Is Your Nonprofit Grant-Ready?

Derik Timmerman

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So, you’ve started a nonprofit with a cause you really care about.

You want to jump into funding opportunities right away. You think these initial funds will help your organization get up and running.

Grant money is out there for the taking, so that’s where you think you should start.

Sounds logical, right?

But then you hit a brick wall.

Nobody knows your organization since it’s so new, so outside funding is hard to come by.

Your nonprofit isn’t actually a running operation yet, so you have little to show grant-awarding foundations that want to know how your organization works.

And when potential donors quiz you about your mission, purpose, goals, and the actual work you’ve done for your cause, you have a hard time explaining everything clearly.

Added to all that, the competition is stiff. There are over 1.5 million charitable organizations in the U.S. alone. And most of them are applying for grant money.

Stop right there.

Do you see the problem?

It sounds to me like you’ve missed a few key steps in nonprofit planning. 🤔

Before you dive into the deep end of applying for grants, you need a few checkboxes ticked. ✅

Only then will you be in a position to win grant money to further your cause and impact.

But, before we discuss the keys to grant-readiness, let’s go over the general grant application process. While it varies depending on the foundation or organization offering the grant, some basic elements remain the same no matter where you apply.

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WHAT IS THE GRANT APPLICATION PROCESS LIKE?

Time for a reality check. 🌎

1. It Takes a Long Time

The first thing to know about applying for grants is how long it really takes.

Answer:

A long time.

Like, longer than you think. Way longer.

I’m talking up to a full year.

This is because each stage in itself is pretty lengthy.

First, you have to find grants to apply for in the first place. There are federal grants, private grants, public charity grants, individual grants, etc. Here’s an overview:

types of grants

Next, you have to write your grant application. (This part is persnickety and time-consuming. See point #2, below. 👇)

Finally, you submit your application and wait for the funding institution to do its thing (process the app and check it for basic compliance to rules/eligibility requirements, refer it to the right department in their organization, and then, FINALLY, review the app carefully).

Remember, the grant application process generally divides into three stages:

  • Grant application stage
  • Application referral/review stage
  • Post-award stage

2. It’s Persnickety

There’s no other way to describe the grant application process.

It’s persnickety.

(If this makes you think of a demanding, strict school teacher who will accept nothing but perfection… well, you’re on the right track. 👩‍🏫)

Every level of the process requires care and attention to detail.

What does that mean, exactly?

Like I said before, there are lots of different types of grant-awarding foundations and institutions out there. Each type of institution has something different to offer those who are grant-seeking.

On top of that, you can’t go applying everywhere because each institution has its own eligibility requirements. Additionally, some grants are only gifted to individuals, sponsored individuals, or organizations working in specific industries or sectors.

And this is all necessary to consider before you ever start writing a single grant application.

Once you actually get into the meat and potatoes of writing applications, it’s a whole different ballgame.

Here’s an overview of the entire process. It’s no joke.

grant writing process

3. Writing a Grant Application Is No Walk in the Park

Yep. This part is hard.

There’s no getting around it. We’re talking about real money here, and in a lot of cases, quite a chunk of money.

Grant-giving institutions want to know for sure that the dollars they invest in your nonprofit will be put to good use. They want to see evidence that your goals align with theirs.

That’s why your application is so crucial.

You need to demonstrate why you deserve the grant money more than anyone else who applies.

Take a look at this grant application rubric from a real foundation, the Salem Education Foundation. This is the rubric the reviewers use to weed through applications and find the good ones. There are a LOT of details to include to get an “exemplary” score and thus move on to the next stage of review.

grant application rubric

Make no mistake: there will be a ton of great applicants. The competition will be high.

To this end, writing your application will be tougher than you think.

Luckily, when you finally get into composing and crafting your grant app, you’ll find a few elements will make the biggest difference to your chances for success.

Know them before you ever start looking for grants in the first place, and you’ll have a much easier time when you’re ready to start writing applications. ✍

3 KEYS TO GRANT READINESS FOR YOUR NONPROFIT

Here’s the question of the day.

Are you grant-ready?

With these three keys in hand early on, you will be.

1. Know Your Purpose

Like, know it COLD.

Your purpose is your mission. It’s your guiding light. It tells the world what you plan to accomplish and why.

You need to know this without a shadow of a doubt. Before you do anything else, nail down your purpose so you can confidently and clearly explain it to anyone in a few sentences.

A few tips:

  • Don’t leave out the passion. Your passion is what got you into the nonprofit world in the first place. Include it in your purpose statement and show how much you care. More people will be drawn to your passion + your cause, versus your cause alone.
  • Practice explaining your purpose. No, really. Do it in front of a mirror or in front of your friends/family. Practice until you can do it in under 30 seconds, so a 5th grader would understand. You’re going to have to explain your purpose, a LOT, in front of people who will make a giant difference to your organization in terms of support and funding, so best get comfortable with it (and good at it!) now.

Look at this mission/purpose statement from The Salem Community Primary Source Project. It’s included in a successful application for an enrichment grant, and hits the right notes:

successful nonprofit mission statement

2. Understand Your Power

Why does your nonprofit matter? Why now?

The answer to these questions is your power.

It’s about:

  • WHO you want to help
  • HOW you can help them
  • WHY it matters

Once you define your power and its impact, you can move forward and start using it. 💥

It gives you a concrete place to land when you need to explain to others what your nonprofit does.

It also sets you apart from other organizations and cements why you’re necessary and needed. (When it comes time to secure grant funds, this is a powerful differentiator.)

So, answer this question right NOW, and keep that answer bright and shining before you as you move forward:

“More than any other time in history, the world needs our nonprofit right now because ______.”

Look at how PBS answers this question.

PBS power statement

The world needs PBS because it’s America’s largest classroom, the nation’s largest stage, and a window to the world.

Impactful, right?

3. Point to Real Results

Our final key to grant-readiness is emphasizing real results over empty numbers.

Know the impact and service your nonprofit has accomplished through real results.

I’m not talking about INPUT metrics (number of volunteer hours, etc.). Instead, think of results in terms of OUTPUT metrics. What measurable good has come OUT of your nonprofit?

For most, that means focusing on lives transformed in real and measurable ways.

When it comes right down to it, nobody cares about how many hours your volunteers have put in, or the total funds you’ve raised, or how many donors you have.

Grant-awarding institutions are no different.

They want to know what you’ve done in your community.

They want to know whose lives you’ve changed or impacted.

And they want to know how you did it.

That’s all.

For inspiration, let’s turn back to PBS. Here’s how they point to real results:

pbs nonprofit results

Do you see the concrete examples?

  • How are they America’s largest stage? They offered hundreds of hours of arts and cultural programming (music, dance, theater, and art) watched by nearly 110 million people.
  • How did they provide a window to the world? They offered programming for all ages and interests, and 100 million people explored that content through television while 33 million engaged with it online.

They also offer statistics and examples related to their footprint and impact on their overview page.

Measurable impact. Real results. Make sure you can identify both for your nonprofit. It’s essential not just to be grant-ready, but to quantify the difference you’re making as an organization.

GRANT-READINESS TAKES TIME, EFFORT, AND PATIENCE. ARE YOU GRANT-READY?

Here’s the bottom line.

If you’re grant-ready, that means you’ve accomplished a lot of preliminary work as a nonprofit.

You’re solid in your purpose.

You know your power.

And you’re ready to prove it with real, life-changing results.

Any grant-awarding institution will be more than happy to part with funds to help you further your mission and impact.

And if you’re not quite grant-ready yet?

Don’t worry. You know what you need to do to move forward. 🔜

Do the work. Put in the time. Grow your nonprofit, and solidify your organization.

You’ve got this.

Not quite grant-ready yet?

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About The Author

Derik Timmerman is the founder of Sparrow Nonprofit Solutions. When he’s not serving nonprofit leaders, he geeks out on philosophy, outdoor trail time, and video games with his three kids.