The median grant was $30,000.

Sounds promising doesn’t it? Before you start filling out any RFP, however, know that some real strings come attached with grant awards. Foundations and other grant-making institutions, rightfully so, will expect to see “appreciation” of their investment in terms of data, periodic updates and even site visits.

After all, they’re not an open bank of unaccountability; they should be seen as a partnership of responsibility where foundations expect real, demonstrable outcomes backed by data as well as anecdotal “feel-good” reports.

To write or not to write? 4 Questions to ask yourself

1. Are you counting on this to be your sole source of income?  The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits advises that no more than 30 percent of your total funding come from one source (e.g., a large grant). Others recommend grant money should comprise about 20 percent of total funding, so that if a key grant falls through your organization’s future isn’t at risk.

2. Are you willing to make the investment? Writing grants is a time-consuming process, from researching foundations to writing the RFP and managing the process; you’ll invest significant time, resources, money and effort and could possibly come up empty-handed, at least the first few times around.

3. Are you prepared to be rejected? Set expectations among your team, with your boss and with the board. Even if you don’t win the first time, you’ve started developing a relationship for future funding possibilities, which is a win in itself. Persevere.

4. Are you matching your nonprofit’s need to the grant? Refrain from going after grant money simply because it’s available, especially locally. Stay on point with your mission’s needs and tailor the grant search according to most urgent programming needs.

5 Guidelines for Success

1. Submit only if you meet all the qualifications. Look past the foundation’s online mission and funding areas; delve into their Form 990s and giving histories to extract trends and priorities.

2. Do exactly as they say in the proposal. If they ask for Times New Roman, 12 pt., for type, use it. Don’t include cute children’s drawings if they ask for quantifiable evaluation tactics, as it won’t further your case when going up against hundreds of other proposals.

3. Hire a writer (or get training). Don’t let errors automatically disqualify your proposal.

4. Update, update, update! Shore up your website, relevant collateral and social media; it’s one of the first places foundations will look for more about your organization. Last event posted in 2015? Might signal trouble.

5. Get the board involved. Regularly update board members about grant proposal status; more important, ask if they have connections at the foundations from which you seek funding.

A final note: It pays to make the call.

If your grant application is declined, find out why with a phone call to the grantor’s (or foundation’s) point of contact. Some offer to discuss why the request was declined. Take them up on it, if only to start or strengthen the relationship—and pave the way for the next submission.

Do you use grants as part of your fundraising plan? What made you successful? As grant-writing is part art, part hair-splitting attention to detail, we’d love to hear any insight or success stories you have.




Leave a Reply