How to Position Your Organization to Have the Best Chance of Success at Grant Writing
While there is enormous competition for every grant dollar, there are many things you can do to position your organization to have the best chance of success at grant writing:
1. Have professionally prepared letterheads and envelopes, and a professionally prepared, maintained, and updated website. Many prospective funders look at applicant’s website. Don’t have the home page of your website announce an upcoming event that occurred six months ago.
2. Have email and a fax number, in addition to a business phone number. Fax machines are very inexpensive and can be set up to share a phone line with your phone number. Many prospective funders ask for your fax number. Saying you don’t have one is very unprofessional.
3. Have at least six to eight members on your board of directors, with a diversity of professional backgrounds, gender, and ethnicity. The minimum number of board members required by the State of Texas for a nonprofit corporation is three, but this number is too small to meet the governance and diversity preferences of many funders. Contrary to what you might have heard, you can’t have too many board members. To prospective funders, every board member serves as an endorser of your organization and helps give your organization credibility. Have at least one board member with professional expertise in fundraising, accounting/finance, law, and marketing. All board members should make financial donations to your organization.
4. Before having your Form 990 and audit completed, make sure the allocation of expenses on your statement of functional expenses is reasonable. And “reasonable” means a large allocation of expenses to program, versus management/administrative and fundraising. If less than 75% of total expenses are allocated to program, your chances of funding are greatly reduced. And make sure that your accountant records direct special event expenses “above the line,” meaning as a credit against special event revenues rather than as fundraising expenses. This will help keep your fundraising expenses as a percentage of total expenses low.
5. Complete your Form 990 as soon as possible after your fiscal year-end. You don’t have to wait until right before the due date to submit it. Complete this form even if your organization is not required to do so.
6. Have audited financial statements, if it is at all financially feasible. If you have audited financials, have the audit completed as soon as possible after your fiscal year-end. Though an audit can be expensive, some prospective funders will not even consider your application without an audit.
7. Have accurate and current internal financial statements. If a prospective funder wants recent financial statements, it won’t suffice to say that your most recent financials are six months old.
8. Have a detailed and reasonable budget for expenses and revenues for your total organization, and for each individual program within your organization. Make the line item descriptions on your budget clear and understandable. Don’t use internal acronyms or jargon that an outside reader won’t understand.
9. Have a legible copy of your IRS 501(c)(3) letter that is less than five years old. Make sure your IRS letter includes your Section 509(a) status; you should be 509(a)(1) or (2), and not (3). Contact the IRS at 877-829-5500 for an updated letter if yours is more than five years old or if it does not contain your Section 509(a) status.
Recent grants received by our clients include:
$75,000 for an organization that provides work opportunities and training to women in poverty – for general operating expenses
$60,000 for an agency that provides the means to women Veterans to gain self-knowledge and self-renewal – for general operating expenses
$50,000 for an organization that inspires and empowers forgotten neighbors to experience value through relationships, service, and community transformation – for the purchase of a new building
$47,500 for a private schools that supports severely developmentally disabled children in discovering abilities so they might develop independence to their maximum potential, allowing them to live life to the fullest - $25,000 for therapy, and $22,500 for scholarships
$25,000 for an agency that provides needy families with children in the last stages of terminal cancer, assistance in creating "Everlasting Memories"
$22,000 for a medical, dental, and mental health clinic for low-income families – $12,000 for healthcare for children, and $10,000 for general operating expenses
$20,000 for an agency that restores and empowers formerly trafficked girls and sexually exploited women and their children – for programs for children and teens
$18,000 for a domestic violence organization - $13,000 for their emergency shelter program, and $5,000 for general operating expenses
$18,000 for an organization that links kids to health and healing through music and media – for general operating expenses
$10,000 for an agency that provides chemically dependent women a structured, safe, homelike environment where self-realization and honesty are encouraged and reinforced – for general operating expenses
Murray Covens, Principal