It’s happened. You received the dreaded decline letter from a funder. However, you know they gave to 10 other organizations in your community. So why didn’t you win?
All grant seekers must remember that foundations and corporate sponsors are philanthropic investors. As nonprofits themselves, foundations have a philanthropic mission they have to meet. They make funding decisions based on guidelines that are framed from their original donor(s) intent. They do not make decisions in a vacuum and are influenced by local and national economic trends. Do not overlook this distinction.
You are asking an investor to put their money into your solution, but you’re not just asking for money: you’re asking for an invested partner.
If you were not funded, perhaps it’s what you asked for and they simply didn’t want to fund that type of project or request. But, it is more likely how you asked for support and, more importantly, how you presented your organization to the funder.
In my experience as a local, state, and federal grant reviewer and as a professional grant writer for the last 14 years, I have gleaned that grant makers care about four fundaments when they consider investing in a nonprofit:
1. Credibility – of your organization and leadership (especially the CEO, of course)
2. Capacity – do you have the right infrastructure/facilities/people in place to do what you say you want to do?
3. Evidence – of both your need (local, recent statistics) and your chosen solution (i.e. best practices or evidence-based practices)
4. Sustainability – diverse and obviously well-planned and tested revenue streams
In practical terms, that means:
DO include bios in your requests. Use credentials, advanced degrees, and specialized training to your advantage here. Also, consider the length of employment for each person you highlight. For instance, one of my clients has a five-person leadership team who have all been with the agency for more than 25 years. That shows amazing credibility to potential funders, and we language about their longevity in every proposal we write. It pays off—we’re at 206% of our grant-seeking goal this year.
DO address your facilities, your staffing, your volunteers, and your information technology system in your proposal. As a reviewer, it is glaringly simple to weed out high-capacity organizations from low-capacity ones. Too often, organizations lose points in review because they simply didn’t speak about their capacity even when they have it.
DO use statistics from your own agency in your Statement of Need. If you use external statistics about your work, choose only the most localized data you can find. Any statistic you use in a proposal should be no more than two years old. If your organization uses a best practice, say you do. If you modified the best practice to fit your community, say how you modified it and how you tested the modification to ensure you still provide meaningful results. That’s what this element is all about: meaningful results that show a real, measurable impact in your community.
DO include a description of a comprehensive approach to fundraising. As a reviewer, I want to see diverse revenue streams for your proposed project as well as your organization as a whole. I want to see how much you raise from special events, individual donations, corporate sponsorships, government sources, fee-for-service income, etc. If you have a formal development plan, you should cull information from it to use in this section. I do not just want to hear about grants here (although you should highlight that stream as well). Give reviewers a full picture of how you fund your work.
Help foundations want to invest in your work by focusing on the fundamentals. When your organization is grant ready, it will have the capacity, credibility, evidence, and sustainability that will compel grant makers to give.
On Thursday, April 17, Heather will present “Grant Writing for Beginners” at the NEW Center in Ann Arbor. Click here for details.