Sunday, May 04, 2008

We Need Money For Our 501(c)(3) etc. Organization - What Is The Grant Seeking Process?

These are tough times and your nonprofit probably needs as much financial support as it can raise. So, now, you're considering applying for grants. Read on!

Perhaps, though, your organization has never gone after grants. So to diversify how many methods and which methods your organization uses to raise funds, your organization is committing to raising grants. Very smart. Maybe you're all ready to get to work, but you don't know what the process is.
The grant seeking process is:
1. Commit to the process. Raising grants successfully requires a commitment to the process.
2. Gather: your organization's incorporation documentation (e.g. IRS Letter of Determination), your organization and program's budget, draft on paper a thorough and honest description of the program/project/item that you need a grant for, a history of your organization, etc.
3. Plan. Give yourself and your organization enough time to be successful at raising grants. Grant donors usually take a quarter (three months) on average to determine who they will donate grants to (this varies foundation to foundation - it can be shorter or longer). Plan out the project timeline, who will do what, how all of the money will be raised, budget for the project, etc. Give yourself enough time to find potential grant donors who may really give to your organization - don't waste your organization's time and resources on sending requests to foundations who do not give to your cause, or do not give to organizations serving the geographic location that yours' does, or does not fund the kind of program/project/item that you need money for. Give yourself enough time to write a thorough, professional, and strong grant proposal. Do not assume that just writing anything will get your organization a grant. Grant writing is a skill.
Some grant donors give emergency grants (meaning they will grant right away in an emergent situation) BUT the situation must truly be an emergency that was previously unforeseeable by your organization. Do not count on raising an emergency grant. Attempt to raise one if you are truly experiencing an emergency, but don't expect that will be all you'll need to do. Plan.
4. Learn. Learn what the grant seeking process is, how to do it so that you'll be successful, learn about writing a grant proposal and its components (e.g. program budget), and invest in the process. If you learn grant writing now you'll know it for your current needs, and your organization's future needs. Read the posts on this blog tagged "How To". It's free! If you do not have time to do the grant writing, hire a professional, experienced, and successful grant writer. This is an investment in your organization's future, success, ability to deliver its mission's goal, and in your organization's ability to ramp up. A final thought on educating yourself about grant writing; if you do hire a grant writer, you still need to learn about the process to be sure you've hired someone who truly is good at what they do, but also so that you're able to proceed without your grant writer having to completely educate you through the process. They've been hired to do the grant writing, not provide you with courses on grant writing!
5. Prospect, or research which grant donors will give to your organization. Look for foundations who are interested in the cause you serve, who give towards the kind of project/program/item that you're seeking grants for, and who fund organizations serving the location that your organization serves. Research foundations on The Foundation Center's website, or Each are comprehensive listings of grant donors from all over the U.S. and each are also very up to date. Read each site's directions on how to research foundations - they are each free. The Foundation Center charges to search their foundation database (Guidestar does not). Guidestar provides various donors' IRS form 990 which greatly helps nonprofits locate foundations who will likely give to them. The Foundation Center provides its Foundation Collection (foundation database) for free at various public libraries around the nation. To find out if one of these Cooperating Collections is in a library near you look at:
6. Write. Grant writing is not the worst thing to learn, especially being affiliated with a nonprofit! Learn about it before you sit down to do it. The Foundation Center also has great free educational modules teaching how to write grant proposals on their site (look under Education and Tools). To the right, on this web page, I have hand selected the best books in the professional nonprofit sector and placed them in my Amazon web store.  I highly recommend any of those books.  They are standards in the field.  Read The Foundation Center's Guide to Proposal Writing. It's excellent. After you've written, edit, re-write a second draft, get others to proof read it and make suggestions, and hone the proposal into a winning document.
7. Submit the proposals (or letters of inquiry (LOI)) according to each foundation's giving guidelines that you are going to send an application to. Tailor a proposal for each foundation. Provide each foundation with what they request in their guidelines, and do not send what they state they do not want to receive.
8. Be patient. I know - you need the money. This is a process and you've done everything that you can do. Let the process follow through. Be confident. Your organization does important work for your community. If you don't get the first grant you apply for, keep at it. Commit to the process. Every nonprofit gets turned down. Keep at it.
9. Don't stop applying for grants after this need is satisfied. Continue the process. It's a great viable fundraising method.

I read this week in The Chronicle of Philanthropy that foundations understand the current economic difficulties impacting nonprofits so well that they are taking on the burden of the lesser valued dollar, the cost of overhead such as gas, and the impact on the work of nonprofits' mission statements. One third of American foundations are giving more right now. The Chronicle further reports that 37% more plan to increase their giving next year, according to a study conducted by the Council on Foundations.

Also in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, this week, William O'Keefe, Senior Director of Advocacy of Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore is quoted as encouraging nonprofits to do three things, in particular, during this slowing economy:
1. "Stay focused on major donors, since they are less likely to be affected by economic woes."
2. "Include messages in appeals that demonstrate a sensitivity to the state of the economy."
3. "Seek support from a diverse array of sources."
These are tough times, but the resources are bolstering themselves to assist nonprofits. Your nonprofit can't afford to leave the potential to get their assistance, on the table.


Aunt Cindy's said...

Your article was very informative and I just received my 501c3 and I am in the process of raising money for women and men fresh out of prison to give them a second chance at life so for all your information I (Aunt Cindy) would like to thank you!!

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Aunt Cindy,
I'm so glad: that's why I write this blog. It sounds like your organization is on its way to doing important work for the community.

Thank you for your kind words. Good luck in your endeavor.

Best, Arlene

B said...

I have been mulling over my plans to begin a non-profit that will help families in the process of adoption.

Our ultimate goal will be to provide full funding for at least one family per year. (This is a lofty goal as the process can expend upwards of $50K).

Your blog is the first literature I have found that gives such a comprehensive, and realistic, idea of how to go about the grant process.

Thanks so much.

Arlene M. Spencer said...

B, You are welcome and best of luck in your new venture. Arlene

LadyT said...

I thank you so much for writing such an informative article detailing the process of grant writing. I just acquired EINs for my 2 nonprofits and I'm about to complete my IRS Forms 940 and 941 for both organizations. I'm also working on my applications for tax exempt status. Hopefully, everything will proceed smoothly. I have a question though. Can you actually acquire grants while your tax-exempt status is pending? I'm anxious to get started but I'm wondering if I should just hold off until the letter of determination arrives or if I can go ahead and submit grant proposals and copies of my application to prospective grantors as part of my packet, just to let them know that the determination is in the works?

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Lady T, You are welcome and thank you for reading and commenting. The following three posts will provide an answer to your question about start up nonprofits fundraising, & some options how to do so. Read...

Seeking Grants for New Programs or Start-Up Non Profits

Start Up Nonprofit? Need Seed Money? Starting Fundraising? Here's help...Part 1 of 2


Start Up Nonprofit? Need Seed Money? Starting Fundraising? Here's help... Part 2 of 2

Be sure, too, to look over the 'index' listing the topics of all of our posts, by reviewing the "Labels" list on the lower right hand side of each web page of our blog.

Good luck! Arlene