Sunday, February 08, 2009

Do Not Chase Grants, Instead - Raise Them Again and Again

When you hear about a grant that's currently available, do you knee-jerk react by imagining how you could tweak your organization's message, or provide a program, so that your organization could win that grant? Are you constantly trying to form or contort your agency into whatever the grant donors seem to want?

Let's say that right now a grant is available to child welfare nonprofits that are feeding low income hungry kids. Hypothetically, let's say that you and I work for a child welfare nonprofit that clothes low income children. Let's say, too, that the grant is $50,000 and it would do a lot of good for us. What if I turned to you, and with a twinkle in my eye asked, "Is there a way that we could give each child who we feed, a coat, this month?" How would you respond?

It probably depends. If, to further our fictitious situation, the mission of the organization that we work for is " connect caretakers of low income primary and secondary school aged children with safe, healthy, and effective ways to feed their children", then this is a very clear and specific mission statement. Most nonprofits' bylaws clearly state (in some manner) that all decisions (and these are typically ratified if not also made by the board) must be made in the best interest of whomever or whatever is being served by the organization, and in the best interest of the organization's growth and success. Let's say, hypothetically, that our nonprofit's bylaws state this.

Then, after I said what I did to you (in the second paragraph, here), you would turn to me and say, "Arlene, that doesn't make sense. We need to be going after grants whose donors match three of our nonprofit's specific traits. We need to find grant donors that are clearly interested in child welfare, that also fund organizations serving the people in the geographic region that we do (let's say St. Paul, Minnesota), and that are, third, also concerned with feeding low income children,"

You would be 100% correct.

In this kind of economy (but truly, in any economy) there is no nonprofit that can afford to conduct it's work willy nilly. No one means to do work like this, of course. If, though, a well meaning but unaware executive director at a great nonprofit hears of a grant that is available to nonprofits that do work that could be 'construed' as similar to their organization's but not for exactly what they do - it may very likely be a waste of time and money (resources) to apply for that grant. Meaning well, is fine; but meaning well while working smart is effective, efficient, and working smart lends to success. Instead, the executive director could learn how to prospect for grants. Prospecting is a specific step in grant seeking/raising work and it's some of the most important work. If a nonprofit does not locate grant opportunities that they may really and truly get funded, and instead spends its resources on applying for anything and everything - it WILL have wasted time, talent, and money and also, it won't have raised much, if any, grants.

Perhaps you are needing to locate some grants that your organization is more likely to receive, than not? I understand. It is really important to take the time to learn how to prospect well. You can have whomever is going to do the grant writing for your agency, learn it. You could learn it even if that person isn't you. You could also hire a grant writer or consulting firm to do your prospecting. Taking the time, though, to prospect right (however it may be done) by people who know how to do prospect and locate what I call 'grant donors who are more likely to give to YOUR organization, than not' - then you're spending time, money, talent, and your organization's name and reputation well. You're also MUCH more likely to actually get a grant.


You know that there are all kinds of nonprofits. Some work on causes, some work on issues, others conduct research, and still others focus on diseases, and we could go on and on. All nonprofits serve people or things. These people and things live and exist somewhere. All nonprofits also provide specific programs or services. For instance, some nonprofits provide assistance, others provide education, and still others offer shelter, etc. The way to start any grant seeking and head towards success is: to be clear about what your nonprofit truly and ultimately works towards, to know clearly who or what it serves (who benefits, or what is the benefactor of the organization's work), and to know clearly what services, products, or programs does it provide to succeed at its mission.

The reason that prospecting can be so powerful in raising grants is that all donors give grants because of a specific cause or issue that they are passionate about. Often they are concerned for a community or population that they value (for whatever reason: maybe they grew up there, or they loved Hawaiian bottle nosed dolphins from childhood, etc.). And, many times grant donors are educated about the issue or problem they're passionate about enough to know which programs, services, or products that they perhaps believe work best to serve the cause; or maybe the service method has been more successfully, historically, than other methods; or they just like education and feel that is the way to solve the issue a nonprofit is focused on. Donors give grants (or donate anything that they do) because they care about population or place, are passionate about a cause or issue, and they connect with the solution by donating, or granting. They may be right or wrong - but it's what they believe.

What is critical is that a nonprofit know its work and who it serves. That nonprofit must also be confident in its successes, capabilities, and future. It must also be an expert in its cause or issue. If a nonprofit knows itself, believes in its abilities, and looks for donors interested in funding them - they are on the 'right' path to succeed at raising grants. This organization should be yours' and mine.

It is really important that a nonprofit's executive director, its board (and in our hypothetical, that I) understand that there are millions of donors and tens if not hundreds of thousands of foundations in the United States. Each and all nonprofits' leaders, in order to raise funds (including grants) successfully, must come to understand sooner than later that for every cause, for every type of service or program, and for every community being served (geographic location) THERE IS A DONOR WHO WANTS TO CONNECT WITH YOUR ORGANIZATION BY GIVING TO IT. There is. There really and truly is. And I bet...or, it's more often the case than not, that there are more than a few grant donors (foundations, governments, corporations, etc.) who want to grant to an organization doing exactly what your very nonprofit is doing. Really. In other words, I don't know you and I don't know what organization you work for but I'm pretty confident that right now there is someone who wants to and can give a grant to your nonprofit.

The trick is to find those grant donors who are most likely to give to your specific nonprofit by finding the grant donor(s) who are interested in nonprofits doing the work that your nonprofit is doing (mission statement), serving the very benefactor that your organization is working on behalf (population or thing served), and who wants to fund nonprofits serving the people or things located exactly where your benefactor lives or exists (e.g. Oregon, New Hampshire, Iowa, etc.).

Locating grant donors interested in nonprofits meeting all three of these specific attributes of your nonprofit ups the chances that your organization will actually get the grants that it applies for, today, and tomorrow.

To learn how to do prospecting work read the following posts:

How Do I Prepare To Find Foundations Who Will Fund Us?

The Grant Writer's Little Helper: IRS Tax Form 990 Post 1 of 2

The Grant Writer's Little Helper: IRS Tax Form 990 Post 2 of 2

Top Ten Ways To Find A Grant Donor Who Will Give To Your Nonprofit

These four posts will get you on your way and to read and learn from them is free. What do you have to lose? The nonprofit that you work for, and the work that it does, can only gain.


Flyinlion said...

Hi, I find your blog very instructive and to the point! My question is have you ever heard of a public access cable TV show applying for a grant in order to create a budget? Or am I barking up the wrong tree? Thanks!


Leonard A. Caplan

Arlene M. Spencer said...

I am so pleased to hear that you are finding my blog helpful. That is the only reason I write it.

Like I am sure you have, I have indeed heard of public television applying for a grant and receiving it (i.e. the list of donors recited prior to any PBS major broadcast). I do not know what the channel is nor what the content is that is being broadcast, but I'd encourage you to research it (look at my Label, below on the right, called "prospecting" and look under the Label "how to", also). Grant donors more or less give to achieve certain outcomes (successes) in our community and the causes and interests they have are as varied as the number of grant donors in the country. Prospect and also network and as who may be giving grants in your field of interest.

Good luck! Thank you for reading. Best, Arlene