by Karen Mauss, Featured Guest Writer
You just had a brilliant flash of inspiration that will benefit your community – good for you! But should you seek grant funding for it? Is it grant ready? Before you go down the path of grant seeking, ask yourself some questions:
Foundations like to fund well-defined projects. The best way to demonstrate this is an example: [G1]
“We want to start a program that helps people of limited means obtain access to professional clothing” is a great idea. However, it isn’t defined enough to look for grant money.
“We need $5,000 to renovate and furnish donated space to open a low-cost shop that helps people of limited means obtain professional clothing” is much more specific.
Grants for operating expenses or general funds are uncommon. Why? Because foundations don’t want to be relied upon for long-term funding of non-profits. Some foundations regularly donate to organizations they have a good relationship with, but please view this as the exception, not the rule. As in the second example above, they would be much more inclined to support something limited in scope with a definite ending date.
A fabulous idea is just the beginning. Before you can send in a grant application, you will need to think through all aspects of the project. Grant applications ask in exacting detail how you intend to spend their money, as well as goals, expected outcomes, and financial sustainability. The time to think of all those finer details is not when you have a grant application in your hand and a looming deadline.
There are thousands of wonderful, deserving ideas and programs out there, and a limited number of grants. Competition for grant funding is only becoming tighter. You need solid research to back up your request. Going back to the community closet example above, why is it needed? Can you point to solid reasons and examples? Would it be the only one within 50 miles? What is the median income of the potential users of your shop? The existence of a problem by itself is not enough to win grants.
While it is not an absolute requirement of most grant applications that you have partners for your project, the importance of collaboration cannot be overstated. Partners do not have to be other non-profits. They can be schools, hospitals, churches, community groups, police departments, etc. Why do foundations emphasize partnerships? The main reason is that the more committed parties [G2] [G3] are involved, the greater the chance of success of the program or project. [G4] [G5]
One section of every grant proposal is the question of sustainability. If XYZ Foundation gives you that $5,000 to renovate the space for your community closet, then what? Do you have volunteers to do the labor? Once it’s ready, what is the source of your operating expenses? Do you have any other partners who will chip in part of that $5,000 if XYZ Foundation only gives you half of your requested amount? If you go to a foundation with no contingency plans for what to do if you don’t get their funding, chances are you won’t get it.
These questions are not meant to intimidate you or discourage you from seeking a grant, but to be fully prepared before you do so. Not all great ideas fit with grant funding. If you are trying to decide whether you should seek a grant, working with a professional grant writing team may be able to help you.