How to Become a Better Grant Writer for Your Nonprofit

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Have you just become the designated grant writer for your nonprofit? Wondering where to start? Grant writing begins long before you have the grant to write. Your go-to tool is information. Even before you start looking 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 sources.

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 to shadow them 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 it 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 provided 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 Proposal and How It Fits With the Mission

Document the specific details of the project and how it will be executed. 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.

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 job 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.