3 Qualities That Show You as a Leader Are Ready for a Grant (Plus What to Do If You're Not)

Derik Timmerman

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Question.

Where are you with your nonprofit right now?

Because I know, the journey is tough.

Pockets are empty.

Funds are tight.

Maybe you lie awake at night, sweat pouring down your back. You think, “I have no idea where our next funding will come from.”

“Am I doing this wrong?”

“What gave me the right to start a nonprofit in the first place?”

You second guess yourself, and deep down in your secret soul you sense the slightest suggestion to quit.

It would be so easy.

Let go and give up. All your burdens gone.

But it’s only for an instant. You know you can never give up your nonprofit and let the people you care about down.

If this is you, congratulations.

You’re doing something HUGE to change the world. 🌏

You’re not doing it wrong.

The thing is, maybe you’re relying too much on donations.

Because although donations are heartwarming, they account for only 14% of nonprofits’ revenue.

nonprofit revenue sources

If you want to survive and grow, you need another source of funds.

My suggestion?

Apply for a grant.

In this blog, I’ll lead you through the process of finding out if you’re ready for one.

Let’s dive right in!

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DONATIONS VS. GRANTS

A ton of people think a grant is specifically funding from the government.

The truth is, there are government grants and grants from individuals and private corporations.

So how are grants different from donations?

  • A donation is a free gift. When you get one, you can use it however you want to without having to account for it.
  • A grant is also a gift, but a specific one for a certain project. When you get a grant, you need to account for every cent you spend.

Here’s how GlobalGiving puts it:

grant vs donation

Now, here’s the exciting part: billions of dollars in grant money is available in the U.S. alone.  

The question is, do you qualify for one?

Not everyone does.

Most nonprofits aren’t in the position to tap into the huge resources available.

Are you?

And if your answer is no, what should you do?

3 QUALITIES THAT SHOW YOU'RE READY FOR A GRANT (PLUS: WHAT TO DO IF YOU'RE NOT)

Yes, applying for a grant takes a ton of work and patience.

And the work doesn’t end there.

Once you’ve received the grant, you need to keep track of every dollar and make sure your project is completed before the deadline you agreed on.  

But are grants worth it?

Of course.

As seen in the chart above, grants + private fees for services account for more than 80% of the total revenue nonprofits earn.

But how do you know you’re ready for one?

Here are three questions to ask yourself.

Question #1: Do You Know Your Purpose?

Think back to the last time someone asked you what your nonprofit stood for.

Did you avoid their eyes and mumble some inaudible phrase about changing the world?

Or did you stand up straight with your head held high and tell them exactly what you did in less than 30 seconds?

Let me tell you this.

If you did #1, you’ve got work to do. You’re not ready to apply for a grant right now.

But if you did #2?

You’re late.

You could’ve applied and won one ages ago. 👏

Here are extra signs to know you’re ready:

  • You can describe your nonprofit COLD. No pacing your room the night before, wrestling with exactly what to say to talk about what you do. No wastepaper baskets filled with rejected “mission” statements. If you can describe your nonprofit impromptu, you know exactly what you do and you’re ready for a grant.
  • You can describe your nonprofit in 30 seconds. As they say, less is more. The shorter your description of your nonprofit, the better you know it. Put a timer in front of you and test this. Can you tell someone what your purpose is in 30 seconds? 20? 10?
  • You can describe your nonprofit to a 5th grader. Sure, we can spout a ton of jargon that doesn’t mean a thing to anyone. And a nonprofit can do a ton of “tasks” without leaving a single meaningful footprint in the world. But if you can explain how you change the world to a 5th grader, you’ve got something serious going on.
  • You can describe your nonprofit passionately. If you’ve lost heart in your organization, it’s time to stop your work right now. But if you still care passionately for your constituents? Yup. You’re ready for that grant.

Now, if you answered “no” to any or all of the signs above, don’t worry.

No one’s perfect.

We all have to start somewhere. As Haruki Murakami says:

haruki murakami quote

If this is you, start here:

  • Give yourself time to think about your WHO. I know, you’re sincere. You started your nonprofit because at some point in time, someone needed your help. But things can get distracting. You can get pulled in a dozen different directions. If you’ve lost your focus, set aside time to go back to the beginning. Think about WHO you’re helping, and the WHAT of your organization will follow.
  • Give yourself time to think about your WHY. Think about WHY you’re helping in the first place. For instance, why are you helping victims of abuse, and what are you helping them to do? It could be caring for their children, training for new jobs, or simply putting food on the table.

Question #2: Do You Understand Your Power?

If you enjoy superhero movies, you’ll have noticed one thing: all superheroes go through a phase of learning their superpower.

And when they’re young and they don’t know how to use it?

Yup.

They crash into walls and fall of buildings. 😂

Because the truth is, you can’t do much if you don’t understand your power.

The same is true of you.

As a nonprofit leader, you have a superpower.

But in order to grow and confidently apply for grants, you need to know what it is.

Here’s how to find out:

  • Do you know why your nonprofit matters? If you can answer this clearly and confidently in less than 30 seconds, you know your superpower.
  • Why now? Is there a pressing, urgent reason why you should be running your nonprofit NOW? For instance, maybe you serve Syrian children hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. If that’s you, you’re ready for a grant. Here’s one great example.
unicef facebook post
  • Fill in this statement, “More than any other time in history, the world needs our nonprofit because____.” If you can answer it, you’re ready for a grant.

If you can’t answer these questions, it’s time to sit down and dig deep. Refocus. Like Clark Kent, maybe a little time learning your superpower will do the trick.

Question #3: Can You Point to Real Results?

Imagine this.

You want a ripped, muscular body.

You have two options:

  • Meal subscription A. This food subscription service has a ton of inspiring messages about the food they cook.
  • Meal subscription B. This food subscription service is used by healthy, fit people like Lebron James and Lionel Messi.

Which one would you pick?

Of course, it’s subscription B.

Why?

Because it has proven results.

The truth is, you can go on and on about what you can do.

But without real, solid results to prove it?

You won’t get anywhere near your goal.

Here are two tips to help you dig up those results.

  • Don’t go for input metrics. Don’t go for how many volunteers you have each month, or how many hours a day you put into your work. You can have a thousand volunteers and work 20 hours a day, but none of that matters if you can’t produce a single result.
  • Go for output metrics. Output metrics are solid results. For instance, maybe you helped 50 women train and land jobs, lifting them above the poverty line. Or maybe you’ve provided education to a hundred kids, and they’re now thriving and looking forward to brighter futures. These are the numbers that show you’re ready for a grant.

Again, if you don’t have proven results, don’t worry.  

There’s always a place to start, and that place is where you are right now.

Begin today. Map out what it’ll take to get solid results, then take the first step towards that goal. Step by step, you’ll get there.

HOW TO KNOW IF YOU'RE READY FOR A GRANT (OR IF YOU NEED MORE TIME)

You always knew running a nonprofit organization would be hard.

But no one told you it would be THIS HARD.

Maybe you’re down on your luck right now.

Your constituents need you, but donations are trickling in.

You have no idea how to inspire your employees and volunteers. Tell them it’s all going to be fine. Because a nagging voice in your head asks: what if it’s not?

If this sounds a lot like you, I have something to say to you.

The stage you’re in right now shows that you’re ready to grow.

You’re helping more people than you ever have. You’re helping them in more meaningful ways.

Maybe that’s why your funding is running so low.

So, here’s what you should do.

Go back to the three questions above and sit down with them.

Answer them honestly.

If your answer to all three is “yes”?

You’re ready to apply for a grant.

And I assure you, if you answered a BIG SOLID YES to all three, you will get that grant.

Want to grow your nonprofit above and beyond your goals?

Watch our FREE masterclass today for the step-by-step essentials of nonprofit leadership.

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.