Guide to Raising Money from Foundations (Part II)

by Joe Garecht

In Part I of this article, we discussed what foundations are and how they operate.  In this part, we’re going to talk about how your organization can raise money (or raise more money) through foundation grants.  (For even more information on what grants are and how to approach them as part of your fundraising plan, read Demystifying Grants).

In essence, the solicitation process consists of two main phases: grant prospecting, and grant writing.  Let’s go through the 5 steps that are essential in each phase:

5 Steps for Successful Grant Prospecting

The grant prospecting phase consists of all of the time before you write a grant proposal to a foundation.  It is during this phase that your organization figures out which foundations you will approach for grant funding.  The five steps you should follow are:

1.   Know Your Organization’s Mission and Programs: This may sound simple, but it’s important.  Foundations have specific funding priorities.  You’ll need to know your organization’s mission and programs inside out to determine if you fit within a foundation’s grant guidelines.

2.  Obtain or Create a Master List:  Find or create a master list of grant-making organizations in your city, state, or country.  There are guides available online (e.g. The Foundation Center), through local philanthropy organizations, or you might be able to obtain a list through another non-profit organization.

3.  Review the Foundations’ Guidelines to Find Matches: Ideally, the foundation guide you use will list each foundation and their funding priorities.  If not, go online to the foundations’ websites to see what their guidelines are.  Decide if your organization qualifies.  (Note that you will most likely not qualify for 95% or more of the grants listed in the master lists).

4.  Create a Grant Schedule:  Make a list of each grant that your organization qualifies for, along with the foundation’s contact information, guidelines, grant ranges, and a copy of the grant application.  Each grant will also have an application deadline or deadlines: make a master calendar of grant deadlines for the coming year.

5.  Decide Which Grants to Apply For: If this is your charity’s first year running a grant fundraising program, it is unlikely that you will be able apply for all of the grants for which you qualify.  Take a look at each foundation’s grant range (is the average grant $1,000?  $10,000?  $100,000?), when the deadlines are, and how complex the application process is (is it a one page application?  A ten page application four years of budgets and tax returns, plus ten letters of recommendation?)  Do a strong cost/benefit analysis and decide which grants to apply for this year.

Be particularly careful not to bite off more grant applications that you can chew if you are a small non-profit with a limited staff.

5 Steps for Successful Grant Writing

One you complete the grant prospecting phase, it’s time to move into the grant writing phase.  (“Grant writing” simply means preparing all of the materials you need to apply for the grant and writing the grant proposal that you will submit to the foundation).  The five steps for successful grant writing are:

1.   Know the Rules: Applying for some grants is like filling out the Publishers’ Clearing House Sweepstakes form… you need two of these, four of these, place a sticker here, sign this but not that, and be sure to include your grant claim code in red ink on the back of the envelope, or else you don’t qualify.  For other grants, all you need is a one page application and a self addressed envelope.  Know the rules for your grant before you begin.

2.  Gather Your Materials First: I always advise grant-writers to gather their materials first.  If the grant application requires two years worth of budgets and a written program description, gather those first, before you write the grant narratives.  This way, you’ll be able to make sure that what you’re writing matches up with the materials you are providing.

3.  Write in an Easy to Read Style: Ok, here’s where I may get into trouble with old school grant-writers.  Lots of grant-writers were taught, early in their careers, to write in “grant speak.”  By that I mean a very formal tone that reads almost like a legal contract or a scientific paper.  I say: don’t do it.  Instead, write with the reader in mind.  The grants officer who reads your grant at the foundation reads hundreds, if not thousands, of grants per cycle.  Would you want to read formal, difficult text all day?  Don’t be flip or overly casual, but write your grant in a way that is easy to read and understand.

4.  Edit! Nothing says, “I’m not serious enough to be funded,” more than a $100,000 grant application that has misspellings and poor grammar.  No matter how large or small the grant you are seeking, make sure someone edits your grant application.

5.  Be Patient: Grant writing is an exercise in delayed gratification.  Often, you’ll have to wait weeks or even months before hearing back from the foundation as to whether your grant was approved or not.  Unless the foundation tells you otherwise, it is ok to check in with them after a few weeks to make sure they received your information and ask if there is anything else you can provide… but don’t overdo it.  The best way to bide your time until the approval or rejection letter arrives is to start writing your next grant.

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