Resources & Ideas

Should You Look for a Grant?

June 08, 2017

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:


  • Is it specific?


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.  

  • Is it limited?


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.  


  • Can you describe it in detail?


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.       


  • Can you make a strong case?


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. 


  • Do you have any collaborators?


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] 

  • Do you have any other funding sources for your project?


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.  




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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