Grants are often viewed as a panacea to a nonprofit organization’s fundraising challenges. Yet, most nonprofits aren’t truly "grant ready".
What do we mean by that?
Well… let’s say you meet the standard minimum criteria for a grant. Your branding is strong, your mission is solid, your programs are delivering -- and you’ve got the beneficiary testimonials to show for it.
What else do you need?
Alas, most grants require their fair share of red tape. Read on for a quick checklist to help you slice through the bureaucracy.
1. Make sure you have the proper registration(s). Have you registered as a nonprofit in your country? That's the first step before starting the grant research process. You should also consider where you’ll be applying for funding. If your NPO works in South Africa but your potential funder is in the U.S., you'll likely need a 501c3 registration or fiscal sponsor.
If this is all new to you, check out the Foundation Center (now Candid), the National Council of Nonprofits, and the Small Business Administration for help navigating the startup process. Also, try connecting with local nonprofit networks and associations in your area. These organizations often provide support, mentorship, and networking opportunities for individuals starting nonprofits.
2. Establish your messaging. Every grant application will ask about your organizational background. This is your chance to show how and why your NPO sparkles -- don't make it hasty work. At a minimum, you should have a strong, ready-to-go write-up of your history, mission, and vision. Consider also articulating your target population, beneficiaries served, service areas, core programs, and staff composition.
3. Get your paperwork in order. Here's where that red tape gets thick. At the very least, expect to have on-hand:
· Tax documents
· Audited Financial Statements*
· Constitution/Articles of Incorporation
· A list of Board Members and their qualifications
· A current fiscal year organizational budget
· Any relevant project/program budgets
Some grants also require organizational charts, MOUs/letters of support from project partners, staff CVs, a strategic plan, or internal policies. It’s helpful to keep these documents up-to-date in a centralized location, like Google Drive or Dropbox, so they’re easily accessible.
*Grant funding can be tough for brand-new nonprofits because most funders require at least two years of Audited Financial Statements. So, bear that in mind if you’re just getting started.
4. Assess your organizational capacity. Winning a grant can be a game-changer for NPOs seeking financial support. However, the competitive nature of grant-seeking demands careful preparation and a strategic approach. Translation: grants are $#%^&*# time consuming! It’s important to think about your organizational capacity to find and write grant proposals. And, if awarded, what is your capacity to manage grant compliance and reporting?
5. Develop writeups for your programs/projects. Show me a nonprofit that isn’t understaffed or under-resourced, and I’ll give you a million dollars. Most NPO staffers are stretched past capacity – busy doing allllllll of the things because there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it. If you’ve been too busy running the program and not defining it, then you’re guaranteed to scramble for each last-minute grant deadline.
Consider having a detailed, ready-to-go write-up that clearly articulates your goals, objectives, activities, outputs, and evaluation measures for each of your core programs and projects. Initially, this will take time and effort, but it will streamline grant writing for your team in the long run. If you need help with this, check out our Program Development service.
So, how is your capacity? Rather than over-stretching your team, consider outsourcing. Hiring a grant writer can help lift some of the load before you reach burnout.