Intro to Grantwriting
I first learned about the need for grant writers - both local and global - from my friend and mentor, Dr. Jill Timmons. She encouraged me to explore this avenue, and has facilitated a handful of learning opportunities for me including a 3-week internship in Pasadena, California, where I jumped into the deep end of researching and writing grant proposals.
Dr. Timmons again came to my aid when I was looking for a community partner for my senior capstone; She was working on two different funding projects, and offered me the opportunity to research grant opportunities for these two projects. Under her guidance, I was able to refine my research methods for locating grant opportunities.
On this page, I will share with you some of the necessary steps for locating grant funding by giving examples of mission statements, realistic goals, and resources for locating funding giving an example of a nonprofit I know very well.
Whether or not you’re a registered 501(c)(3) or an independent dreamer looking to positively impact your community, you can almost always find a grant if the need is there. This means determining who or what the awarded funds will be benefiting. I often get tongue-in-cheek requests from friends or coworkers saying “I need money to pay my [mortgage, car payment, cell phone bill, etc] write me a grant!” … that’s not exactly the sort of community need foundations are looking to fund.
Ideally, your proposed project-in-need will benefit a community – local, national, international, it could be anywhere – and you need to put into words exactly who that community is and how they will be benefited. Not only will this help you when drafting your grant proposal by proving to a foundation that you are a worthy cause, but it is also important that you understand what it is you’re looking achieve within your community.
Let me give you an example:
My friend operates a nonprofit youth program out of her stable. It is a registered 501(c)(3), and the program teaches children specific skillsets with horses. Many of the children who participate in the program are from the local community; a small town (~1,000 residents) that has limited resources for youth activities. Strongheart Stable gives the local youth an opportunity to learn about responsibility while providing them with engaging activities that rely heavily on teamwork and independent strengths. The youth that complete this program often aim to give back to rural communities, by helping the youth of other communities to get in touch with rural experiences.
Most of the children that have come to Strongheart Stable do not have the finances to afford expensive lesson programs or their own horse, so the stable provides them with low-cost board and opportunities to earn their place in the program.
So lets review the community need and what this program provides:
Need: Youth activities
Program Offering: Local and affordable youth activity that builds skill sets that will benefit participants later in life.
It is important to have a goal in mind for how you plan to allocate your funding. Many foundations have strict rules about what they will or will not fund, and it is important to pay attention to this when looking for grants. Often the foundation will say in bold print “GENERAL OPERATING EXPENSES” under the list of what they won’t fund. Though you might occasionally find foundations that will support general operating expenses such as business rent, transportation, what-have-you, it’s good to be pragmatic when proposing your financial needs to a foundation.
Strongheart Stable’s monthly expenses include boarding costs, feed for the animals, vet/farrier costs… the list goes on. For the most part, this is covered through donations; however, when the program needs something unusual or uncommon they turn to grants. An example of this is when the kids needed a vaulting barrel to practice on safely before graduating to horseback. Vaulting barrels typically cost upward of $600.00, and through they were able to raise some money on their own through donations and community tack sale run by the kids, they could only cover about half the cost. This was the perfect time to draft a proposal that would finance the rest of the barrel.
These are some of the things that helped their case when drafting a proposal:
1) Objective – The program knew exactly what they were looking to fund, and why it was important. The item they were looking to purchase was integral to maintaining safety in the program, and they researched alternatives to come up with the best option for their proposed financial goal. By researching this tool, they showed that they were not spending money frivolously.
2) Active fundraising – by raising some of the funds themselves, the program showed that they were not idly waiting for someone to give them money. They went out and activelyworked to earn funds for the vaulting barrel. This shows that they are willing to put in the necessary leg-work to accomplish their objective.
3) Budgeting – When they drafted their proposal, the program was able to show their intentions of where the money would go. They had the price, the amount they had spent, and the amount left over that they wanted the grant to cover. In this way, any foundation reviewing the proposal would see that they intended to spend the money exactly as they promised. You can get into huge trouble if you do not spend grant money as promised, and foundations will be unlikely to accept your proposals in the future if they have not seen proof that you’ve fulfilled your promise.
"chop wood, cary water"
My recommendation for finding grant opportunities is to locate a foundation whose goals closely align with those of your project. There are several ways to do this including the Foundation Center, GuideStar.org, geographically specific foundation data books. Occasionally, even broad internet searches through search engines like Google can lead to results, but in my experience this can lead to so many dead ends you’ll end up pulling out your hair.
Foundationcenter.org is a wonderful resource for looking up foundations and grant opportunities online. The search tools that the website offers give you the option of looking up foundations that have supported projects such as yours in the past, looking up available grants, and even viewing a foundations 990 forms which can help you find out if they have funded a project like yours in the past. The down side to this online directory is price. Subscriptions can start anywhere from $80 per month to $150 per month. This ads up quickly. Unless you have access to a university library or county library that offers access to the directory, you are looking at spending a lot of money out of pocket.
Guidestar.org is a fantastic freeresource for looking up a foundation’s 990 tax form for previous years. By looking at these forms, you can quickly ascertain the sorts of projects the foundation supports, and whether or not your project shares some of the same elements. 990 forms typically share the name of the recipient, the project description, and the amount of money granted, which can help you determine how much they will be willing to give your project.
My favorite resource for locating a foundation is the Foundation DataBook for the territory you are searching in. Foundation DataBooks give you the who, what, when, where, and why for foundation grant recipients, and often gives you the “dos” and “don’s” when applying for a grant. During my research for my capstone project I used every one of the tools I have listed here, and prior to looking through the Oregon Foundation DataBook my research had presented me with 5 potential candidates. After going through the OR Foundation DataBook, I had nearly 20 appropriate candidates that we were able to approach with requests for funding.
When you approach a foundation with a grant request, it is imperative that you follow their application guidelines. Foundations will throw your proposal away without a second glance if you’ve applied without 501(c)(3) status and they clearly state that it is a requirement. Similarly, if a foundation requests you submit a budget with your proposal and you withhold this document, they might feel inclined to disregard you just as quickly. Writing a winning proposal takes careful attention to detail, and awarding a grant takes just as much time and care. Remember: it never hurts to ask. When you’re drafting a proposal, if you have any questions be sure contact the foundation’s grant department and ask. They will appreciate your inquiry far more than a proposal that is missing information.