Get Noticed (and funded!) A Guide to Nonprofit Grantwriting Basics
I have a friend who was looking for a new home. If you have been watching the real estate market recently or been personally in the hunt to purchase a home, you know how competitive it has gotten. My friend put bids on eleven houses. Each offer was above asking price, no inspection and a with a pre-approved loan. Each offer was outbid in some way and the exhaustive search continued. He began asking, “What is it going to take to win? What were sellers looking for or expecting when they compared multiple bids and decided which to accept?”
I am happy to report his twelfth time was a charm. My friend is settling on his new home this week and will be moving in soon.
Not unlike the competitive real estate market, finding and securing grant funding for worthy causes can be highly competitive as well. What does it take to identify funding partners, present a compelling case and secure funding? What does it take to compete and win?
There is an art and science to successful grantwriting. Nonprofit professionals who invest in learning how to write grants can bring significant financial support to their causes. Creating impact partners for your important work can take you from envisioning a better world to actually seeing the change you are working to create.
Let’s take a look at what grantwriting consists of, how it can help you accomplish your mission and some of the ways to learn to be a competitive and confident grant writing expert.
Nonprofit Grantwriting: Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is a nonprofit grant?
A: Think about someone who has money to do good work but does not have the expertise, access to clients, staffing or other important resources to accomplish the work. This is the essence of the nonprofit grant.
Private foundations, corporations, government agencies and other funding entities establish a way to infuse resources around a desire to create impact. They want to put money into doing good.
Grant funders also establish a process to give their money to partners already doing the work. It is a perfect match made for the good of mankind, or animal-kind, environment-kind, etc. You get the idea. There are funders looking for YOU to partner with. Are you looking for them? Keep reading for ways to get started.
Q: What is nonprofit grantwriting?
A: Nonprofit grant writing is a process of applying for funding from a foundation or other entity through a predetermined application process. Grant writing requires nonprofit organizations to submit written requests for funding. Many grant applications are online but some funders request printed, bound and multi-copied applications.
Some grant opportunities are as informal as developing a one-page project description and budget. Others require a checklist of materials and information and can be quite lengthy. Each grant funder is unique. Check their specific guidelines for timing, requirements and funding priorities to be sure your nonprofit aligns with their funding goals.
Q: Is grant writing difficult?
A: Nonprofit grantwriting is time-consuming and complex but it does not have to be difficult. Most grant funders are asking you, as the nonprofit expert, information you already know or have access to. The work comes in compiling the information in a way that takes the grant funder into the solution you are providing to an issue they care about.
Write what your nonprofit is doing in the world. Write about who you serve and how you are making lives, communities, circumstances better through the work you do. Make a connection between your mission and the philanthropic intent of the grant funder. Also, give yourself a generous timeline for completion.
As you get more familiar with the process, you will likely have content written and materials gathered that will make the process go more quickly. For now, give yourself time!
Q: Can anyone write a grant?
A: Anyone can write a nonprofit grant and many people do. Part of your competitive edge will be to enlist an excellent writer who knows your mission and can put your vision into words that make a complete stranger want to help. As a nonprofit professional, that might be you. It may be a volunteer or a contracted writer. The person behind the pen is not as important as the words, heart and belief that shows up on the application.
Q: What does nonprofit grantwriting consist of?
A: An application should include all the important details of your request including who, what, where, when, why and how. Rarely is there an opportunity to clarify or fill in missing pieces after the application is submitted. Do not leave any holes that might disqualify your application.
Most funders will ask for a realistic budget to accomplish what you say you will do with their money. They will probably ask for background documents and financial statements to make sure you are capable of succeeding. Those are documents you have on-hand already or can develop within a short amount of time.
Test your application on someone who knows your program well. Also, test it on someone who knows nothing about your organization or program. If there are unanswered questions or missing details, this is a good way to find them before you submit to the grant funder.
Q: How do I start nonprofit grantwriting?
A: This is a time when excellent writing skills matter. Be clear. Be professional. Avoid lingo or slang that might not translate to someone who is not close to your mission. Assume you are telling a brand-new story.
Whether you are a nonprofit professional in a new role dedicated to grant writing or a nonprofit executive wearing many hats including Grant Writer, there are numerous resources to help you get started in grant writing. Explore these grant writing courses as well as some excellent grant writing tips. I have also listed three key steps below to help you grow your skills and get noticed by funders.
Write Grants That Get Noticed: 3 Key Steps To Grant Writing For Beginners
- Learn from History
There is value in repeating what works. You do not always have to reinvent the wheel. Has your nonprofit received significant grant support in the past? If so, what can you learn about the presentation?
• What stories were shared that painted a compelling picture of your mission?
• What data was presented that helped the grant funder see the scope of service you provide?
• What impact did former applications promise that inspired a grant funder to invest in your work?
Looking at historical grant funding can give you a jump start on the writing process, giving you a place to begin. Next, find out who, at your nonprofit, is doing the work and get their input.
- Learn from the Front Lines
As a grant writer, you are probably not the one on the front lines delivering the services and programs that need funding. Those are the voices you represent when you are making a grant request.
Visit the “front line.” Ask how to make the mission come to life through stories and data. Capture the passion of transformation and write what you feel. Write what you see.
Ask those in the field what it would mean to have the funding they need. Translate that need into words that your potential funders will get behind. With a passionate plea in-hand, the next step is packaging the request to get noticed.
- Learn from Experts in the Field
Imagine standing in the green room of Shark Tank with 50 other inventors. Holding a prototype of your ‘big idea’, you are beaming with pride and anxious to share your genius with the sharks. With only five minutes to present, you finish and breathlessly ask for the funding you need to make it a reality. The competition is thick and only a few will get through.
Shark Tank is not for the faint of heart. Neither is nonprofit grantwriting. Know your stuff. Practice your pitch. Tighten up anything that would cause questions. Let the readers know that they are choosing the right cause and the right solution when they fund your nonprofit.
Also, I encourage any “writing-phobics” among us to start with a text-to-speech app that allows you to just get your thoughts onto a screen and out of your head. Edit your work later.
Now that you are in it to win it and you have a few key steps to get started, there are some excellent training/educational resources available to learn more about nonprofit grantwriting. Soon you will be ready to help funders see that you are the exact organization they are looking for to accomplish their goals.
Recommended Resources for Becoming a Nonprofit Grantwriting Expert
Some people hear “writing” and their minds come to a screeching halt. Do not let the expectation of good writing slow you down. You’ve got this! You know your mission. You know the good work that your nonprofit does. Speak from the heart. Write what you know. Imagine what you could accomplish with an investment from a funder and say it!
Here are so more great resources from nonprofit grantwriting experts who have built their careers getting noticed and getting funded.
Is your organization “grant ready?”
Every nonprofit organization I have worked with is anxious for funding. But this free, online resource, hosted by DH Leonard Consulting, helps you determine if you are ready for the ask.
Through various tools DH Leonard helps determine if you are ready to be competitive in the grant seeking process. What does it mean to be grant ready? And what can you do on your own to improve your grant readiness? Check out this training to learn more.
Effective Nonprofit Grantwriting Training Module
Grant writing is a unique type of fundraising and resource development strategy. This training module will provide you and your staff with the basic tools you need to learn how to do grant writing. The PowerPoint, instructor notes, sample agenda and handouts will help you understand the how, when and where to start writing grants. An overview of the various types of case statements and step by step directions for a typical grant are included.
In her free, 9-minute YouTube video, expert grant writing and fundraising professional Tiffany Grant distinguished between six types of grant opportunities. Tiffany explains that not all grant funders are alike and not all grant funding opportunities are alike. She examines six different types of grants you will encounter on your grant search including: Program/Project Grants, Operating Grants, Capacity-Building Grants, Capital Grants, Endowment Grants and In-Kind Grants.
Imagine locking arms, elbow to elbow, with someone as excited and inspired about your nonprofit as you are. Invite them to walk with you to see the work and to invest in the results and impact of funding the work.
Nonprofit grantwriting can scratch the inner itch of competitiveness and inspire you beyond your wildest imagination. So, what is it going to take to compete and win? Practice, time, expertise, the right ask for the right project. Step up to the challenge and get funded today. Good luck!