How to Get Your Nonprofit Started with Grant Writing

Fundraising Practices

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This blog focuses on the world of online donations and various related fundraising topics. To change up our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Please welcome Megan Hill of Professional Grant Writers, and enjoy her post on getting started with grant writing.

Most nonprofits immediately think of grant writing when it comes to fundraising. The abundance of foundations and other grantmakers makes it seem as though grants are a way to get free, easy money. Grants can be a great way to bring in tens – or even hundreds – of thousands of critical dollars, but it’s important to make sure your nonprofit isn’t rushing into grant writing.

New Nonprofits

New nonprofits are often too eager to start grant writing, often spending too much money or committing too many resources to a venture that is ultimately unsuccessful. The industry standards show that only about 1 in 10 grants are successful, and that’s even for the most high-profile nonprofits.

More and more, foundations are requiring two to three years of audited financials before they will even accept an application for a grant. If you’re a new nonprofit, you will be very limited in your choices for grant applications.

New nonprofits are often unprepared to meet a range of other requirements listed in grant applications. Grantmakers like to see that you are measuring the outcomes of your programs and making progress towards affecting real change in your community. They’ll want to see a healthy board of directors, sources of other income, and other indicators that your nonprofit is an effective place to spend their money.

Grantmakers are like investors: they want to know that their grant will make a real impact through an established nonprofit. It’s best to wait to apply for grants until you have built a strong organization and can make a good case for why you deserve their funds.

Getting Ready

There are several steps you can take to become more prepared to compete for grant funding.

  1. Start measuring your program’s outcomes and successes.
  2. Thoroughly research possible grantmakers and become familiar with their application requirements and who they typically fund.
  3. Build a set of diversified, strong income sources.
  4. Develop a robust, well-connected board of directors who can be resources in all aspects of your nonprofit’s development.

Where to Start

Once your nonprofit is prepared to write grant applications, there’s the matter of actually starting the grant writing process.

First, decide whether you can handle the often cumbersome task of writing grants in house or if you need to hire an outside firm. If someone in your office has the time, energy, and experience to do so, great! If they don’t, there are lots of experienced companies that you can contact to help.

Next, if you don’t already know of relevant grant opportunities and funders, start with prospect research. There are subscription-based databases like Foundation Directory Online that can be great places to look for strong matches. Local libraries often offer free access to FDO, or you can contract the prospect research out to a grant writing company.

Third, know that building relationships with foundations is crucial to grant writing success. Some foundations don’t want to hear from you unless it’s via paper application, and they’ll say that on their website or in their guidelines.

But most will welcome an introductory call to get some questions answered before you apply or a follow up if you’ve been rejected. They’ll want to make site visits to see your program – and their dollars – in action, and they will want to be invited to program events and apprised of major changes at your organizations. Don’t be afraid to keep your door open, as doing so will keep theirs open too.

Megan HillMegan Hill is the CEO and Founder of Professional Grant Writers, a grant writing firm dedicated to helping nonprofits large and small – as well as some businesses – search for, write, and submit winning grant proposals.

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