4 Steps to Secure Emergency Grant Funding During the COVID Crisis

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The COVID-19 crisis has presented the nonprofit sector with unexpected needs and unprecedented challenges. During this time, it is vital that organizations do not stop seeking grants. Grant makers want to help nonprofits get to the other side of this crisis, but they depend on their grantees to ask for the help they need.

Many grant makers are offering immediate support to nonprofits in the form of emergency grants. The experts at Grants Plus have outlined four steps that organization leaders can take to secure this emergency grant funding:

1. Communicate with your current grant funders. 

If you haven’t already, make it a priority today to contact every one of your organization’s current grant funders. Your organization’s best prospects for emergency funding are those foundations that are already invested in supporting you.

Your foundation funders want to help, but they can’t know what you need if you don’t tell them. Our advice is to candidly explain how the crisis is impacting your organization’s operations, programs, and finances, and ask for their assistance. 

What help can you ask for?

First, you can ask for flexibility in how you use funds they’ve already granted. 

Grant makers are demonstrating extraordinary willingness to be flexible with their grantees. They understand that some grantees may not be able to deliver on their grant-funded programs and outcomes due to disruptions caused by the pandemic. 

Review your current grants. If you determine you can’t deliver on the terms or promises, talk to your funders to request a change. You may find that your funder is willing to extend the timeline for using the funds, waive reporting requirements, or even allow you to use the funds for another more urgent purpose. Some funders are even converting restricted grants to unrestricted so those funds can be used to pay for salaries and operations.

Secondly, talk to your funders about whether they can provide funds to your organization in the form of an emergency grant. 

In some cases, foundations are welcoming grantees who were already in the process of submitting a grant proposal to request additional funds. In other cases, foundations have the option to quickly disperse discretionary dollars, especially to help organizations meet unexpected emergency needs.

The value of contacting your current funders goes beyond the possibility of new immediate funding. The even greater value of connection is strengthening the relationship between your organization and the funder. Grants may come from institutions, but decisions are made by the people at those institutions. 

Remember that staff at foundations are experiencing the same challenges and hardships as we all are. They, too, are anxious and concerned about what is happening. So when you contact your funders, be patient, be genuine, and show empathy. The points of human connection we create now have the potential to last long after the crisis ends.

If you don’t have existing funders, see our advice to organizations that haven’t yet received grants and the steps they can take to prepare for grants in the future.

2. Apply for emergency grant funding opportunities in your community. 

Hundreds of foundations across the country have mounted a rapid response to raise and distribute billions of dollars in emergency nonprofit grants. For the most part, these funds are being prioritized for organizations on the front lines serving urgent emergency needs. Your organization may be a strong candidate to receive these funds if you can demonstrate that you are responding to challenges in your community caused by the crisis.

To find out if there is an emergency grant program in your community, regularly check the websites and social media accounts of your top funders and the largest funders in your area. You can also directly contact your local community foundation to ask about an emergency fund for area nonprofits. In many cities, community foundations have led the charge to establish these funds in partnership with local United Ways and businesses.

Some of these emergency funds are being proactively directed to pre-selected organizations; other emergency funds are being awarded based on a competitive application process. If the emergency fund in your community is competitive and matches your organization’s mission and focus, proceed with the application steps immediately. If there is no application process, contact the foundation to seek guidance.

Funders understand that many nonprofits are working under duress and so may not expect your emergency grant proposal to be a masterpiece. However, the fundamentals of good grant writing are still important. Your written request should be written simply and directly so it is easy to understand and follow. You must make a compelling case for why your organization’s work is important and relevant in our current context. For more on writing a convincing and high-quality grant proposal, view our Complete Grants Plus Guide to Grant Writing.

The Grants Plus team is collating a listing of emergency grant funding opportunities in communities around the country. Click here for the list and check back frequently as we add new grant opportunities every day.

3. Compete for emergency federal grants. 

The CARES Act passed by the US Congress allocated hundreds of billions of dollars to federal funding agencies for the purpose of making these funds quickly available to nonprofits in the form of emergency federal grants. 

Several federal funding agencies have already announced new emergency federal grant programs> Those include the National Endowment for the Arts to distribute funds to arts organizations and the Federal Communications Commission to make grants for telehealth services. We anticipate many more emergency federal grant opportunities to be released in the coming weeks. Our team is keeping a close watch and maintaining a listing of emergency federal grants.

These emergency federal grant programs are likely to follow rapid timelines, giving a few mere weeks between the date a Request for Proposals is released and the date the full federal grant application is due. That means organizations should begin to prepare now to be ready to apply to these federal grant programs as soon as they are announced.

Start getting ready by making sure you have the proper registrations to apply. Your nonprofit organization can’t complete the process of applying for federal grants unless you are registered. 

First, register in the federal grants system by securing a DUNS number (short for Data Universal Number System). This step typically may take a few weeks, so don’t delay. You’ll also need to take steps to be actively registered in the US Government’s System for Award Management (SAMS) as well as in Grants.gov

Once you’re set up to apply for federal grants, begin to prepare what you will need for a competitive application:

  • Prepare budgets and attachments: Begin assembling the standard documents needed for any federal grant application, including audited financial statements, your overall organizational budget and specific program budgets, detailed compensation information, and bios and resumes for key staff. There also may be additional financial information required. Keep clear records of all COVID-related expenses going back to March, as some of these emergency federal grant programs may allow organizations to use the funds for crisis expenses already incurred.
  • Convincing narrative: Before the application guidelines are released, you won’t know exactly what questions you’ll be required to answer or what detail you’ll need to convey. But what’s certain is that you must be able to construct a vision for what makes your organization relevant in the current context and how funding will enable it to be relevant in the future.

Being able to craft this vision must start with assessing what is real for your organization. Convene organizational leaders in advance of writing the application to discuss how the crisis is impacting the organization’s core mission and programs now and how they may change in the future. 

Remember that federal grant reviewers will compare your emergency grant application against others. In order to win funding, your application will need to make a strong and compelling case that your organization’s work is relevant and necessary in the context of our world today and in the future.

To give your emergency federal grant application the most competitive edge and position your organization for a successful process, visit our complete Guide to Emergency Federal Grants During Crisis.

4. Finally, don’t overlook emergency grants from Donor-Advised Funds. 

Especially now, grants from donor-advised funds can be a powerful source of additional revenue for your organization. That’s because these donors have already contributed money into their donor-advised funds prior to the crisis. Now, that funding is ready to be dispersed. They may be inclined to distribute those funds rapidly to nonprofits making a difference. 

Learn more about getting grants from donor-advised funds and take these steps to make the most of grants from donor-advised funds, now and after the COVID-19 crisis:

Seek support from existing donor-advised fund donors 

If you have received gifts from donor-advised funds in the past, pay attention to those donors now. In fact, you ought to already be stewarding donors who support your organization via their donor-advised funds just as you do your other significant donors. 

When you receive a gift from a donor-advised fund, the check will come from the community foundation or financial institution that manages the fund. However, unless the donor has chosen to remain anonymous, the paperwork accompanying the gift should specify the donor and the donor’s contact information. 

By making a gift, these donors have shown they care about the work of your organization. Let them know how they can help now more than ever before.

Prepare a brief report to send to your past donor-advised fund donors that summaries your organization’s response to the COVID crisis. Explain how you are adapting your programs and services to meet the needs of the community during this time. Include any stories or photos that demonstrate your mission in action. 

Describe how emergency funding is needed now and explain what you will do with the additional funds. Include an individualized request that thanks the donor for his or her past support and invites an additional emergency gift now. Offer a phone conversation to discuss the request and share additional information.

Cultivate new donor-advised fund donors

You can also take steps to connect with new donors who give through donor-advised funds and invite them to direct a contribution to your organization for the first time.

Contact the donor services officer at your local community foundation. These staff are responsible for helping donors make meaningful contributions through their donor-advised funds. They may know of donors who would be interested in supporting your organization now. Be prepared to briefly explain your organization and the impact you’re having during the crisis. 

Ask the donor services officer if you may share a brief one-page report that they may present to donor-advised fund donors who might be interested in your cause. Be appreciative of any help they are willing to offer! Even if they don’t immediately suggest your organization to one of their donors, you’ve taken an important step by putting your organization on their radar.

The Grants Plus team is committed to helping nonprofits through this uncertain time. We have assembled an array of free resources to help organizations emerge from the crisis with secured funding and stronger relationships with funders. 

Visit our Emergency Grant Resource Center for access to emergency grant opportunity listings, a schedule of webinars, and advice from our team of grant seeking experts.

Nonprofits must not stop striving to serve their communities and fulfill their missions, and so they must not stop proactively seeking grants. By following these four steps, nonprofit organizations can put themselves in a position to win emergency grant funding opportunities. 

Author: Dana Textoris, Managing Director

Dana has been a leader in major gifts philanthropy, grant seeking, fund development strategy, marketing and writing, and business development for non-profit and for-profit organizations across the country. 

As Managing Director at Grants Plus, Dana’s propels the company’s vision to help nonprofit organizations around Ohio and across the country to be more confident and successful at getting grants. She develops the firm’s internal capacity and external reach to influence and impact the nonprofit sector. 

Dana cut her teeth in fund development as Grants Coordinator for a youth-serving organization in Oakland, California. She then crossed the San Francisco Bay into other areas of fundraising, serving as Director of Major Gifts for the ACLU of Northern California and Associate Director of Development for NARAL Pro-Choice California. While in California she contributed leadership to multiple statewide ballot initiative campaigns and policy initiatives, raising millions of dollars to help reform the state’s criminal justice system. Her greatest West Coast fundraising adventures included a lunch date with MC Hammer and hitchhiking to a last-minute meeting with the CEO of YouTube. She returned to her hometown of Cleveland in 2012 to lead a $1 million tribute campaign for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and then joined the team at Grants Plus, first serving as a grant writing consultant and eventually leading the company as part of its executive team.

She is grateful every day that she puts to use her skills in writing and communications that she honed while completing her B.A. With Distinction at The Ohio State University. Dana has been a member of the City of Lakewood Animal Safety and Welfare Advisory Board, the Development Committee Chair for FrontLine Service, an officer of the Development Executives Roundtable in San Francisco, and a founding Board member of Good Ol’​ Girls, a professional networking group for women in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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