First Step: Visioning
Define your mission
- Identify the social problem you want to resolve and the population that is most affected by it.
- Design a program that addresses the social problem you identified. Consider including the population that will be affected by the new program in the planning process. This helps you to more accurately meet their needs and develop a service that promotes self-sustainability.
- Establish the short and long term goals of the program.
- Determine how the program will operate if it does not receive financial assistance.
- Refine your vision of the program until you can clearly express it in one concise sentence that explains who you are and the mission of your program.
Establish a file system that contains information commonly requested by funders:
- Mission statement
- List of short and long term goals
- History of your organization
- List of key partners, including information of their key activities and achievements
- Statistics relating to the social problem you are trying to address
- Copies of all legal documents (e.g., 501(c)(3), financial records, audits, etc.). If using a collaborating partner’s exempt status, obtain copies from them to keep in your files so they are available as needed. Note that you will need a 501(c)(3) tax exemption, in the United States, or a partner with that designation to submit basically all grant proposals.
- Revenue and expense records. They should be detailed and include a complete list of all contributions by name, amount, and how and when funds were dispersed. Accuracy is imperative, beginning with the first dollar.
Second Step: Research and Preparation
- Look for funders in your community. Check out community foundations, public and private foundations, and families who donate large amounts of money.
- Visit the local Target, Wal-Mart, or Marshalls retail stores and ask for information about their funding priorities. If you are a novice in funding nonprofit programs, begin locally and develop success before tackling large national foundations or federal grants.
- Talk with officials of the court systems and other social service entities in your area to explore who might be interested in your program concept and would desire to partner with you, thus bringing with them additional resources.
- Read the local newspaper for grants given to other organizations. Find out who is giving money to organizations and to what causes.
- Avoid spending money for online grant services or books. There are plenty of resources available for free.
Potential Program Funders
Learn More About a Potential Funder
- Define the funder type:
- Government agency: federal, state, local
- Foundation: operating, giving area (e.g., special interest, community)
- Corporation: for profit, nonprofit
- Review the funders priorities and areas of interest. Your program should fit within their priorities if you plan to request funds from them. If the funder’s priorities do not match your mission, do not waste time applying for a grant.
- Review the geographic area(s) where funders offer grants. Your program should operate within their geographic area. If it does not operate in their geographic area(s), do not waste time applying for a grant.
- Evaluate the most recent annual report and/or IRS 990 tax form of potential corporates/foundations to find out who was funded previously, size of grants awarded, and kinds of programs supported.
- Join local nonprofit networks and take advantage of opportunities to meet financial leaders.
- Participate in the local speakers' bureau by presenting programs for civic, religious, service, or professional organizations such as Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, Professional Business Women, Lions, 4-H Clubs, or other community invested groups. Sell who you are and what you do for the community target population (those you serve). Do not provide just statistics. Tell anecdotal and success stories; invite their members to volunteer and learn more from a hands-on perspective. Have a wish list of items or per person costs, in case someone asks how they can help.
- Work with successful, compatible faith or community-based organizations. Funders expect you to collaborate with other organizations. This increases the value of the funders’ gift by using all resources efficiently. It also avoids duplicating community services.
- Learn the skills of grantwriting from collaborating organizations. Share skills, resources, and funding to build on your mission.
Third Step: Invite Funders to Partner
When you find a funder that matches your mission, goals, and priorities, apply for a grant.
- Review the grant guidelines thoroughly and follow them precisely when preparing your grant. Pay attention to the follow areas:
- Deadline. Do the guidelines say the grant application must be “postmarked by” or “in our office by” a certain time and date?
- Sequence of all materials. You should sequence all materials as directed and fasten as suggested with a staple or paper clip. Avoid using enclosures in fancy folders.
- Number of copies. Identify the number of copies to submit and the signatures required. Using blue ink separates the original proposal from the copies and is required by some funders.
- Write a narrative that is creative and direct. Speak to the needs and benefits of the targeted audience, not your agency. Invite the potential funding partner to resolve the problem with you.
- Describe your program in the “active” voice. Use action verbs when describing your goals and objectives.
- Avoid personal pronouns. Write in a professional business communications style.
- Be concise when explaining your program, community needs, evaluation methods, and plans. However, assume your potential funder knows nothing about your group, even if it is a local enterprise.
- Do not use acronyms or jargon unless it is very important to a funders understanding of your proposal. Always provide clarification of the terms if acronyms are used.
- Read the budget guidelines thoroughly to identify what is acceptable in a budget request. Figure your budget carefully. It should be precise. Do not under estimate or overstate program costs. Show your method of calculating costs. (For example: Program Director: 10 hours per week multiplied by 40 weeks at $15 per hour equals $6,000.)
- Edit your application for appearance. Short paragraphs in narratives, aligned decimals in budgets, neatness, and a professional format do matter.
- Review spelling, grammar, and budget figures at least three time.