Grant Writing 101

By Aslı Salihoğlu

How do you effectively market your ideas to potential donors? What is the best approach to communicating your organization’s goals and accomplishments? In this workshop, Erin Ash, the Manager for Corporate and Foundation Relations at Mercy Home, a Chicago-based nonprofit operating since 1887, provided the delegates with valuable skills to trek the path of grant writing.

 

Ash provided a rough outline for grant proposals:

  1. Organization mission & history

  2. Proof of non-profit status

  3. Target population specifics and statistics

  4. Summary of current programming

  5. More detailed insight into the specific project you’re asking the grant for

  6. Goals and outcomes

  7. Specific project budget and other attachments

Throughout the workshop, she emphasized the following actionable items and tips regarding grant writing:

  • Strategize.

Make sure to build a financial strategy before applying to any grant. What is your annual fundraising plan? How much is your organizational operating costs? After determining what and exactly how much you need, devise tactics to acquire what you need, for example,  improvements in your marketing.

  • Research.

Do research on the types of grants that are not only available but also fit the mission of your organization. Find the annual reports of similar organizations to yours and see which funds and grants they’ve worked with. Other good places to start for U.S. based organizations are the following resources: Forefront Chicago, Foundation Center Online, Guidestar, Grants.govFurthermore, background research into the statistical specifics of your target population will help you illustrate that your organization supplies a service in demand.

  • Find your fit.

Not all grants can address the financial needs of your organization. The following three main types of funders have varying characteristics:

  • Foundations – least stringent on guidelines and reporting

  • Corporations – stringent on guidelines, provide good press

  • Government – most stringent on guidelines, quarterly reporting

Review the timeline by which you need the grant. Targeting your efforts to the grants and funds that prove to be a good fit for your organization/project (logistically, timeline wise etc.) will streamline fundraising.

  • Involve key stakeholders.

Use the connections you already have to inquire about and network with potential funders. Key stakeholders such as your staff and board members need to buy-in to your vision, mission and programming plan. They will be your “brand ambassadors” so to speak.

  • Follow guidelines.

How many pages? What margins? Is there a specific font? Your application may not even be read if you don’t format your document as indicated.

  • Align your mission.

Having found the grants and funds that are a good fit for your project, it’s now time to demonstrate how you are a good fit for them. Connect with program officers at foundations, listen to their needs and tie your proposal to these expressed needs. Involve your board/executive director/program leadership in the process of relationship building.

  • Find your numbers.

Providing concrete numbers (the number of people you serve, the hours worked etc.) for previous accomplishments will help build confidence in your ability to undertake future projects. Use averages if these numbers vary.

  • Be consistent.

Double-check that the data on the grant proposal (dates, names, your “numbers”) matches the info provided on other platforms of the organization. For example, if your social media (Twitter, website etc.) reports a lower number for total clients served annually than what’s stated on the proposal, the discrepancy can be disqualifying factor.

  • Present outcomes.

Determining specific and attainable goals for your project, often presented in a quantifiable format, gives grant-givers a clear sense of what their funding is going towards. If you receive a grant, reports that keep track of the work the fund is going towards often follow a format roughly organized by intended and realized outcomes.

  • Follow through.

It can take from one month to six months for grant-givers to get back to you. If your proposal is declined, follow up to learn the reason. Thank the foundation/corporation for having been considered, and ask what you can do differently next time. If you are awarded funding, adhere closely to deadlines set for reporting requirements.