By Dana Textoris, Managing Director at GrantsPlus
Grant seeking is very important for most nonprofits. Organizations of all sizes rely on grants from foundations, government offices, and corporations to varying degrees, but any amount of support for your operations or programming is valuable.
Effective grant seeking requires dedicated time, strategy, and resources to consistently bear fruit for your nonprofit. Understanding the process as much as possible upfront and staying abreast of changing trends will be helpful for boosting your chances of success over time.
This certainly involves brushing up on grant writing best practices and seeking the help of experts when needed, but you can go even further. We recommend that nonprofits take the time to understand the perspectives of grantmaking organizations in order to write the most compelling, engaging, and effective organizational narrative possible.
Of course, there’s no crystal ball for learning the exact secrets that will guarantee an awarded grant, but there are a few big-picture priorities that most grantmaking organizations share.
In this quick guide, we’ll review two main areas that grantmakers typically focus on as they make decisions: relationships and the potential return on philanthropic investment.
1. Relationships with Grantmakers
The relationship between a grantmaker and an organization is often a deciding factor in how grants are ultimately allocated. Why?
Simply put, having an existing relationship and positive track record with a grantmaker will help instill confidence in them that you can effectively execute and manage your proposed project. Funders are looking for particular qualities that indicate your organization has the plan, skill, and capacity to make the most of its support. Your organization needs to make a professional, competent, organized, and mission-centric impression.
When you’ve already proven that your organization has these qualities in the past, it’s much easier to make the case for your nonprofit in the future.
Your relationships with other funders and organizations are important, as well. Think of it as social proof, the idea that we’re more likely to trust and engage with organizations that already have our peers’ stamps of approval. When you’ve secured grants from other funders and have a network of mutually beneficial relationships, you illustrate how active and trusted your organization is within your communities.
This point can be especially important for organizations and communities that have been historically underserved by grantmakers and therefore may not have strong direct relationships with funders. Nonprofits that serve minority groups and people with disabilities only receive a combined 10% of all grant funding. This imbalance is then an ongoing contributing factor in the difficulties that these organizations might experience in building relationships with funders. In other words, it can be thought of as a self-perpetuating problem.
However, conversations about grantmaking and equity are rapidly evolving. Many funders are changing how they weigh existing relationships in award decisions, but being able to show that you’re plugged into the community and working to build relationships with other organizations, businesses, community groups, and funders is still important. Networks of support and connection can say a lot about your nonprofit.
Tips for Nonprofits
To set your organization up for grant seeking success, focus on relationship-building. Cohost campaigns and events with other local nonprofits. Reach out to businesses to set up corporate social responsibility programs, sponsorships, or volunteer days.
Additionally, actively work to get to know funders whose missions and funding histories align with your own work. To get your foot in the door, try this formula:
- Make a connection. Research relevant funders in the area or that also focus on your mission. Compile the contacts and ideas from staff, donors, and board members. If possible, set up some introductions.
- Make the most of your first call or meeting. First, do your research on the funder and compile a rough agenda of talking points. Be ready to discuss your mission, work, and where your interests overlap.
- Keep crossing paths. Stay on the funder’s radar by looking for ways to organically connect at events or by starting conversations about new studies or current events in your community.
- Invite and engage. Start inviting your new funder connections to networking opportunities and sending them your newsletters and other communications. As the relationships grow, funders may begin proactively letting you know about new grant opportunities for your nonprofit.
Working with grant seeking experts can also be helpful. Although their services are typically centered around grant writing, they can also help you forge a funder relationship strategy and help you begin building a sustainable pipeline of opportunities.
2. Return on Philanthropic Investment
When awarding grants, funders will also prioritize the potential philanthropic return on investment of their support—in other words, the impact that their support will have and how efficiently it will be used to create that impact. The social proof of nonprofits’ existing relationships and connections is related as a semi-shorthand for trustworthiness and efficiency.
But this doesn’t mean that grant award decisions and relationships are purely “transactional.”
As mentioned above, conversations are shifting in many areas of the philanthropic space. What do equitable grantmaking practices look like? How have traditional approaches to grantmaking exacerbated inequalities? These are extremely important conversations to have, and they’ll undoubtedly change the grant seeking experience on both ends as many funders begin exploring trust-based principles and approaches.
But remember that most grantmaking organizations are themselves nonprofits that need to pursue their missions and steward their financial resources responsibly. Their resources must be allocated in ways that will maximize their own impact on their communities or areas of focus. To make a compelling case for support, you’ll ultimately need to assure funders that your proposal will:
- Have a measurable impact on your community
- Be effectively executed and managed
Even as individual grantmaking organizations do or don’t take steps to evolve their approaches in the coming years, these two things will remain essential for showing them that your mission and proposed projects will be an impactful use of their resources.
Tips for Nonprofits
To assure funders of your proposals’ potential impact or philanthropic return on investment, there are a few key areas to focus your attention:
- Grant writing. When writing proposals, be realistic, specific, and compelling. Tell a clear, concise story about your work and potential project. Back it up with relevant internal and external data that illustrates the need for your mission and the impact that your work will have if funded.
- Grant management. Be knowledgeable about the grant management process and lay out a well-defined plan for how you’ll execute and report on the project. Understand the various types of grant reporting requirements that you may encounter, as well, so that you can prepare ahead of time. This Grants Plus guide to grant management can help you orient your team if you’re new to this undertaking.
- Ongoing data tracking. Make sure you’re actively tracking important KPIs for all new campaigns, projects, and programs. This will give you the data you need to tell compelling stories that balance qualitative and quantitative appeals for support. Use a database or CRM to track and analyze this data—there are excellent options available for even the smallest nonprofits.
Understanding what funders are looking for and prioritizing when making award decisions can give your organization a leg up during your search for new opportunities. But you’ll also need to build out a solid grant seeking and management process internally in order to make the most effective cases for support possible.
The tips in this guide cover all the essentials you’ll need, but it’s also recommended to seek advice from peers and fundraising and grant experts whenever needed. Whether you want advice on where to look for grants, want to learn how to manage them effectively, or simply don’t have the team capacity to write proposals yourself, remember that you don’t have to go it alone!
Dana Textoris is Managing Director at Grants Plus, a national leader in grant seeking consulting. Grants Plus has secured $230 million in grant funding for nonprofit organizations around the country since 2007. Dana has been a leader in major gifts philanthropy, grant seeking, marketing and writing, and business development for non-profit and for-profit organizations across the country.