With more than a million charitable organizations in the US, it is a competitive world when it comes to funding for nonprofits. That is just as true of foundation grants as it is for individual fundraising.
There are many keys to success in seeking a grant but perhaps most important is to know what foundations are looking for in the nonprofits they choose to fund.
Questions Your Nonprofit Must Answer
- Have you met the legal requirements for nonprofit status? Are you registered as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity? Most foundations insist on this as a starting point. It's amazing how many people just get an idea and then go off looking for funds. It doesn't work that way.
- Where is your nonprofit in the lifecycle of a nonprofit? Fully functioning nonprofits don't just appear full-grown. They go through typical stages, such as the idea state, startup stage, growth stage, and mature stage. Foundations are looking for nonprofits that are already up and running well. Grants are meant to supplement a nonprofit's resources, not to fully fund it.
- Are you clear about your purpose? Do you have a compelling mission statement? Your mission should be unique and specify what you plan to accomplish. Foundations will not fund organizations that duplicate or overlap similar services in their particular geographic area. Your mission must also be doable. Just saving the world won't work.
- Do you have capable leadership? You need qualified staff and an active board. An experienced CEO and a supportive board that is willing to fundraise are hallmarks of strong nonprofits.
- Do you have relevant programs with a good reputation for service delivery? How are your programs different than other nonprofits working in the same area? Can you demonstrate that your programs make a difference for those you serve? Are your clients satisfied?
- Do you have an efficient operation and good support systems, such as enthusiastic volunteers, transportation if needed, and enough staff to handle your clients? Can you deliver on your promises?
- Does your nonprofit plan and evaluate on a regular basis? Do you have a long-range plan? Do you evaluate your programs to see if they are working?
- Do you have adequate facilities? This includes basic physical facilities but also technical ones. Do you have an updated computer system? Financial tracking abilities? A donor management system? You need to have the tools to function well.
- Are your finances stable and do you have diverse revenue streams? Foundations want to be reassured that you don't have all of your eggs in one basket...especially theirs. A foundation grant is not a solution for bailing your organization out of a financial mess.
- Do you have a track record? Measure the results of your programs so that you can point to verifiable results. Seek out other nonprofits to collaborate on the project you propose to a foundation. This is especially useful if you are a newer nonprofit. Collect letters of support from community leaders and organizations.
Does your nonprofit measure up? If not, then you may need to wait to apply for foundation grants.