There’s nothing more exciting to a non-profit founder than cutting the figurative ribbon on the 501(c)(3) status. You are wildly passionate and dedicated to making a difference and eager to get moving. What you may not know is that most grant makers have policies requiring at least two years of operation before receiving grant funding.
The 501c3 status may make you eligible to accept grant funding but there is a bigger need to demonstrate impact before the bigger money will flow. To get to the next level, you will need to pass these five milestones on the way to winning grant applications for new nonprofits.
1. Scan the Landscape
The first milestone is to confirm that your nonprofit is indeed needed. Understand who the players are in your space. 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 and duplication. Show them that you have done your homework and your services fill a real gap in the needs, they are more likely to fund you if you do.
2. Play to Your Strengths
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 community need you intend to address, sit down and make a list of what the nonprofit needs to achieve success. This is everything from subject matter experts (legal, finance, human resources, IT), to securing permits and state 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 do well and identify people and resources for the rest.
3. Build Relationships
You can’t do this alone. The issue you are tackling takes a village. 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 and ask they for their advice. 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.
4. Share Impact
The fourth milestone requires you to fully plant a way to track your impact. Running a nonprofit requires both a heart full of compassion and a soul full of data. In order to be competitive for all giving, your nonprofit must focus on the measurable difference you are making in the community, and this goes beyond just delivering services. Donors of every kind want to know the incremental difference you are making on the issue. The better you are at telling that story and proving it, the more grant funding and donations 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.
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.
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