A Guide to Grant Writing for Nonprofits
Grant writing is the process of applying for funds to support your nonprofit organization’s programs. It involves writing grant proposals that community groups, government agencies, corporations, foundations, or other funders have to approve before supporting your nonprofit.
For several nonprofits, this process can seem daunting and stressful. But it doesn’t have to be. Understanding the current nonprofit grant writing trends and implementing essential best practices can streamline your grant writing process and position your nonprofit for success this grant season.
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6 Grant Writing Trends for Nonprofits
1. The Pandemic has Changed Granting
In a move to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, many granting organizations are moving toward more transparent processes, easily accessible information, and simplified application forms. The pandemic has impacted virtually everyone, but not everyone has been affected equally. It has revealed inequities in accessing funding for the charitable sector, and charitable foundations and grantmakers are responding.
2. There’s A Movement to Support Unrestricted Funding
A commitment to correcting inequities in philanthropy is the premise of the Trust-Based Philanthropy movement. Not only do they call for simplified granting, but they advocate for funders to trust the knowledge and expertise of nonprofit organizations. This is a call to let organizations put the funding where it’s needed most, rather than the grantor making very specific demands on how the funding should be spent.
3. Nonprofits Need To Plan for the Aftermath of Grants
“How will your program be supported when the grant is finished?” is a question in most funding applications. Grantors want to be assured of the longevity of funding programs. Not only do grantors want to know if programming will continue, but they also want to know if it will be scalable to another community. For many charities struggling to find support for the current year, these are difficult questions to answer.
You’re one step closer to writing the perfect grant proposal!
Use this FREE Grant Preparation Toolkit to familiarize yourself with grantmakers and get access to a worksheet that can help structure your grant writing process.
4. Rethink How You Evaluate Funding Success
If your nonprofit’s grant proposal is approved, how will you measure the funds’ impact? Will you consider the number of people who attended your events or how many partners and stakeholders you engaged with?
There are complex matrixes available to help you show impact, but nonprofits realize that the most meaningful impact measurement is people. From attendance to transformation, consider measuring the impact that brings granting to its most foundational element: supporting and transforming lives.
5. Some Problems are Too Large for One Organization Alone
Systematic inequities must be addressed and often grants call upon collective knowledge and actions of a larger group. So, as you prepare to write your grant proposal, consider searching for nonprofit partners for your programs. Get rid of the mindset that suggests nonprofits fighting similar causes as yours are your competitors. Instead, think of them as possible collaborators and seek funding to solve those big problems together.
6. Grantors are Donors Too
Grant writing used to be viewed as a cut-and-paste operation: change the grantor’s name and press send. Hit and miss, to say the least—and more often than not—miss.
Consider treating your grantors in the same way you treat your donors. Get to know their funding interests; make a phone call and see if your project is actually a good fit. Moves management may be the best practice for major gift fundraising, but it is equally important in grant writing.
10 Grant Writing Tips and Best Practices for Nonprofits
1. Plan Your Grant Research Process
Sourcing granting opportunities can be a painstaking venture, but there are funding databases to fit any budget. Search grant funder databases and see what they offer. Keep in mind that most of these databases focus on family or corporate foundations and don’t often include government or corporate opportunities.
Be organized and create a calendar with funding deadlines, knowing that the larger the grant, the longer the review process. Also, set targets, including how much of the amount you ask for in your grant proposal that you hope will get funded.
2. Determine Criteria Fit
Grantors develop specific criteria to guide them in their decision-making, and this is an excellent opportunity to determine if your nonprofit organization may be a match. Consider creating a spreadsheet listing every detail of the funder’s criteria in one column and the nonprofit’s match in another column to evaluate an organizational match.
3. Call the Funder
Call the funder if you are unsure that your nonprofit’s program is a good fit for the grant. Let them know you are interested in participating in the granting cycle and ask if your program is a possible match. If they publicize their phone number, use it! This is not an invasive gesture from a nonprofit to a grantor; instead, this is relationship building!
4. Develop a Strategy for Your Program
You know your program is a match, so what’s next? Gather an internal team for a strategy session to clearly define your program and your ask. During your grant strategy session, as a team, consider these questions:
- What does your nonprofit organization offer in terms of experience and expertise?
- How will your nonprofit tackle the issue at hand?
- Who will be on the program delivery team?
- How will you incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion in your programs?
- How much will it cost, and perhaps most importantly, how will it change lives?
5. Gather the Necessary Information In Advance
Grant writing is like fitting pieces of a puzzle together. Your organization should have most of the necessary pieces on hand even before you start sourcing grants. Be prepared to include details such as your nonprofit organization’s history, mission, charitable number, budget, HR-specific information, as well as project-specific details, like possible partnerships and project outcomes.
6. Create an Impact Management Strategy
How will your program transform communities and beneficiaries, and how will you track your progress? Measuring impact should not just include the number of people served but also quantifiable data on how much change your organization is creating.
Include details about your nonprofit’s impact measurement and risk management strategy in your grant proposal. Highlight the possible barriers to your project and discuss how you will address them. More so, discuss the sustainability and scalability of your project or program.
7. Your Writing Should Be Clear, Concise, and Compelling
Keep your writing clear, concise, compelling, and easy to understand. Don’t leave room for misinterpretation. Funders make decisions based on your proposal as submitted. If you do not make your project clear, they will not call to ask questions.
Grant writing is also an opportunity to share your organization’s unique story. Take advantage of that and keep your proposal engaging. As you write, your passion for change will stand out, and it just might keep the funder reading!
8. Review Your Program’s Budget
Include details about your budget in your grant proposal. Your budget is a story in numbers, and it must match the content detailed in the rest of your proposal. Again, if your proposal is not clear, funders will not call you to ask questions; they will simply make decisions based on the information available to them. Your budget must be clearly outlined and easy to understand.
9. Proofread Your Grant Proposal
When writing a lengthy grant application, it can be very easy to make spelling errors, mismatch dates, and omit key data points. And unfortunately, that can decrease your chances of receiving the grant. So, be sure to proofread your grant proposal.
If something in your proposal doesn’t look right to you, go back to your grant strategy team and get them to make the necessary corrections. Your ask needs to be clear, and the story should be compelling. Do not spend all this time creating your proposal only to have it overlooked because of typos and errors.
10. Include all Necessary Attachments
Many funders offer a grant application checklist so nonprofits can ensure all necessary attachments and details are included in their submission. Follow this checklist closely! Once you’ve gathered the information required, review it at least once again. And, when you’re ready, submit!
So, you’ve won (or lost) your grant. Now what?
This Free Grant Stewardship Checklist will guide you through the next steps to take after you’ve been approved for a grant (or not). It also includes tips and resources to make your next application even better.
Remember, nonprofit grant writing doesn’t have to be tedious. Start planning for your grant application very early, and be sure to take advantage of the tips and tricks shared in this article so you can boost your chances of securing funds for your organization. To learn more about grant writing strategies and tips, contact Sheila Kern at Purposefully.
About the author:
Sheila Kern, Principal Consultant, Purposefully
Sheila Kern is a results-driven leader who’s dedicated her career to supporting social purpose and charitable organizations to achieve impact in their communities. As principal consultant at Purposefully in Vancouver, Sheila offers experience in leadership, fundraising, strategic planning, governance, and grant writing.