How to Get Your Nonprofit Grant Ready
Sometimes nonprofits jump into the grant writing process before they are ready. In fact, you might be saying to yourself, “Do we actually need to prepare ourselves for grant writing?”
If you want to write grants that get funded, then you need to first prepare your grant writer(s) and your organization.
In this article we are going to discuss common requirements for grant applications. I first want to share two common prerequisites for grant writing, and then we will discuss 5 key indicators for organizational readiness.
Also, be sure to check out my free webinar in the shop that will go through all of this information and more!
Common Prerequisites for Grant Applications
Every grant application will have unique prerequisites, including what kind of organization you are, what your programs are, how long you have been a nonprofit, etc. Two of the most common requirements for grant applications are:
- That your organization has (or has filed for) 501(C)(3) status
- That your organization has 3 years of 990’s
The first requirement, that your organization has 501(C)(3) status protects the funders from funding something that isn’t tax deductible. Also, most funders only want to fund nonprofit organizations, so they want to make sure that you actually are a nonprofit (and not just saying that you will one day become one).
The second requirement, that your organization has 3 years of 990’s, shows a potential funder that you are around to stay. You aren’t an organization that has just sprung up, needs immediate funding, and is going to disappear next year when you run out of money. Some funders require even more years of 990’s to make sure that their funding is not your organization’s only source of income. They want to know that you have a diversified funding stream already in place BEFORE you start seeking grant money.
Here are some key indicators of whether or not your organization is ready for seeking grants:
- Do you know what need your organization is addressing? Can you explain this need to others and back it up with facts, statistics, and data?
- Does your organization have a full staff and Board of Directors?
- Does your organization have a diversified funding system?
- Is there someone in your organization ready to dedicate the necessary time to researching, finding, writing, and applying for grants? Are they also prepared to report to any funders who approve your organization’s request?
- Can your organization prove that you are making an impact?
#1 Do you know what need your organization is addressing? Can you explain this need to others and back it up with facts, statistics, and data?
The need that your organization is addressing is the core of every grant application that you will ever write. When I refer to the need I am talking about the gap that you fill in society. For instance, let’s say that we are an orphanage in South Africa. In fact, let’s say that we are this organization from this TV episode.
What is the need that this organization is addressing? Or, what is the gap that they fill in society?
This organization is filling a parenting gap left because of HIV. There are so many children who have been left parentless because of HIV, and this organization is taking care of those children. They are taking these children off of the streets, providing them with food, shelter, love, etc., and helping them to get adopted or raising them to adulthood.
If we were this organization and we were trying to apply for grants, I would recommend finding stories, data, and statistics to back up this need. For instance, we could look at how many parents have died in South Africa due to HIV. We could look at how many orphans and orphanages there are in the area. We could also look into personal stories and ask children about their lives and what happened to their parents. All of this will eventually be used in grant writing to back up your organization’s mission. It will tell the funder exactly what you are doing, what impact you are trying to make, and hopefully persuade the funder to fund your projects.
#2 Does your organization have a full staff and Board of Directors?
It is really important that your organization is fully functional before you start looking for grants. A lot of grantors will not fund organizations that are just “hoping” to do good in the world or “hoping” to succeed. Grantors want to see that your organization is already making an impact and that you are stable.
One way that funders will determine if your organization is worth funding, is by looking at the leadership in your organization. They are looking to see if you have strong leadership. They want to see an Executive Director running the day-to-day of the organization. They want to see a full Board of Directors that is actively engaged in fundraising. They want to see that you have all the necessary staff for the size and scope of your organization. All of this will show the funder that your organization is working to set itself up for success. If you don’t have the proper leadership in your organization, you aren’t going to be as effective fulfilling your mission.
#3 Does your organization have a diversified funding system?
I briefly mentioned this above when we talked about having 3 years of 990s, but I want to talk about it a little more in-depth.
Grant writing should not be the only source of income for any nonprofit organization.
Because grants can dry up. You might get funded for 1, 2, 10, even 15, years in a row, but what happens if that is your only funding stream and you don’t get funded one year?
Many funders will ask about your funding streams in a grant application. They want to know if you have any fees for services, membership dues, or other income streams. Essentially, they want to know that your organization will stick around even if you aren’t funded in the coming years. They want to know that you can be successful without their money, but you can be EVEN MORE successful with their money.
#4 Is there someone in your organization ready to dedicate the necessary time to researching, finding, writing, and applying for grants? Are they also prepared to report to any funders who approve your organization’s request?
This is a REALLY important key indicator. If your organization does not have someone who can dedicate A LOT of time to grant writing, then you are not ready for grant writing. Grant writing is not just something that you can expect your staff to do on the side. If that is what you are expecting, then also expect to not receive much grant money.
On the other hand, if you have someone that can really dedicate the majority of their work time to grant writing, and the grant writing process, then you will come to find success.
#5 Can your organization prove that you are making an impact?
This key indicator is closely connected to the first key indicator that we discussed (the need). Funders want to fund organizations and projects that they know are going to be successful. They want to fund organizations that are really making a difference.
For instance, let’s take the orphanage from our first key indicator.
If we were this orphanage, we would want to show the funder exactly how successful we have already been. We would want to tell them that we have taken X amount of children off the streets. We have helped X amount of children go to college. We have placed X amount of children with adopted families.
This shows the funder that we have actually accomplished something, so we are going to accomplish even more with their funding.
We’ve taken a look at 7 ways that your organization can prepare for grant writing, but there is even more to look at! Be sure to check out my free webinar (that includes a workbook!).