Grant writers don’t have special powers. There are many myths surrounding successful grant writers and grants programs. Successful programs bring in grants not because a writer has “the gift,” but because the program is built like any other successful program – with vision, solid planning, discipline, and follow-through.
But, there are no shortcuts to the land of plenty. Working with donors is … work. When you are ready to get started or take a fresh look at your grants program, here are five rules that, if followed, can help set your program apart.
1) FOLLOW THE RULES
If you learn only one thing about grant writing, let this be it. Effective grant writers aren’t magicians. They are ordinary people who have disciplined themselves to follow directions very well.
Foundation program officers have stacks of requests for great projects from wonderful organizations. They have to weed through the stack quickly, and the first proposals in the recycling bin are the ones that didn’t follow the directions.
2) YOUR ORGANIZATION? YOUR CAUSE
Foundations and donors aren’t supposed to care about your organization. They should care about your cause. Too often, nonprofit organizations forget there is a distinction. It isn’t a foundation’s job to make sure you meet your annual campaign goal. It is your job to equip them to address your shared cause together.
But what is your cause? Your cause is the problem you are trying to solve. Your cause answers the “why” question — the reason you do what you do. It’s only after embracing the “why” that anyone will care about the “how,” the way your organization goes about addressing the cause.
The best grant proposals are the ones that present their organizations the way funders see them – as one of many approaches to addressing a broader cause.
3) DON’T CHASE SHINY OBJECTS
Organizations often seek grants when they are looking for a shortcut to meet a looming budget crisis. Grants don’t work that way. In these times, organizations often chase potential grant opportunities that only marginally fit their mission. It rarely works because most funders see through it. When it does work, the grant often becomes a burden and shifts resources from the organization’s core mission. Grants can be enticing and flashy, but they also will define your organization. Make sure you like what they say about you.
4) FOUNDATIONS ARE PEOPLE TOO
Two things you need to know about foundations: 1. They are founded and run by humans – people who think and feel. 2. They are founded to accomplish their own objectives, which may or may not align with yours.
Communicate with, write to, and engage foundations and their staffs like they are human beings. And make sure you reveal your own humanity too. Share your organization’s challenges. Foundations are pretty good at spotting weaknesses, so being upfront about them shows you are realistic.
5) FOLLOW THE RULES
I think I already mentioned that. I can’t stress this enough. The biggest problem with foundations in reviewing proposals is organizations that don’t follow the guidelines. Don’t give funders a reason to toss your proposal.
Again, successful grants programs contain the same components as any successful programs — vision, planning, discipline, and follow-through. And they require leadership, solid financial management, and strong strategic planning. They do not require special powers.
Recent grants received by our clients include:
$56,500 for an agency that arranges for gifts and last wishes for children terminally ill with cancer – for general operating funds
$45,000 for a high school for troubled teens – for general operating funds
$15,000 for a public theater – for capital funds
$12,500 for a clinic for low-income families – for general operating funds
$12,000 for a domestic violence organization – for their emergency shelter program
$10,000 for an organization that serves abused and neglected children – for a program that provides temporary shelter for these children
$10,000 for an agency that provides counseling for veterans and first responders – for general operating funded
$10,000 for an organization that provides therapeutic recreational programs for people with physical disabilities – for a docking system for their water sports programs
$10,000 for a hospital foundation – for equipment for a new digestive diseases center
$10,000 for an organization that provides shelter for homeless families – for general operating funds
$10,000 for a nursing home – for capital funds
Murray Covens, Principal