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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Going for the Gold: Apply Solid Grant-Writing Techniques to Your Quest

Competition for grants is high. So, if your nonprofit is to become a grant recipient, your proposal will need to shine.

Beginning Your Research
Your first step is to sort through the mountain of information on funders’ requirements that exists online. Seek a funder with a mission similar to yours, and match your project to the grantor’s priorities rather than vice versa.

Also keep an eye on location. Some foundations award grants nationwide while others focus on specific geographic areas. Start with applications to local funders and then branch out.

Expanding Your Reach
Stay open to all types of grant sources — not only private foundations, but also local, state and federal governments and corporations. Also look for “mini-grants.” These small funding amounts typically are available from corporations and other nonprofits. As funders have cut back, mini-grants have replaced heftier funding in some cases. But a “mini” may be enough to pay for a need.

Also consider applying for a grant in tandem with one or more similar organizations. Collaborative projects are popular with grantors. The nonprofits avoid project duplication and expand their staff resources, service areas and organizational oversight.

Digging Deeper
Once you’ve selected a grant opportunity that’s a good fit for your organization, read the funder’s guidelines until you fully understand what’s required. Then contact the grantor to get an even better feel for what it seeks in a project. The funding source may be more than willing to provide insights into its funding process and point you to previous, successful grant applications.

Moreover, talking directly with the grantor can shed light on your chances of actually securing a grant. It’s better to find out upfront whether developing a proposal for this funding source may simply be a waste of time.

Also determine whether any extra administrative costs will accompany accepting the funds. There could be, for instance, additional expenses for added cost reporting or audit requirements.  Certain grants, specifically federally funded grants, will require your organization to maintain stringent record keeping, provide additional paperwork for reimbursement requests and potentially submit cumbersome reports.  You’ll want to make sure the grant will be worth any strings that will be attached. 

Maximizing Your Chances
Once you’ve determined a grant opportunity is a good one, it’s time to start writing. Make every word count, and follow the length requirements to a T.

Write for an intelligent reviewer, not for an expert in the field. A common mistake is losing the reader by introducing ideas that are too complex. Ask one or two of your board members to read the proposal before you submit it.

What you want to do is grab the reader’s attention about your project. Simple and direct language works best. Do, however, echo some of the funder’s own key words that you discovered during the research phase.

Introducing Your Organization
The information required in your grant proposal will vary by funder. But every funding source typically seeks answers to similar questions.

The funder will, of course, want to know about your organization, and convincing it that it can trust you with its money is key. Establish your organization’s credibility by explaining its mission, major accomplishments and endorsements. Discuss other projects that have been funded and describe successful outcomes.

Showing how you accomplished other well planned projects is a great way to assure the funder that you not only plan projects, but actually deliver.

Explaining What You Want to Accomplish
Provide a well-defined, outcome-based goal or goals for your proposed project. Desired outcomes should be measurable. For example, let’s say your nonprofit — a family assistance organization — seeks funding for its food distribution program. You might state, “The project aims to place food in the homes of 20% of the families in River City that are at or below the poverty level who have expressed a need for food.”

Describe data-driven problems or needs. Using credible data, the family assistance organization might state that “31% of the households in River City are at or below the poverty level,” and “Only 5,100 of the eligible 12,043 families who applied to a food program in River City last year received food.”

Cover the key activities and project specifics that will allow you to meet your goals. If available, include any research that supports the pairing of your proposed activities with the desired results.

Saying How You’ll Get There
Your target funder will want to know specifically how the funds will be used. The family assistance organization, for example, might plan to 1) purchase food and fill baskets to feed 240 families of four for a week, and 2) distribute 6,240 of these baskets over a six-month period. Be sure to supply itemized estimates of such costs.

Also describe how your project is sustainable, scalable and reproducible in case you want to re-create or upgrade the project and expand it at different locations in the future. Outlining resources or matching funds that you can contribute helps to convince the funder of your organization’s investment in the outcome of the project.

When It’s Worth It
Once you’ve determined that a particular grant is worth pursuing, give the proposal your best effort before submitting it. There’s something to be said about the “old college try” — it often works.


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