[Blog] Getting Ready For Grants, Part 2


In “Getting Ready For Grants, Part 1”, I outlined steps that should be taken by new nonprofit organizations in order to get their organization ready for grants.

To recap, those steps are:

  • Make sure that you have a 501c3 and your paperwork is in order.
  • Have a CPA conduct a financial audit and ongoing tax consultations. You will need a third-party to verify that your organization’s finances are in order when you ask for funding.
  • Have a clear mission statement.
  • Develop local funding sources.
  • Develop community collaborations.

In “Getting Ready For Grants, Part 2” there is really only one next step before you actually start writing and submitting grants. That step is “Research”. This Research is two-fold. We will call it “Research A” and “Research B”.

Research A: Contrary to some of the information that is found on the internet, one does not write a grant and then send it a bunch of places and hope for the best. The majority of grants are offered through what are called RFPs (Requests for Proposals) or NOFAs (Notices of Funding Availability). These are basically the instructions for applying for the grant. In this document, funders explain what type of organization is eligible, how much money they have for the program in total, how much you can ask for, the average size of each award, allowable expenses, how many pages the proposal should be, how it should be submitted, and general information about what they are looking for. Often an RFP will specify “Absolute Priorities”, which are things that you have to be or do, such as serve persons at a certain poverty level in the community, or implement a certain type of program, or have a certain type of partner.  There are also “Competitive Priorities”, which are things that you don’t have to be or do to be eligible for the funding but, in doing so, you score extra points.

Many RFPs, especially at the federal level, are in excess of 75 pages and you have to read the whole thing to make sure that you are not missing anything. Sometimes they are a bit tricky. For instance, you might go through 50 pages before you get to a part that says only certain regions are eligible for funding, or that if you do not include a certain kind of partner through an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding), then your proposal will be considered unresponsive (and will not be reviewed). It is extremely important to understand the smallest details before spending time and money writing and submitting a grant proposal.

Because there is so much work involved, it is my recommendation that you subscribe to a grant research service and contract with an expert consultant to do the research and advise you about the best opportunities available for your organization. Most grant research services are relatively inexpensive and typically this is because they are interested in finding grant opportunities that you will hire them to write. If you are the Executive Director of an organization or a Program Manager, your time is valuable and it is usually worthwhile to invest in the relatively low cost to have an expert handle this for you.

Either way, if you hire a researcher or do it on your own, detailed research of available grants that align with your mission must be done before any grants are actually written. Once you identify the grants that you are eligible for, you must then narrow that list down to the grants that you believe you have the best chance of winning.  Again, consider the amount of funding available, the average size of each grant, the type of organizations that have been funded in the past, if they are similar to yours, and how well your mission and capacity aligns with the purpose of the funding.

Research B: It is important to understand that the majority of grants are designed to fund expenses associated with programs that have specific measurable outcomes, rather than for general operating costs, to buy land or property, or do major construction projects like fix a roof. I do not want to say that all grants are a certain thing because there are always exceptions, but for the most part, competitive grant funds are for programs. When someone calls and they would like us to find them grants only to buy land or fix a building we don’t normally take those projects on. There are just too few and often no grants available for this. To get funding for buildings and land typically a nonprofit must start a “Capital Campaign”. To learn more about the Capital Campaign, read our blog post, here: https://grantwriters.net/blog/5-secrets-to-a-successful-capital-campaign/

Understanding that the grants you are looking for are going to fund your existing programs and programs that you want to begin because there is a need for it in your community, the next type of research regards the term “Evidence Based”.  Say that you are interested in preventing teen pregnancy and promoting healthy decision making in your community. If you Google these words with “Evidence Based Programs” (EBP) you will find a plethora of information. An Evidence Based Program is a program or practice based on specific techniques and intervention models that have shown to have positive effects on outcomes through rigorous evaluation. Many grants require EBP, but even for those that don’t, it is a good idea to either replicate EBP or tie your innovative program into existing best practices and justify how there is evidence that your practice has promise. Applying for a grant is much like asking for a loan at a bank. Even though you do not have to pay back a grant, the grantor wants to ensure that they are making a good investment and that their money will be spent effectively. When you tie your program to evidence of effectiveness, you have a much better chance of getting funded. So whatever you are doing: be it physical education, feeding the homeless, afterschool tutoring, low-income housing counseling; all of these programs and more have EBP that can be found. Your job would be to identify the model that fits best with your vision and the community that you are serving.

In conclusion, doing proper grant research before writing any grants is much like the carpenter motto “Measure twice. Cut once.”  Don’t spin your wheels by applying for grants that you are not eligible for, or that you don’t have a chance of winning. Find the right opportunities and go after them. Finally, tie your program to best practices and models that are known to work. This will give you a better chance of winning the grants that you apply for.

Good Luck in your grant writing endeavors.

John Nawrocki

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