Sunday, September 13, 2009

Considering Or Beginning A Grant Writing Program? Here's Some Help...

When starting grant writing from scratch - it can be overwhelming, to say the least.

The first and foremost advice that I and any other professional nonprofit grant writer worth their salt will tell you is you and others involved in your organization in the grant writing should take the time to learn. You may think 'I don't have the time' or 'we don't have the funds for that', etc. I know. I understand. The thing is - if your agency is considering initiating grant writing for the first time (as a fundraising method) or if it's decided to implement it for the first time - you and your colleagues would be wise to learn how it's done, what the entire grant seeking process is, why donors give grants, and what donors see (or even expect) in a well written and compiled grant proposal (or grant application), today. Getting informed and learning (having people to do the work who have the skills) to write grant proposals will put your nonprofit (even as a newbie to grant writing) ahead of other applicant agencies that did not take the time, and over time your agency will raise more grants earlier and waste less time and money, overall. Bumbling for lack of time or lack of money (skipping taking the time to learn) isn't an excuse, really anyway, with so much excellent free grant writing 'how to' or 'where to find' information and resources on the web, now. (See the links to get started learning excellent, professional, best practices grant writing).

No matter if your nonprofit is brand new, five years old, or seventy-five years old; take the time to get information pulled together. Did your nonprofit write grant proposals to raise funds, ten or fifteen years ago but stopped eight or ten years ago and never started again? If so, locate those grant records (hard files or digital or both) and go through them. The grant donors who gave to your agency should be naturals for you to research requesting a grant from again (and be sure in the letter of introduction to remind them that they gave to your nonprofit whenever they did and that your agency remains grateful, still, for their support back then). If your agency is brand new to grant seeking pull together some basic internal documents that all nonprofits seeking grants should have easily on hand to either scan or photocopy to include in a grant proposal (only if it's requested, per grant application - see each potential donor's giving guidelines that you are applying to for a grant). Have on hand the nonprofit's current list of board members, your nonprofit's most recent financial audit, the most recent financials, all proposed programs' or projects' budgets, your nonprofit's most recent tax filing (probably a tax form 990), etc.

To begin grant seeking work be sure to prospect (or research) which grant donors are actually likely to give to your nonprofit and only apply to those who you determine (through prospecting work) are really viable potential donors. Sending grant proposals (applications) out to any grant donor, willy nilly, is a waste of time, resources, and it even can cause your nonprofit to appear disorganized and wasteful to those grant donors who do not give to your nonprofit's cause but receive a grant application from you, anyway. Remember - grant donors are colleagues and they do communicate with one another. Operate your grant seeking as the consummate professional that you are and apply the professional best practices that you learn about how to apply for grants. If you need a free resource to help your agency keep your grant seeking organized (between the computer and your agency's hard files) see this post.

Once you've acquired a good list of truly potential grant donors - your nonprofit's leadership must make sure it has its ducks in a row. Especially in today's economy, grant donors are even more thorough when considering which nonprofit should receive a grant and which they'll pass on. Don't waste your agency's precious resources if it is not in a prime position to actually acquire a grant. What is that position? There are other strong attributes that position a nonprofit as more likely to acquire a grant than others. Does your nonprofit:

__ ...have a reputation in the geographic region that it serves (among local families, businesses, other nonprofit agencies, and the local government) as being transparent in its policies, operations, and finances? Does it have a reputation as being successful in its mission (work)? Do you have recent successes, achievements, or accolades to point to?

__ ...operate programs or projects that truly address real current problems that have as yet been unsolved for the beneficiary population that your agency serves (per its mission)? In other words - does your nonprofit provide real, current, efficient, and successful assistance? When is the last time that your agency's leadership audited the nonprofit's services and products in comparison to the the needs of the population it assists? When is the last time the leadership looked at what the real, current, unmet needs are that it could be tackling? Be relevant, current, and successful in your agency's work.

__ ...do what other nonprofits or agencies already do? If other nonprofits do related or similar work to yours', but your organization is the only one focused on a specific population or the only organization doing what it does - that is a necessary and relevant organization. If, though, the nonprofit is doing something another nonprofit does...consider how your agency can be more relevant and discuss as leaders in the agency how the adjustment could be made (to the mission, policies, and programs).

__ ... have the word out, about how great and needed it is, within the community(ies) that it serves? If your agency is a huge success, well run, transparent, and efficient but no one knows (including potential new donors, volunteers, and grant donors) then your agency has some work to do. Marketing and public relations are critical for any and all nonprofits (no matter the size) as each assists in fundraising, acquiring new clientele, and more.

__ ... have 'rockstars' in their respective professions both working for it (on staff or as volunteers) and leading it (either as advisory panels or board members)? If not, or if your nonprofit is recruiting talent but can't retain it - consider putting together some better Human Resources and staff policies; and also researching who your agency would like to have on its team (in which position) and actually actively recruit them. All kinds of donors (including grant donors) give to noprofits that are operated by people with excellent reputations, with pertinent experience, and the needed current skill set to get the organization successful and growing well.

__ ... have a vision, organizational goals, planning and all operations based in the mission statement? Also, is your agency actively fundraising to be able to fund all current operations and programs plus save for planned new programs that are not yet implemented? If not - why not? Part of any and all nonprofit's work is to raise funds for its success, growth, and entire operations each year, each month, each week. If you are not raising funds enough to cover operations and most of the cost of all programs - why would a donor (any donor) give to your agency? Be accountable to your community (your donors, other agencies that collaborate with your nonprofit) and to the beneficiary population that you serve and raise funds as basic daily operations, each business day of the fiscal year. Fundraising isn't a side bar to nonprofit work. It is equally as necessary and needed, daily, as your programs and services (because it is how those or whatever your agency serves are guaranteed your assistance isn't going to go away).

Learn, plan, organize, and then be willing to learn as you go. Your success is there for your nonprofit to achieve.

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