Has the perfect grant opportunity ever presented itself to you, but with the caveat that the deadline is next week and you just aren’t ready to apply in such a short time? Wondering how to even get started in grant writing?
In over two decades of grant writing, I’ve encountered this scenario all too often with my clients which is why I think it’s so important to spend a little time to make sure you are ready when the next (or first ever) great grant opportunity comes your way.
Here are seven steps you can take now to be 100% ready to apply for grant funding:
#1 Eligibility: First and foremost, is your organization eligible to apply for, and receive grant funding? This is a critical question that is often overlooked. For not-for-profit organizations, you will need proof of your nonprofit status. That means having your 501(c)3 IRS Determination Letter on hand to provide with your application. Most foundations can only issue grants to organizations that have this IRS designation.
There are over 1,000 government grant opportunities and over 87,000 grant making foundations in the U.S. All have different eligibility requirements, which you can discover during your grant research. For example, there are lots of grants for municipalities (towns, villages, counties), colleges and universities, K-12 school, Native American Tribes, and other entities.
#2 Project Identification: Sometimes it’s hard to select one project for which to pursue grant funding. You may already be applying for many grants to fund multiple programs and priorities. But to get started, I recommend focusing only on one or two programs or projects that need funding.
To help you do this:
- Review your budget and strategic/business plan to identify upcoming projects.
- Decide which programs need grant funding, for what, and how much?
- Are you creating a new program? Funding an existing program?
- Which programs are most critical to solving a major problem?
- Which ones are ready to start/expand/continue now?
#3 Your Team: Grant writing is NOT a solo sport. Be sure to gather your support team as early as possible and before you begin the grant seeking process. You may want to include your: Executive Director; Chief Financial Officer; Development Director; Marketing Staff; Program Staff (or someone who will be in charge of delivering the program for which you seek funding) and/or contractual grant professionals.
These are the people that can get you the data you need when it comes time to write the grant application and provide critical budget figures. They may not always write the grant, but they can offer valuable feedback before you submit it to the funder. Most importantly, your team can help you plan out all the program details from start to finish, making your job (or your contractor’s job) of writing the grant that much easier!
#4 Your Essential Documents: While each grant application is a little bit different, they tend to require similar documents, that you can gather before a grant deadline.
- IRS Letter of Determination (as proof of nonprofit status)
- Board of Directors List (names and their affiliations)
- IRS 990 Tax Return
- Audited Financial Statements or an Audit Review (if you have them)
- Operating Budget (for your current fiscal year)
- Year-end Financial Statement or Budget to Actuals (that compares your actual budget figures to your projected budget for that year)
You may also want to assemble the following as funders sometimes require them, or allow you to submit “optional” materials: Annual Report, Strategic Plan, Organization Chart, Letters of Support, Staff Resumes and/or Bios of Key Personnel, Memorandum of Understanding (if partnering with other organizations), and Vendor Quotes.
#5 Federal and State Grants: Government grants are typically more effort to write than foundation grants, but they can also yield far greater revenue. To apply for government grant opportunities, whether federal or state grants, you need to do a few critical registrations if you haven’t already. And remember, although it may not take YOU long to submit these registrations, you may have to wait days, weeks or months to get confirmation from the government agency. So…start these EARLY!
You will need a DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) number and SAM (System for Award Management) registration if you intend to apply for federal (U.S. government) grants. Registration for both is free and fairly easy. Check out our full 10-page guide, 7 Steps to Grant Success: How to be 100% Ready to Apply for Grants for step-by-step instructions at grants4good.com.
#6 The Perfect Funder: How do you choose which grant opportunities are the most likely to fund your organization and program(s)? One key factor is to be sure the funder’s mission or purpose aligns directly with your organization or program’s mission/purpose. Their mission could be as general as “improving the quality of life for seniors” or as specific as “high school track scholarships for kids living in poverty”. Either way, do your research (or work with a grant professional) so you don’t waste time applying to funders who aren’t likely to award you with grants.
For government grant opportunities, the best and most legitimate listing of opportunities is grants.gov. Foundation and corporate grants are a bit trickier, but there are lots of databases out there to choose from to begin your search. Some are free, some are not.
And always contact the funder AFTER you have researched them, even if just to introduce your organization and let them know of your intention to apply for a grant.
#7 Project Planning: Let’s say you have identified 5 or 10 perfect funders to apply to AND you have identified your perfect program…are you ready to begin developing the grant proposal? Not quite yet…
Writing a grant proposal is so much easier if you have done all the planning work in advance. Consider answering the following questions (with your team, of course):
- Is this a new or existing program? Either one is fine.
- Who will benefit from your program or effort? In other words, who is your specific target audience? (e.g. veterans living in low-income rural communities, Native American youth with high rates of school drop-out, etc…).
- What ultimately changes for your target audience once you have all the funding you need? Or, how are their lives better because of your work? HINT: This is the start of developing your program OUTCOMES…the very thing that funders want to fund!
Now, you can begin to work on your grant proposal and program budget.
I hope this overview of the 7 Steps to Being 100% Ready for Grant Success has provided you with some ideas, structure and enthusiasm for getting the funding you need.