I’ve worked for so many nonprofits, and it’s amazing how little funding some have, while others are throwing parties to use up extra money. Something I’ve noticed is it is generally communities and nonprofits who have more privilege who have the education and the knowledge to apply for grants. In the honor of upturning the hierarchy, I want to share with you all the information I gleaned from my grant writing class I took this semester and encourage anyone and everyone to apply for grants. Money to do good things should not go to predominately privileged communities.
Grant writing is about building relationships to help support a cause. There are grants for writers, businesses, nonprofits and more. The grant writer’s challenge is to find funders who also share your values and passions. So how do you find grants?
Researching a Funder
Start by using the internet to look up funders of grants, and also utilize local grant libraries if you have any near you. Use an (RIS) form to keep track of your information about individual funders. A funder’s giving history tells which organizations similar to yours they have supported in the past. Also, knowing the funder’s language and keywords will tell you if you are a good potential match. You will use these keywords in your proposal later.
After thoroughly researching a grant and you still think a good fit, start by giving an introductory phone call to the funder’s program officer and ask them about questions you have as far as next steps go. You can also briefly introduce your organization, but don’t go into detail. You’ll want to thank the funder for their time, and make sure you have your proposed program and budget on hand in case the funder asks your any questions.
If you don’t call, but just apply for a grant, this is called a “blind proposal,” and is not recommended. Throughout the course of the grant writing process, you want to get to know the program officer well and hopefully even invite them to a site visit at your nonprofit. At a site visit, be sure to showcase your nonprofit’s administrative and fiscal capability. Sometimes your executive director might want to take on that role of calling and coordinating visits with the program officer.
Many funders want to make sure that you are getting grant money from other funders so that they know they are not taking sole responsibility for your project. Also, you might collaborate with another nonprofit in a proposal, and create a “letter of commitment” to show a funder. You might be balancing many grant proposals at once, so its important to come up with a development plan to keep organized.
Approach conversations with the funder in the spirit of partnership, and try to overcome fear of rejection. If you do get a grant, don’t forget to send the funder a formal thank you. Grant writing has a high rate of rejection though, especially for newer nonprofits. So how do you get better at grant writing for your organization?
If your grant proposal was declined by the funder, this is an excellent opportunity to call them and ask them for feedback to learn how do better next time. In addition, you want to continue to network with funders in the community and develop relationships. Your organization’s goals communicate action, and you want your actions to reflect your values as an agency when writing grants. Once your have decided to submit a proposal to a funder, you need to follow their directions very carefully. Some funders request a letter of inquiry first, and others go straight to asking for a letter of request. After initial review and assessment of submitted proposal the program officer will let you know if the funder needs more information.
Letter of Inquiry
A good letter of inquiry will be 2–3 pages long and will introduce the organization and the proposed program in a compelling way. It will include:
- Intro paragraph with suggested request and a short description of the proposed program.
- Organization’s history, mission statement, and goals.
- Details about the proposed program:
- Need statement (this is the problem you’re working to solve. make sure to remember the problem is not an object)
- Proposed program- brief overview (one to two paragraphs)
- Measurable objectives (sometimes called “Expected Results” or “Outcomes”) these should be realistic
- Evaluation plan
- Plans for future funding
- Your conclusion should extend an invitation to the funder for a site visit (if you haven’t already done one) and gives telephone and e-mail contact info.
Letter of Request
A good letter of request will be 5–10 pages and will repeat the goals, measurable objectives and needs statement that you expressed in your letter of inquiry. You can also include information about other funders who are supporting your project, and any other organizations you’re collaborating with. Below lists what is included in a letter of request, with additional things that are not in a letter of inquiry in bold.
- Intro paragraph including suggested request and brief description of proposed program.
- Your organization’s history, mission statement, goals, and major accomplishments
- Details about the proposed program:
- Need statement
- Overview of proposed program paragraphs
- Measurable objectives
- Evaluation plan
- Key staff and leadership bios (include your key proposed program staff)
- Project budget
- Future funding (A Continuing Support grant can be renewed on an annual basis)
- Your conclusion can again extend invitation to the funder for a site visit (if you haven’t already done one) and gives telephone and e-mail contact information.
Does this sound like a lot? You don’t have to start from scratch with each grant you write, but should instead create a master proposal that you can adjust for each funder’s specific requirements in submitting grants. Grant writing can be tedious at times, but a well ordered grant proposal will show you take this opportunity seriously and increase your chances of receiving the funding.
View sample grant proposals here.
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