How can your nonprofit get ready for and find foundation grants? Securing grant funding is difficult for all nonprofit organizations. Working with thousands of nonprofits each year, we know all too well the key reason many nonprofits fail to win grants. As difficult as it is to hear, many organizations are not prepared to secure them as part of their overall fundraising strategy.
When reviewing grant requests, all grant funders can see which organizations are prepared, organized, and capable of managing grant funding. They can also quickly see which organizations are not ready.
Even if your nonprofit is ready, foundations are unpredictable and often change guidelines between grant cycles, and even change the sectors and missions they support. Last year, in response to COVID, we saw numerous grant makers pivot their core areas of focus to support COVID related causes. While the foundations changed their focus, nonprofits still required support to cover the financial obligations of their existing programs that depended on previously awarded grant funding.
If your nonprofit is looking to secure foundation grants, it’s important to reflect and make sure you meet the Time, Will, and Skill test. Pairing these three tests with a solid strategy is a winning approach to grant funding.
Does your nonprofit have dedicated personnel, volunteers, or professional grant writers who can spend 10-30 hours each week researching submitting, and following up with prospective funders? If not, do you have the budget to add these resources?
It’s important to understand grants should only be a small portion (5-15%) of your overall fundraising strategy. When applying for grants, be ready to miss more opportunities than you win. It’s hard to get good data on success rates, but most industry insights declare successful nonprofits receive 20% of their requested grants. If grant seeking was a baseball stat, we as an industry would bat .200. For those non baseball fans, that’s not good. But for nonprofits seeking grant funding, a 20% success rate is not only realistic, but deemed a success. Do you have the will to endure through all the research, writing, and follow-up required, knowing success is defined by a 20% success rate?
Do you have the right team who is experienced in development, fundraising, and grant management? If not, are you prepared to hire or outsource to professionals with these skills?
If your nonprofit wants to secure grant funding, you’ll need a detailed plan. Every member of the grant team must be committed to the process because grant funding is a long and ongoing process. No grant application is a one and done approach. We often hear nonprofits say, “we applied for grants and it didn’t work.” When we hear comments like this, we often ask our clients, “How many times did you apply? Did you follow up? Did you ensure the organizations focus was aligned to your mission and programs?” Approaching a grant funding process without a comprehensive strategy is a path to failure. To successfully win grant funding, you need a clearly defined fundraising plan and grant writing strategy.
Is your organization ready for the competitive landscape of grants? Here are some best practices to improve your grant funding odds:
Do you meet the qualifications outlined in the best practices above? Then you’re ready to start looking for available foundation grants. What will your research approach look like? What tools and resources will you leverage? How will you find funders that align to your organization? Here are a few places to look:
Think about your cause and what organizations are in your community that might attract or support likeminded initiatives. For example, if you are a pet rescue, do you have a local Petco or Petsmart? Both have foundations that support rescue and other animal welfare initiatives. This is a low-cost, quick way to search for grant opportunities. Often times, you can register for and apply for these grants directly on the foundation websites.
We often hear clients say, “We just google for grant opportunities.” Google is a great search engine, but grants cycles and foundation opportunities frequently evolve. Unfortunately, relying on Google as your primary grant finding tool requires working harder, not necessarily smarter. Google should support a dedicated grant research tool.
We love using grant research databases. At BryteBridge Nonprofit Solutions, we subscribe and use just about all of them. The challenge with grant research databases is no single database is complete comprehensive, despite what their marketing says. Each database provides various opportunities, features, functionality, user experiences, and costs, but they all beat searching for grant funding on Google.
To improve your search odds, use as many grant databases as your nonprofit organization can afford and reasonably learn and manage. The screening and results are not always the same across databases due to the varying number of opportunities and the strength of screening criteria. We recommend selecting databases based on your organization’s budget, needs, and sector. For low-cost solutions, we recommend Grantscape (starting at $29 per month), GrantStation ($169 per year), and GrantMakers (free). Organizations with larger budgets should consider Foundation Directory Online ($199 per month).
Accessing multiple databases might help your odds of finding and securing grants, as no single site has the latest and most complete information. Most databases provide trials to test the software, which we encourage you do before you commit to any grant database. As you review the different providers, ask them if they have core areas of expertise and focus. For example, if you are a faith-based organization, grants are often challenging to find. Have the grant database provide a real-time review of your sector and region. Observe the difference in the screening criteria and results in your testing of grant databases.
While grant research databases make it easier to research, it’s still a time-consuming endeavor. Opportunities constantly evolve based on grant cycles, seasons, and market shifts.
If your nonprofit commits to grant funding as part of your overall fundraising plan, make sure you have the budgeted resources and time to dedicate to the process. A successful grant funding program requires time, skill, will, and strategy. Even with all components in place, nonprofits are often only successful 20% of the time. Securing grant funding is a journey that provides much-needed support to boost a nonprofit organization’s programming and services.