By Kelsey Boudin
President and Founder, Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC
Nonprofit organizations require grant funding. They need it to compensate staff, pay rent and mortgages, and initiate and sustain programs. They need it to exist and complete charitable missions, whatever they may be.
Some have a full-time grant writer on staff. Some with the deepest coffers may even have a team of grant writers and researchers. But the sad reality is the average nonprofit cannot afford a full-time staffer devoted to the immense workload needed to deliver reliable grant results.
What’s the best path to consistent grant wins? You’ve gotta be in it to win it. But it’s a long and arduous journey:
- Ongoing grant research
- Program development
- Organizational messaging and documentation
- Proposal writing and submission
- Follow-up reporting
Without a specific grant staffer (who may carry a hefty price tag with salary and benefits), most charitable organizations write grants by committee or rely on an overburdened chief executive to handle all fundraising endeavors.
Want to be in it to Win Grant Funding? Here’s What to Expect.
Ongoing Grant Research
The overarching goal of grant writing is to deliver a certain level of funding needed to build and execute programs and sustain the organization. You’re foolish if you think this can be done by securing one or a handful of grants. Unfortunately, the bandwidth of most nonprofit organizations often doesn’t permit pursuing multiple funding opportunities simultaneously.
As I tell my clients, organizations must compile and submit a “volume of proposals” necessary to operate and meet goals. This first requires research into funders who are a likely match with aligning priorities. Submitting one grant proposal and hoping for the best begs failure. Even the best, most well-prepared grants are denied because a funder couldn’t possibly accommodate each great proposal.
In a previous life as a full-time grant writer for a successful nonprofit, I often juggled two, three, four or even five grants simultaneously. We aimed to continually deliver a variety of strong proposals. I do the same for my clients today — constantly on the hunt, every day, for promising funding opportunities.
Your nonprofit may have a longstanding program that hasn’t changed in decades. Nonprofit hospice organizations, for instance, still deliver end-of-life medical services and support to patients and families. The specifics behind that mission, however, may evolve slightly to accommodate the ever-changing grant landscape.
Or you may have an idea for an entirely new program.
Your grant writing efforts must include program development. After all, you must build a narrative around programs to compel funders with similar missions. Your team, especially the grant writer, must be able to clearly express exactly what your organization intends to do.
Organizational Messaging and Documentation
An organization has to be, well, well-organized. Most, if not all, grant processes require various forms of proprietary messaging and organizational documentation.
Messaging may include:
- Monthly, quarterly and/or annual reports
- Press coverage
- Testimonials and program data
- Board communications
Organizational documents may include:
- 501(c)(3) determination
- IRS 990 and W9 forms
- EIN (tax ID) and DUNS numbers
- SAM.gov registration (and other state/federal grant registrations, if applicable)
- Annual budget
- Third-party financial audit
- Organizational chart
- Board roster
- Chief executive and key staff resumes and CVs
Your grant writer may be the steward of such information, if feasible. They should ensure each is updated regularly and compile all documents for ready access.
Proposal Writing and Submission
When your organization determines which grant(s) to pursue, the writing and submission process then begins. Your grant writer must research the potential funder’s submission stipulations. Most have specific questions and formats to be answered and followed. The entire proposal — from the executive summary to the project narrative through the budget justification and supplementary documentation — must be crafted to those exact specifications.
So much of grant writing is simply answering questions. Of course, it’s rarely that simple. Questions are typically multilayered, and you must answer each component sufficiently to earn full credit. Some funders first require a letter of intent. Some need only a cover letter and a brief project summary. Most funders accept grant submissions through an online portal or via email, which often include strict word/character counts. A dwindling number still requests written proposals be delivered via mail or in person.
Whatever they require, your grant writer should work to deliver exactly what they want — no more, no less.
Your grant writer’s job isn’t done after the grant is submitted. It’s not done even after funding is received. Most grantors require follow-up progress reporting — monthly, quarterly and/or annually, or at the project’s mid-point and/or conclusion. Reports may require only a general description of efforts to date supported by the grant. Some funders request extreme detail including:
- Progress toward deliverables
- Anticipated difficulties
- Funding spenddown and current/anticipated expenditures
- Traditional and digital media coverage
Of course, you don’t have to wait for reporting time to update the grantmaker on progress. Some enjoy being included in your nonprofit’s success and will welcome periodic updates and invites to initiatives supported by their charity.
Is Your Nonprofit in It to Win Grant Funding?
Compiling one grant submission, let alone many, can be a monumental task for any organization. If your nonprofit lacks the capacity to seek and secure all avenues for funding, there’s no shame in asking an experienced grant-writing consultant for help.