There’s nothing more exciting to a non-profit founder than cutting the figurative ribbon on the 501(c)(3) status. New founders are wildly passionate for the cause they represent and are dedicated to making a difference. Securing a 501(c)(3) brings legitimacy to your work and your cause. It may seem that once it’s in place, you can simply go out and get grants to support the work of the organization. Unfortunately, there is a large gap between the plans of the new nonprofit and the reasons grant makers award funding.
A successful grant application requires a strong understanding of a community’s unmet need, experts on board who understand the top solutions, and convincing data to verify impact. To have all of this, the organization must have income from other sources. New nonprofits have plenty of heart, but they may not have the delivery structure, the donor base, or a track record of success. New nonprofits often must pass five milestones on the way to winning grant applications.
1. Environmental Scan
The first milestone is to confirm that your nonprofit is indeed the only one in its niche. This shows an understanding of the players in the space, and how your shiny new nonprofit fits in the continuum of services. The most common mistake made by nonprofit founders and board members is not researching the unmet need and the dangerous assumption that their idea is unique and no one else is doing it. Grant makers detest redundancy. Show them that you have done your homework – they are more likely to fund you if you do.
2. Fill the Gaps
We don’t need to state the obvious, but we are going to do it anyway: your nonprofit needs money to operate. Once you have figured out the unmet community need you intend to address, sit down and make a list of what the nonprofit itself needs. This is everything from subject matter experts, to securing permits and licenses to raise funds. You can’t do this work alone. That’s why it’s important to identify what you as the founder need as well and include that in your planning. Burnout is rampant in the nonprofit world. Identify what you may not do as well and begin filling the gaps.
3. Build Relationships
With your need list in hand, begin to consider who has the expertise to help address the items on the list. The easiest way to garner support is to identify people who also care about your cause. Listen to them, understand why they care, then invite them to give and engage in whatever capacity they are able. Soon, your new nonprofit will have a growing group of people who are contributing what you need to deliver on your mission. This is a delicious, not vicious, cycle. People will see the dogs you rescue, or the food you bring to the food bank. They will continue to donate and volunteer to keep the good work going. Bit money from grants, large gifts, and corporate sponsorships will need to wait until services are more established and you can prove the results of your services.
4. Share Impact
The fourth milestone requires you to fully plant an evaluation system that involves collecting data and measuring impact on the needs you intend to address. Running a new nonprofit requires both a heart full of compassion and a soul full of data. You cherish the memories of wagging tails or the smiles of the food bank workers. But memories and anecdotes will only get you so far. If you don’t have an accountant’s soul, find someone who can track and measure your work (this is why milestone 3 is so important!). In order to be positioned as a competitor for grants, gifts, and awards, your new nonprofit first needs a strong resume. The better you are at telling that story and proving it, the more money you will be able to bring in.
5. Become Grant Ready
So, what exactly does it mean to be grant ready? Being competitive for grants requires at least two years of sustained and growing operations, financial viability, and cause area impact. Grant makers expect all these features from the nonprofits they support. They’ll scrutinize the organization to verify it has a growing momentum of impact and good will from the community. Grant makers all ask for the same information, so getting files organized isn’t just efficient, it’s key to meeting deadlines – a critical success factor in securing grant income. Having a well-established case for support will also help with this milestone. We talk about this in lesson two of our Nonprofit Adventures course.
New nonprofits have a few important milestones to reach before they’re ready to write winning grants. Grantors, big donors, and corporations want to expand the impact of the organizations they support. They want to know what impact their dollars will have and be confident that their money won’t be lost to a new nonprofit that’s just finding its footing.
If you are a new nonprofit and want to position yourself to successfully receive funding, check out Fordable Fundraising’s Nonprofit Adventures course. Nonprofit Adventures equips nonprofit leaders of all experience levels to feel more confident in fundraising, be more successful, and achieve greater mission impact through networking, collaboration, online courses, and classroom-based training.
Not sure if Nonprofit Adventures is right for you? That’s okay! Schedule your FREE 30-minute consultation call with us today and let’s get you the funding your organization deserves.