Janeal Ford, MPA, CFRE
With a career spanning two decades, I have worked with hundreds of grant making donors and prepared thousands of successful grant proposals. From the local service club wanting a one-page letter to the city government asking for a hundred-page response, every donor has unique and varying interests. While all are unique, there are patterns in what grant makers are looking for and over the years, I have come to know the pet peeves to avoid. As you look to prepare a competitive grant proposal for your noprofit, here are the issues you must satisfy in order to hear “yes” to your grant application.
1. Follow Instructions
Grant makers are fielding hundreds if not thousands of grant writing requests from charities. The volume of information means they too need systems to manage it. Grant makers hate it when you can’t/don’t follow instructions. They have spent the time clarifying and defining when and how you can approach them, and your ability to follow these instructions influences their willingness to approve your grant. If the instructions convey they only want to fund food, don’t ask for money for salaries. Read the instructions once before you prepare the proposal, and again as a proofreading tool as you finalize it.
2. Quit Playing Small
Grant makers hate it when they read your charities claim to be the “only” organization providing a particular service or program. As a charity, you may think this statement resoundingly asserts the rationale for your program. Unfortunately, the message often received is that you don’t have a command of other providers in the community or worse, you don’t play well with others. Grant makers spend their time reading applications from organizations likely delivering services very similar to yours. The use of the word “only” invalidates your fellow colleagues who are working on the same issue, and may appear small-minded. Instead, share your value proposition and convey how your solution is unique or innovative within the ecosystem of providers in your area.
3. Talk Solutions, Not Money
Nonprofit leaders eat, sleep and dream of more resources. There is no doubt you need resources to continue and expand your mission work. While you are consumed with the need for money, presenting the unmet need as a need for money is a rookie move and grounds for immediate denial from a grant maker. As a credible charity, a big part of your job is to confirm the unmet needs of the people you serve and educate grant makers on your solution. Grant makers invest in solutions; your charity’s job is to deploy them. Make the solution you offer the hero of the conversation, not the resources needed. Focus on the bigger community need and how your programs/services are inching closer to fully resolving or addressing the issue.
4. Show What You Have, Not What You Don’t
Grant makers hate dependence and actively avoid putting themselves in an enabling situation. This is why grant makers rarely support start-up nonprofits. They want to know you can keep your own lights on without their money and look to confirm that in a variety of ways. Grant applications are full of questions designed to gather information on helping them avoid supporting unsustainable organizations. It is a norm that once you secure support, the grant maker will continue to give each year and often view your solution as an investment. The logic follows finance and credit concepts. Those who need credit most have the biggest challenge securing it. To garner support, your charity needs to demonstrate its ability to garner resources from other places. Success begets success.
Grant makers are allies in helping you move your mission forward and give for a variety of reasons. Honor this by taking the time to listen and understand where they are coming from.