Those of us who have been developing grant proposals for awhile know that the skills it takes and the factors influencing success go far beyond the actual writing of the proposal … everything from team building to program planning and outcome measurement, advanced research and relationship building, communications and collaboration, and financial management and budgeting.
We know … despite pervasive myths to the contrary that:
- 1. Not just anyone can write a winning grant proposal. For most people, getting completely secure in the field takes years of full-time practice and persistence. It takes much more than exceptional writing ability. Those of us who have reviewed grants have witnessed first-hand the vast quality differences in requests submitted, and most can easily detect the difference between a proposal prepared by an experienced professional and one that was written by someone with decent writing skills who simply volunteered.
2. You need much more than your 501c3 letter from the IRS to develop a good funding stream from grants. Grant makers need more than a tax deduction before they will invest in your organization. Some key things have to be in place: a compelling vision and mission that’s consistent with funder priorities; strong, accountable leadership (trust is everything); diversified funding streams that demonstrate your organization isn’t solely reliant on grants, but instead well supported by board members and other local community members; and research- based programs that are both showing results and providing high-quality volunteer experiences. Even with all of these things in place, developing a grant program takes time.
3. Grants are unlikely to be the first source of funding for any organization. “Seed funding” is relatively rare, especially in a down economy. Unrestricted funds, from individuals, are the best and easiest way to get started. Unlike most grants, which are program specific, you can use the money any way you need to. Over time, individual giving covers 75% or more of the typical nonprofit’s budget.
4. It’ll take more than one big grant to get an organization going. To be competitive for larger grants, you need to demonstrate you can build relationships with smaller donors and handle their donations well before your organization has grounds to seek a bigger investment. Don’t expect to apply for one grant, get it, and then use it to apply for more. It just doesn’t work that way. On-going “cultivation” is the norm.
5. No matter how good the grant writer, he/she cannot guarantee you’ll get the grant. Grant professionals vary in their focus – some spend much of their time on highly-competitive government grants, others focus on day-to-day operational spending, still others focus on getting grants to complement individual giving as part of a capital campaign. Each of these areas brings with it a different likelihood of success regardless of the proposal quality submitted. Instead of looking exclusively at “success ratios”, look for a grant developer that can present your best case, with attention to detail and storytelling style.
6. Changing your mission and programs to fit a single funder’s guidelines is never a good idea. Successful grant seeking has a lot to do with exceptional research. Matching the vision of your organization with the vision of funders in your area is a big part of that research. It’s time consuming and takes intensive concentration to master details that could make or break a potential partnership, particularly if you are seeking government grants, but it’s worth it. Networking, follow-up and clarification of funder goals all is part of the process.
So if you’re just getting into grant seeking and you think … this should be easy … be prepared for a rude awakening. It rarely ever is.
Learn More on Nonprofit Spark Radio …
To hear a one-hour podcast on “Preparing to Write a Grant” led by Renee McGivern and featuring guests Sarah Sunderman from The Salvation Army and Melanie R. Negrin, Founder of For GrantWriters Only, check out: Nonprofit Spark Radio: “Preparing to Write a Grant”