Getting Your Grant Funded First Time, Every Time

After 20 years in the business, I finally took the time to reflect on the following question: "What do I REALLY believe makes the difference in getting a grantor to say 'yes' to a proposal?"

This question actually prompted a fairly simple and obvious answer. You may take issue with the list, but to my way of thinking there are just five "secrets" to getting a grant application funded the first time it is submitted, and every time one is proposed.

Here are the five criteria that I believe you must meet to tap into grant funds. And please note that this list is essentially applicable to asking for gifts from major donors, members, corporate sponsors etc., although most of these funders are not as scrutinizing as are grant sources.

#1 – Funder Fit. This is a MUST HAVE. All four additional points on this list I will even categorize as "sure would be nice," but THIS ONE IS A NON-NEGOTIABLE. You MUST approach funders who have an interest in what you are doing.

Ask yourself the following questions when you think you've identified a new funding prospect:

Has this funder demonstrated a real commitment to funding in my area of work?
What type of organization does the prospect tend to support?
Does it seem likely that the prospect will make a grant in this geographical area?
Does the amount of the request fit into the prospect's historical range for grant awards?
Does this prospect have a policy prohibiting grants for the type of support I am requesting?
Does the funder prefer to fund a project as the first money in (challenge), the last money in, or otherwise?
Is a local or other commitment required prior to requesting grant funding?
Is matching funding required?
Am I willing and able to comply with all requirements that may be placed on the grant and/or my organization, should it be received from this prospect?

#2 – Credibility and Trust. Frankly, why would anyone give you money if you can't be trusted? If there is nothing about you or your organization that says, "We will do the job," then why bother?

Telling a funder that your organization is trustworthy is wasted words. Far better is having a track record. Not just a track record for providing good services, but a track record for establishing relationships that stand the test of time.

Credibility and trust are based first in action, second in communicating about that action. They are partially observable, but best proven in relationships.

EARN a quality reputation, then make sure that funders know about it. Not to knock Mother Teresa, but she must have a. been an amazing person and b. had a great public relations "department." There are lots of people in this world doing amazing and selfless things; they just don't get the same attention.

Promotion of your organization does not have to be shameless, nor require a compromise of your clients' confidentiality or your cultural integrity. Approach self-promotion as a reflection to the outside world of your organization's "inner beauty," particularly to those who can help to continue this beauty. Talk with funders, show them that you care about them, about the community, about your clients - not just about your organization and yourself.

#3 - The Program Makes Sense. Sorry, folks, but some of the pursuits in which we engage ain't exactly high priority. America is the land of opportunity, and we in the nonprofit sector circa 2006 often have taken this to a ridiculous extreme.

Let's face it: we can create programs that are obscure, that serve precious few people, that our communities don't need, that provide us personally with a job, that assuage our personal boredom, that only serve to meet our personal needs.

You are not going to get funding for a program that doesn't make sense; that is not well thought out, cohesive, has some shot at long-term success. Consider throwing the concept of your program (new idea or existing effort) past "a candid someone" outside the organization. Stick to your core competencies. Seriously consider the value proposition of this program. (If these terms and concepts are foreign to you, take the time to learn about them and immediately apply them to your program development/maintenance efforts.)

#4 - The Numbers Make Sense. Can you show you really need the money to provide quality and value? Does the budget reflect an effective use of resources? In a competitive environment of limited resources, will this stand as a community priority? Can you show that you have other ways to help pay for this program, presently and in the future? Are you financially solid NOW, and have you been for quite a while?

If the answer to any of these questions is even a remote "no," then the numbers likely will not make sense to a funder. If you think this is bunk, ask a foundation or governmental funder which part of the grant proposal they first turn to when reviewing applications.

There is no getting around it: You are requesting money, and money is represented by numbers. Thus, you are in the business of working with and presenting numbers that "work," that fit, that positively perpetuate your case.

#5 - Effective Presentation. Note that - to this point - little has been said about proposal writing. Only point five in this list has anything to do with the written presentation, the deliverable that is part-and-parcel to the funder's obligatory process for awarding grant monies.

Most organizations want to focus all of their effort in the writing of applications. And effective presentation is important. But it is last on this list for a reason: If even one of the other four points has been ignored, there is a good chance you are wasting your time in worrying about effective presentation.

All that said, I assure you that there are a lot of lousy presentations being made. If you want to see this first hand - and give yourself the ultimate lesson in effective grant writing - sit on a board or committee that reviews proposals for funding. You'll see.

If you can't write (most of us cannot), find someone who can. If you can't do the math (even fewer of us are capable here), find someone who can. Take a class, get an editor, give yourself a couple more days lead time and get to work.

The best refresher I can possibly offer you is in an article on our website titled "Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Grant Writing I Learned in Third Grade." Click HERE to read it.

Strong Leaders / Strong Stories

Strong leaders have strong stories, and a solid sense of "self" as a leader.  But too often, even strong women view themselves or are perceived as being very good at "getting things done," but not as valuable strategic resources. What can you do to change this?  Find Out More Here