Applying for Grants: 10 Tips

There are so many foundations out there wanting to support the work of a non-profit like yours. However, there are a lot of other worthy organizations competing for the same funds, and the prospect of having to outshine them in your funding proposal can be daunting. But by following these top 10 tips when you’re applying for grants or funding, you’ll maximize your chances of making sure your organization stands out above the rest.

1. Understand how foundations operate

Not all foundations or funding schemes are alike. Understanding how different foundations operate can help you decide if they are the best match for your non-profit.

Independent foundations are private foundations usually owned by one source, like a family, or an individual’s bequest. It’s important to note that in most cases, individuals give more than any other type of foundation.

Company-sponsored grants are usually given in the form of cash or products from a corporation, but corporations give considerably less than individuals.

Private operating foundations are foundations that spend at least 85% of its income (or its minimum investment return), on its own operations. They use a bulk of their income to fund and organize their own charitable programs, and make few grants outside of their organization.

2. Match their motivations

Different types of foundations are motivated to give money for different reasons. Independent foundations are usually motivated by philanthropic goals, and want to support organizations addressing the issues they care about through an objective process. Corporations are more likely to donate to a project or organization who aligns with their corporate social responsibility policy or corporate ethic strategy, and generally want to support projects or organizations that will boost their branding and public image. Private operating foundations generally donate to projects that address similar specific issues to their own work.

3. Find the perfect match

Unfortunately, the ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t work when applying for grants and funding. Don’t try to align what you’re doing to fit the funder’s goals, find funder’s that align with your work! You’ll know you’ve found the perfect match if you can easily demonstrate how your mission aligns with their focus.

4. Do your homework

Having a well-written grant proposal won’t be enough for your organization to stand out amongst competition; you must prove that you’re well-researched too. Show them that you’ve done your homework and learnt about the goals of the foundation, their stakeholders, what they have previously funded, and why they’re the right match to help your organization address the needs of the community.

5. Don’t make it about your needs

Never start by outlining the needs of your organization. Grant writing shouldn’t be about your needs and how much the funding will help progress your work. Instead, focus on the needs of the community in which you’re working, and outline how the work you do is essential for this community, and what sets your work apart from competitors. Keep it solutions-focused; donors will be more persuaded by the outcomes of your work, not the process that gets you there.

6. Show your credibility

It’s not enough to tell a potential donor about how great your work is, you have to show them. Provide a clear rationale of what the projects achieves and why it needs to be done. They want evidence that you have a sustainable fundraising strategy, that you’re project has well-define objectives, you have strong leadership, and things like case studies that prove it will be a success.

7. Be specific

While project-specific funding is by far the most common, foundations do provide grants to help fund specific campaigns and operational costs. But no matter what you’re seeking funding for, ensure that the work is measurable. Know how much money you want from a potential donor, and ask for a specific amount. Include a brief breakdown of a budget so they can see you’ve got a solid plan.

8. Build a connection

You don’t need to know someone to secure a grant… but it can certainly help get your foot in the door. If you’re thinking of applying for funding from a foundation that you’ve never interacted with before, it can help to first build a bit of a connection with them. Get to know who you’re talking to over a phone call or by sending a brief email. Even if you’ve built a strong connection with a particular foundation, don’t go straight to them with a new funding proposal. Start by sending a letter of intent, to introduce a new project and see if they want more information.

9. Don’t give up

Unfortunately, it is rare to be accepted for a grant without an existing relationship with the foundation, and like all types of fundraising, a ‘no’ might mean ‘no right now.’ It’s important not to give up, and maintain a relationship with funders either way. Plus you never know, even if they have never given you funding before, if you build and maintain a strong relationship with a foundation, they may turn to you if extra funds become available.

10. Don’t rely on grants alone

Unfortunately, you can’t rely on grants and funding from foundations alone. Sometimes you’ll be waiting months between applying for funding and hearing an outcome, and if this is you primary source of funding, it will only lead to further stress and unwanted pressure. Grants should be incorporated as a part of a more diversified fundraising plan, otherwise, if a major grant falls through you risk sinking your entire organization. Any single donor should not represent more than about a quarter of your revenue


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