My most traumatic childhood memory is the day my sister almost drowned. We lived in Germany at the time, and some extended family was visiting from the U.S. My mom loaded up my younger sister and me, along with my aunt and cousins, for a day of shopping at many German pottery and glass-blowing sites. By about the fifth store, we kiddos were over it. My sister and cousin begged to sit by the front door while the rest of us roamed the aisles of the warehouse, and eventually, my mom relented.
The next thing we knew, my cousin was yelling that Alicia had fallen into the water and he couldn’t see her. It turns out they went exploring, found a river, and got too close. We all ran to the water’s edge and eventually saw my sister’s head pop up a good 50 yards away, then go back under. My mom shucked her shoes and coat and plunged in. She swam to Alicia and dragged her to the bank. Other folks helped get them both inside to safety. Other than a story that gets dragged out every once and a while, she’s no worse for wear. We were so very, very lucky.
Now, I hope the grant process is not nearly as traumatic for your organization as my childhood story. Still, the reality is that a nonprofit (or local government, hospital, university, etc.) will find itself drowning in wasted time and money if not prepared for the grant application and management process. Just like you need to learn to swim before you step near a body of water, you want to have all your ducks in a row before even contemplating grant funding.
Many organizations see that grant money is available, read that they are eligible, and want to plunge in headfirst. Winning grants takes much more than simply being eligible—take it from a grant professional who has spent two decades in the field. Grant-seeking requires extensive pre-application work to produce a competitive proposal package from paperwork to board buy-in.
Here’s a checklist to consider before even thinking you are ready to apply for that grant application you have been eyeing.
Step One: Is your organization official? I mean, sure you exist. You may even raise money, serve people, and have a board that oversees the work, but do you have the paperwork to prove your status. That means as a nonprofit, you have your 501(c)3 letter from the Internal Revenue Service, or as a local government, you are a qualified local government per whatever state agency manages that process. (In Georgia, it is the Department of Community Affairs.)
Step Two: Have you been around long enough? Most funders want to see at least two years of existence for your agency, along with a tried-and-true track record. In other words, do you have the chops to get the job done?
Step Three: Do you have all the required paperwork? This will vary from funder to funder, but at a minimum, most funders want to see your annual budget (that the board approved), your latest audited financial statements, board of directors list (complete with work/community affiliations), organizational chart, articles of incorporation, minutes from a recent board meeting, and annual report. Trust me. When you are two weeks to deadline day, most things cannot be created on the fly.
Step Four: Do you have agency buy-in? A grant application does not happen overnight, and it takes the work of many. If your board, agency director, and staff are not invested in seeing a grant through, start to finish, then there is no point in trying to make it happen. This means lots of conversations about being strategic about grant funding and how your organization will go about putting forth meaningful proposals that are more than likely to be funded.
Step Five: Do you have the resources to dedicate to the grant process? One individual cannot simply set up shop in a cubicle and churn out a grant proposal in a matter of days. Quality proposals require data, a solution, financial information, and more. This means that finance staff, program staff, and others will need to dedicate time to compiling information and working on the actual proposal. Even if you have the resources to hire a consultant to write the grant for you, that person will still need access to staff for information and details.
Step Six: Can you implement the grant? Preparing and submitting the grant proposal is not the end of the work. If awarded, you must carry out all the programming you proposed and be prepared to submit reports, track the money, and prove objectives were met. Grant management is an ongoing and sometimes tedious process. It takes the dedication of staff and the support of the executive director and board.
As my Fundraising HayDay cohost, Kimberly Hays de Muga is wont to say: grant writing is actually 20% writing and 80% everything else. And a big part of that everything else is being prepared for the actual grant process. We delve deeper into grant readiness in Episode 1 of Season 5: When Should You Write a Grant? (podbean.com).
In my work as a consultant, I’ve run across many nonprofit organizations doing incredible work. Yes, they are often eligible to apply for grants, but after digging in a little bit, it is clear that many are not ready to write that grant. It’s frustrating for organizations to learn that they cannot immediately go for the money. But without the prep work on the front end, you might as well be stepping too close to a rushing river without knowing how to swim. I am not saying your org will drown. I am saying that without taking the time to prepare for grant applications, you will not be successful in funding your programs that do such great works as feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, caring for the sick, educating the children, and so much more. And if those we serve do not receive the services they need, it can feel like drowning.
DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 5 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 4 and stay up to date on the new season here.
Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.