You’ve heard it too many times: “there’s money everywhere, you just have to know where to look!”
But if you just established your nonprofit or are new to the world of grants, the task can seem nearly impossible. How do I find those mysterious moneymakers? What does RFP or NOFO mean? How do these grants fit with our mission and strategic plan? And, most self-defeating of all, why would they ever give a grant to us?
Fret not, friends. This guide will help you understand how to identify suitable grant opportunities to help your organization truly thrive.
Grants help nonprofit organizations like yours sustain the great work they are doing. Put simply, grants are resources (monetary or in-kind) given to organizations without the expectation of repayment so that they can carry out activities to support their mission.
Seeing grants as “an investment in positive change,” funders almost always attach strings to grant funding, which can vary by funder as well as the type of grant being offered. For example, program grants typically restrict funding to specific activities outlined by the funder or described in your proposal, while general operating support grants can help you build capacity by broadly applying funds to the areas where they are most needed across your organization.
Though grants are “free” in the sense that you do not need to repay them, you will have to comply with the requirements and restrictions set by the funder. Such requirements may include stipulations on what activities you may carry out with grant funds, the scope of the population that you serve, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E), especially in terms of measuring the extent to which you achieve your stated outcomes. Make sure you understand the funder’s expectations before applying to avoid any unforeseen challenges down the road. This includes reporting requirements, the period of performance, cost-sharing obligations, and M&E procedures.
When applying for grants, is it better to follow a targeted approach or cast a wide net? The key is to be strategic about which grant opportunities you write proposals for. While the pressure for resources is real, it is almost always better to apply for grants that align closely with your organization’s mission than to seek funding for programs outside of your core competency.
Doing so will increase your success rate, which even for the most effect proposal writers will never be 100%. It will also save you time: why waste valuable resources preparing lengthy applications for grants that are only marginally related to the issues you care about?
Being strategic will also help you avoid mission creep, which happens when organizations drift away from their original mission by carrying out unrelated programs. Just because a grant looks like easy money (and I hope, by reading this, you understand that’s never the case), it does not mean you should apply. Declining some opportunities will help your nonprofit be much more focused on your stakeholders, beneficiaries, and mission, which will ultimately give you more leverage when writing proposals for grants that are a much better fit for you.
Finally, it is important to consider your capacity. Say you write 10 proposals for the fiscal year and receive funding for 6. Does your organization have the manpower to successfully meet each of the funder’s expectations? If the answer is no, you should discuss with your team which opportunities are most worth going after. It is not only embarrassing for an organization to fail in its obligations to a funder, but it can lead to long-term harm: the funder will not renew the grant due to nonperformance, harming your reputation and chances for applying to new opportunities in the future.
After your team comes to a consensus on your grant strategy, it’s time to begin searching for opportunities. If you already have an idea of the funders you’d like to pursue, great! By all means browse their websites and see what they might offer. But don’t stop there: there are thousands of funders who may not be obvious, but want to invest in programs like yours. With so many opportunities out there, where do you begin?
Funders will typically post grant announcements online as Requests for Proposals (RFPs) or Notices of Funding Opportunities (NOFOs). Below are a few databases for researching new grants and funders.
Want to learn more about seeking grants for your nonprofit? Taskforce is happy to offer professional advice on finding the right grant for you and how to write winning proposals that will sustain the programs that are vital to your community. Contact us today to set up a consultation.
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Bryan is a mission-driven nonprofit professional specializing in program development at every stage of the grant cycle. After successfully penning proposals for six-figure grants, Bryan designs all aspects of the program, evaluates its effectiveness through rigorous M&E procedures, and strategically communicates the impact to key stakeholders in order to gain wider support and secure future funding.
With an eye for the creative, Bryan especially enjoys crafting engaging content for social media, advocacy, and fundraising campaigns. Devoted to promoting worthwhile causes, Bryan is especially passionate about public diplomacy, international exchange, foreign policy, and all things China, having studied in Beijing as a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholar. When not working, Bryan enjoys writing poetry, seeing underground bands, burying his nose in obscure books, and sampling street food in far-flung corners of the globe.
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