There’s nothing more exciting to a non-profit founder than cutting the figurative ribbon on the 501(c)3 status. Shiny new founders are wildly passionate for the cause they represent and are dedicated to making a difference. Securing a 501c3 brings them legitimacy. All too often founders think that once it’s in place, they can just “get grants” to support the work they want to do. Why wouldn’t foundations want to support their great solution?
Sadly, there is a large gap between the plans of a 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 this, the organization must have income from other sources. Baby nonprofits have plenty of heart, but they don’t have the delivery structure, the donor base or the track record. New nonprofits often must pass five milestones on the way to winning successful grant applications.
1. Step Zero
If founders think enlisting big supporters is step one, then researching the other nonprofits in your proposed area is step zero. The most common mistake made by nonprofit founders and board members is a lack of research on the unmet need, and the assumption that their idea is unique and no one else is doing it.
Grant makers despise redundancy. Consider their perspective. They align with your cause and they award money to it. This means they get approached by every nonprofit in the space. If there is one thing that they find completely annoying it is to hear “we are the only one…” Besides offending every other nonprofit, it conveys a message that the charity has not done its homework. 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. Once this value proposition has been determined and the case for support clarified, it is time to identify what you need and who you need on board to do the work at hand.
2. Build the Team
New nonprofit leaders need to embrace the fact that the work can’t be done alone. Burnout is a real thing in the nonprofit world. Yes, a new nonprofit needs money to operate. That’s a glaring glimpse of the obvious, and a shortcut answer to addressing organizational needs you have yet to identify. Once you have figured out the unmet community need your charity intends to address, sit down and make a list of what the charity needs. Consider all that the organization needs for a healthy operation – everything from subject matter experts in the service area, to securing permits and licenses to fundraise. Founders should also identify what they don’t do so well and figure out how to fill the gap. Once you have identified your needs, it is time to focus on the third milestone, building friends and growing the momentum.
3. Growing the Momentum
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 the cause. Take the time to listen to them, understand why they care and then invite them to give and engage, in whatever capacity they are able. This patient front-end work will nurture long-term, loyal supporters as the organization grows.
Soon, your baby nonprofit has 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 pull, or the food you bring to the food bank. They will continue to donate and volunteer to keep the good work going. And so on, as your tribe grows larger. Big 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. The nonprofit’s program or service must demonstrate results which takes us to the fourth milestone.
4. Demonstrate the Difference
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. How many dogs did you save? How many dogs have you placed in forever homes? How much food have you collected? What kind of missing nutrition have you provided?
Foundations, government agencies and corporations don’t have hearts you can touch, they have spreadsheets to fill and parameters to meet. To compete for grants, gifts and awards, your new nonprofit needs a strong resume. Be able to show the work you’ve done and the lives you’ve touched. The fourth milestone is to fully root an evaluation system that involves collecting data and measuring impact on the needs you intend to address.
5. 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. If you want to get serious about grants, the fifth milestone is to take the time to get your documentation in order. Grant makers all ask for the same information, so getting files organized isn’t just efficient. It’s a key to meeting deadlines, a critical success factor in securing grant income.
New and needy nonprofits have a few 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 baby nonprofit that’s just finding its feet. If you have achieved these milestones and need a helping hand to get ready for grants, Fordable Fundraising’s Grant Ready Package may be a good fit for your organization. Inquire within.