At some point in your nonprofit career, you will no doubt have to apply or at least provide input for an application for grant funding relating to your cause. Here are 12 things to keep in mind to help set you up for success;

  1. Thoroughly read through their instructions and requirements as well as key dates and criteria.
  2. Don’t create programs to fit guidelines. Find the guidelines that fit your programs, really well. Look at what they’ve funded before and read and re-read the guidelines. If it doesn’t fit, don’t submit or cut that section.
  3. Build relationships first. Pick up the phone, don’t just fire in an e-mail. Get meetings or calls at a minimum. Send your executive director to meet with foundation executive directors or program officers. The written proposal is only a tool in the grant seeking process.
  4. If you do get a meeting, take notes and clues. How did they show up? Were they formal, informal, or did they need an agenda? What excited them? What made their eyes glaze over? What key things did you take away about their organization? Use that to learn they story behind the story you need to tell.
  5. Ask questions such as “what is an example of a program you have funded which you feel has especially good outcomes?” Sometimes they will tell you to apply, sometimes they will ask you questions which lead to giving them more closely aligned proposals to what they or their boards are looking for.
  6. When writing a proposal, stay true to your program. As long as you are within the funding priorities you are good, don’t let a founder dictate your best practice.
  7. A grant writer is really a project manager for herding cats: if you need something from your operations people, give them a task list and deadlines to get support for your grant proposal.
  8. Do as much research as you can, especially if you are submitting for the first time. Even consider calling previously funded organizations if you can, since their advice will be priceless, even if they were not successful.
  9. Be brutal with your editing. Don’t submit anything sloppy and not well thought out.
  10. Write with an eye for clarity; this isn’t a college lit final.
  11. Always leave at least 48 hours between “finish” and “submit” for one last review and to provide a buffer for any technical problems that might arise.
  12. If and when you don’t get the grant (often not on the first try), politely call and ask for a 10 minute “debrief” to understand how you can do better next time. And remember, if at first you do not succeed, try, try again!

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