Welcome to 2021!
Quite a year it has been.
Reaching a high degree of stability is a goal for most organizations seeking to overcome the various challenges faced during the pandemic. While many elements can assist your organization with the new normal, grant funding will play a large part in that activity. In preparation for that effort, there are various activities that you can complete right now to position yourself in the best possible way to win grant funding in the coming year.
So, let’s get started.
Step #1 Get your paperwork in order. The vast majority of grant funding requires an organization to have current 501c3 status. Make sure you have a valid letter of determination, and your organizational chart and the board of directors list is updated and on letterhead. Ensure that resumes are up to date for staff members and contractors operating grant-funded programs. Often funders want to review the organization’s staffing capacity and make sure that they are qualified to run the funded program. You will need financial documentation, including an operating budget, all sources of income and donations, and financial statements from a certified public accountant. You can get a waiver on audited financial statements from most funders if your operating budget is under a certain amount. However, for the future and after successfully securing grants, you will need accounting assistance, and you will want to plan on audited financial statements in the future. Finally, to submit federal grants, you will need to be registered in grants.gov. If there have been changes to your organization since you last registered, it may take several weeks to get updated. Do not wait until you find a grant you desire before checking to see if everything is up to date or start the process. Ensure that it is current now, and keep your log-in information handy. Please note that our firm offers free registration set-up with our contracted services.
Documents that you will need:
- IRS Letter of Determination
- Board of Directors List (names and their affiliations)
- Operating Budget
- Sources of Existing and Potential Matching Funds
- IRS 990 Tax Return
- Audited Financial Statements or an Audit Review
- Grants.gov registration up to date
Step #2: Mission Statement and Evidence Base.
Why does your organization exist? What problems are you trying to solve? What do you want to accomplish? Your organization will need to answer these questions so that you or your grant writer can clearly explain them to funders. It is ok to have a broadly based mission statement, but it has to be clear. In fact, the broader your mission, the more funding that will be available to you. For instance, you might have started your organization to purchase backpacks for low-income students. That is a wonderful mission. But grant funding for that specific activity is limited. Instead, a mission to help low-income children and their families offers more opportunities. It opens up many areas of funding aligning to the initial mission. With a broader mission, an organization might start building capacity to provide tutoring services. It might bring in STEM program experts to provide informal science education to get kids excited about science. The organization might introduce a character education curriculum, drug and alcohol prevention education, healthy relationship and teen pregnancy prevention courses, and more. The list of support service programs is endless when the mission is expansive. So now, instead of only being eligible for a $2,000 grant for a backpack program, an organization is in the arena of a $200,000 grant over multiple years, still providing backpacks but also doing a lot more.
Once an organization is very clear about what it wants to accomplish, funders almost always want an evidence-based program implemented. Evidence-based programs are “programs that have been rigorously tested in controlled settings, proven effective, and translated into practical models that are widely available to community-based organizations.” Research the best practices on a topic. This way, when a grant is released aligning with the organization’s mission, you already know the program that you would like to implement. Within our services, we can help you identify the best evidence-based program available.
Step #3: Research and Understand Grants. Grants have complicated requirements, especially at the Federal level. There can be more than 100 pages of instructions in a Request for Proposal (RFP). Start researching now. There are federal forecast and foundation newsletters that have information about RFPs, release dates, and eligibility. Many busy nonprofit organizations hire professionals for this type of work. A good research service should have at least one conversation with you to understand the organization’s needs, goals, and level of experience with grants. The consultant should understand the organization’s mission and have suggestions about expanding it for additional funding. They should provide a detailed report of only grants of interest to your organization. The report should include the name of the funder, a link to the RFP, available amount, average size of each grant anticipated, deadline, eligibility requirements, information on submission details such as a letter of intent requirement, and a summary of the funding’s focus. The consulting should be available to talk through the complicated grant program information with you and your team. Typically, it is worthwhile to have an expert meet with you and your team at the start of the year to help define your goals, understand the available grant funding and put together a target list of grants to pursue. Resource Associates offers this service, which is called a Grant Research Opportunity Report. This planning session will help you also move forward with the final item on this list, partnership development. This additional service is especially valuable to new organizations looking to leverage community resources.
Step #4: Partnership Development.
When requesting funds, it is essential to demonstrate that the grant initiative has the community’s support and buy-in. Most grant applications require documented Partnership Agreements and Letters of Support from the organizations that partner to make their initiative successful. For example, your organization might be writing a grant proposal for a program to help homeless youth. Typically, the funder wants to see that you can provide what is known as “wrap-around” services. They want to know that you have community buy-in and meet all of the needs of the people you will serve. Typical partners for this type of grant program would be an overnight shelter, local school districts, employment assistance agencies, medical centers including mental health, drug/alcohol and sexual assault counseling entities, and more. The more agencies on-board with the program to demonstrate capacity, the stronger the grant proposal will be. This task can be challenging and daunting for nonprofits, but it can be made easy by utilizing Resource Associates’ Partnership Development services.
In conclusion, grants are hard to win even when you do everything right. So don’t be deterred if you submit a few proposals and they are denied. Denials are just learning opportunities.