Updated: Jul 20
I hear it ALL the time... "I did everything they asked in the application and we still didn't get funded." So many nonprofit leaders who are new to grant management make this mistake and often. If all you're doing is submitting an application, you're potentially limiting your chances of getting awarded. Here are six steps that will help your proposal stand out in the crowd and be less likely to sit atop the rejection pile.
1. Do your homework.
When researching funding opportunities, truly make sure that your organization meets the criteria of the grantmaker. Don't fudge it. If you notice a red flag, don't figure you're "close enough."
And don't rely on one source. If you're using an online database, do a standard Google search. Review their website. Dig a little.
I'd always rather submit to a few organizations that I feel confident about our odds of success than dozens that I'm just hopeful about. The shotgun approach to peppering the landscape with your proposal is definitely an... approach. And something might eventually stick.
But, just like individual fundraising, wouldn't you rather have a long-term partner in your mission that you may be able to count on for years to come than a one-time donor who you'll never hear from again?
2. Call the Grant Manager
We've discussed this before, but it's an important step in the process. Last week, I had a foundation that looked like a perfect match on paper for one of our clients. I called the grant manager, and she immediately thanked me. "Everything about us online right now is wrong," she said. "We're getting tons of applications, and it's just wasting people's time."
She explained that, while all of their general information was still correct, they weren't currently accepting applications because they'd overextended themselves financially two years prior. They needed some time to recover and were taking a few years off from making awards.
I was grateful I'd taken five minutes to reach out to her and saved us hours of work putting together a proposal. But I made a note to call back in two years.
3. Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Draft Your Proposal
Don't fool yourself about writing a grant proposal. A lot goes into it. It can take a seasoned professional anywhere from 8 to 20 hours (average) to draft a high-quality proposal.
Unless you can completely devote all of your time, two weeks before the deadline isn't enough, and the foundation's readers will know that you threw something together at the last minute. High-quality proposals combine concise but engaging storytelling and compelling, relevant data.
You need time to gather that information and retell it in a way that inspires a foundation to become a partner in your mission because, with their help, you'll change the world. In my experience, unless I have at least two months until the deadline, I rarely consider that funder as an option for the current year.
4. Request a Review
Remember that grant manager you talked to earlier? Ask if he/she would be available to review your proposal before the deadline. If yes, this is a golden opportunity to get some insider information (and another reason to give yourself plenty of time to draft your proposal before the deadline).
Typically, you'll want this review to take place no later than one month before the deadline to ensure the grant manager has time to respond and allow you time to make adjustments.
5. Gather Relevant Documents & Supplemental Information
Typically, a grantmaker is going to request that you send them copies of your IRS 501c3 Determination Letter and other very specific data related to your budget, your organizational structure, your finances, and your Board of Directors. This can take some time to gather, particularly if your nonprofit is
larger or relatively new.
But, be prepared to send additional information that may supplement your proposal. This could include letters of support from partner organizations, your most recent annual report, or accolades and accomplishments recognized in local media. **Some foundations specifically request that you do not send supplemental information, so be sure to follow their instructions and check with the grant manager.
6. Follow Up
Whether you receive a check or a rejection letter, following up with the grantmaker is a critical step in ensuring your overall grant management strategy is successful. Of course, for a funded request, a follow-up call allows you to show your gratitude, verify any reporting expectations, and determine if the foundation is comfortable with any publicity for the gift.
For a rejected proposal, a call allows you the opportunity to learn why your proposal was not funded. What could you have done differently? Were there elements of the proposal that could have been revised to be more appealing to the review committee? It feels natural to think, 'Well, they rejected us, so let's move on.' While moving on may be the best next step, your next proposal could benefit from what you can learn from this one.
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