How to Become a Better Grant Writer for Your Nonprofit

Group of people talking about a project.
•••

pixelfit/E+/Getty Images

Have you just become the designated grant writer for your nonprofit? Wondering where to start?

Grant writing begins long before your organization decides to go after a grant. For instance, has your nonprofit evaluated whether it is ready to apply for grants? If not, do that evaluation yourself. Ask questions such as is the organization a registered tax-exempt nonprofit? Foundations never give grants to start-up nonprofits that don't have their 501(c)(3) designation yet.

Ask, is my organization desperate for money? Is that why it wants a grant? Grants are not the answer to financial problems. Nonprofits must be already financially stable before a foundation considers giving it money. Check out how your organization funds itself. How will a grants program fit into existing baskets of income?

Before you even start searching for foundations that might want to fund your nonprofit's project, develop an in-depth understanding of its mission and activities, and gather a trove of easy-to-tap organizational information. Start your organizing by developing the following information and resources.

The History and Mission of Your Nonprofit

No doubt your organization has gone through a lot of changes since it first started. Make sure that you have the latest mission statement, vision statement, and a narrative of the history of the organization. Collect organizational charts, bios of the staff and board members, a list of previous grants, and a copy of the most recent strategic plan. All of this will help you articulate an attractive description of your nonprofit in your grant proposals.

Descriptions of Your Organization's Current Programs

Who is the audience for those programs? What are the specific services provided? Talk to the program staff and volunteers and ask them what they do and how they do it. Find out how they measure results and evaluate their progress.

Ask if you can shadow staff or volunteers while they do their jobs. Get out and mingle with the clients that you serve. Develop a good sense of what your organization does, how it does it, and just how good it is at those activities. Along the way, make a note of any stories that you may be able to use in a grant proposal.

Unique Resources That Would Make a Project Successful

These might be human resources such as staff with specialized expertise, an outstanding and well-trained volunteer force, partnerships with other community groups, or deep and long experience with particular populations and geographical locations.

Documentation of Extraordinary Accomplishments

Has your organization won any awards? Received any special media coverage about its programs? Been commended by a professional association? Collect articles from newspapers, magazines, and professional journals. Look for letters of support from other organizations and testimonials from clients. Put together a "credibility" or "bragging" file and keep it up to date.

Examples of Community Involvement

How has your organization had a positive impact on your community? That influence might be directly through the programs your organization provides or the cooperation it has contributed to other community groups or government agencies.

Copies of Publications Your Organization Has Produced

Look for an annual report, newsletters, and press releases. Investigate your website for information. Examine the 990s, committee reports, evaluations of any kind, surveys of clients or volunteers, and board minutes. Sit down with the budget and try to understand the flow of income and expenses. Ask the financial officer to help you understand the financial underpinnings of your organization.

Interviews With Key Staffers

Talk to the people who are on the front lines of your organization's activities, especially those who have been around for a while. Invite them to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your organization, what the greatest needs are, and what they would love to do if money were available. Ask for their versions of the organization's history to gain a sense of how the mission has changed over time.

Understand Each Project or Program for Which You Will Seek Funding

Document the specific details of the project that needs funding and how it will be executed. You'll need to understand how that project or program fits with the organizational mission. That way, you'll be able to determine if it also fits with the mission of the foundation you will approach with your proposal.

Carefully devise the timetable for the project, the expected outcomes, and how those will be evaluated.

Analyze staffing and volunteer needs for the project, and come to a rough estimate of the expenses involved. Study other grant proposals to see how the budget has been set up. Learn the differences between direct and indirect costs.

As a grant writer, your job will be easier if you understand your organization thoroughly and have all the vital information at your fingertips. It will also make the task of getting started on a grant proposal ever so much easier.

If you have the grant to write but first must gather all the pertinent information, it can be overwhelming. Gather information and organize it so you can hit the ground running. This proposal may not be the last one you write. All of that information will be in hand and ready to go for future projects.

Finally, set up a grants calendar with all the pertinent dates and then schedule each task you need to perform, from information gathering to researching foundations, to writing each section of the proposal, to submitting the final proposal.