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Connections for a Cause

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Resources & Ideas

Is Your Organization Ready to Seek a Grant?

June 08, 2017

by Karen Mauss, Featured Guest Writer

Let me dispel any myths you may have heard about this subject from late night television commercials or word of mouth.  Grants are not “easy money.”   Grant seeking is a very labor intensive process.  Many organizations jump into it unprepared and waste a great amount of time, money and resources only to end up frustrated.   As the Greek proverb of “know thyself” suggests, before starting a grant seeking process, you will need to do an honest assessment of your organization.  

 

While all foundations vary somewhat in their requirements, in general terms, these are five things you need to be able to answer “yes” to and demonstrate.   

 

  • Are you a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization?

 

First and foremost, before you seek a grant, you must be registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt organization.  This is a basic requirement of virtually every foundation.  Often you will be asked to send a copy of this letter along with your application.  If a hard copy of the letter is not requested then the foundation will verify your tax-exempt status on a database.

 

  • Do you have a diversified fundraising plan?

 

If your fundraising plan is “I’m going to get grants to fund my non-profit,” I promise, you will not be funded.   Foundations want to see that your organization has a survival plan in place that does not involve them.  This may seem counter-intuitive since the purpose of a foundation is to help non-profits that fit with their mission.  However, no foundation wants to be the sole funding source of a non-profit.   Make sure you have a solid base of individual donors and other funding sources in place before seeking a grant.       

 

  • Do you have a track record of success?

 

It is difficult for brand new non-profits to obtain grant funding.   This is not to say a foundation will never help fund a start-up, but you shouldn’t count on that. Most foundations want to see that you have some stability and that you're accomplishing something.  Therefore, most non-profits that have been in existence less than three years will not be successful in obtaining grant funding.

 

  • Do you have a clear mission statement and are you carrying it out?

 

It’s hard to explain to a foundation why you want their money if you can’t explain and demonstrate why you exist in the first place!    For example, if your mission statement is “we deliver food to needy families in ABC County,” you shouldn’t be also running a community closet and asking for money to send kids to soccer camp.    

 

  • Does your organization have the required internal structures in place?

 

Grants come with strings attached in most cases.   There is almost always some type of required reporting.  You need to be able to demonstrate a good accounting system.  You also need a board of directors that meets regularly, and your board should include members with a diverse set of professional affiliations who are actively involved in the organization.   If you are keeping the books for your organization on an Excel spreadsheet and your board members are your cousin, best friend, and the organist from church, you are not ready to apply for grants. 

 

In addition, here is a checklist of items many foundations will ask for.  This is not a complete or exhaustive list, but before you start grant seeking, be sure you can produce these upon request:

 

  • Copy of IRS tax exemption letter

  • Listing of board members along with their professional affiliations

  • Current financial statements

  • IRS 990(s)

  • Most recent professional financial audit

  • Current (and possibly past) organizational budget

  • Resumes of key staff

  • Annual report

  • Articles of incorporation and by-laws

  • Newsletters

  • Brochures

  • Current strategic plan

  • Fundraising plan

 

This may sound daunting, but don't be discouraged.  One of the three keys to being successful at grant seeking is preparation. If you take the time to lay your foundations (excuse the pun) on solid ground, the next two tiers become much easier.   If you need help to examine some of these points or questions or are ready to go to the next step of research, a professional grant writing group may be of help.      

 

 

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