For most nonprofits, there are only a few viable sources of revenue. Generally, a nonprofit will rely on a mix of donations and grants. A smart nonprofit knows how to blend the two to maximize income without losing sight of the vision of the organization. Writing a grant is a necessary evil for any nonprofit but successful nonprofits have learned the secret that there are funds out there for every vision. You just need to know how to get it. They have learned to look past the reams of paperwork, the tedious instructions and the rigid deadlines. They have learned the benefit of finding the right grant for them.
Know Your Vision
General Electric CEO Jack Welch said, "Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion."
Before any organization thinks of searching for a grant, leaders must know their vision. It is a common mistake to look for funding for something that you do when you should be find money for something that you believe. The soul of any nonprofit is its vision and it is the job of the grant writer to find a grant that matches the vision. Never try to bend the vision to match the grant.
Do Your Research
With the organization vision firmly in mind, explore grant databases, most of which are online. Grants.gov is the database for federal funding opportunities. Most states have a database of grant opportunities on their state website. Likewise, large cities and counties have their requests for proposals listed on their sites. If you are in an area with a large company that maintains a strong corporate presence, look at its website for their foundation information. Or you can type the keywords of your vision statement into Google followed by the terms "grant," "funds for" or "RFP." If you have a little bit of money to throw at the grant process, you can use membership based programs like GrantWatch.com that will do some of the searching for you.
Read the Instructions
Grant applications generally have many instructions and they are often unyielding. While researching the grant and while writing it, make note of all of the important instructions. Look for deadlines, geographic needs, fiscal capacity and support from other organizations. Read about the company, municipality or group offering the funds and be sure that your organization's vision lines up with theirs. Read what is between the lines as well as what is on the line. If the RFP comes from a governmental entity, understand why they chose the deadlines that they did -- know when their budget period begins and how that will affect the needs outlined in their RFP.
Don't Write It -- Prove It
When you write a grant application, your most important job is to demonstrate your capability. You are trying to show the potential funder that you can do the job, with or without their money. You are demonstrating that the funds would expand your program to improve the impact on your clients or community. As part of the grant writing process, go to a bank or lender and get a letter indicating that they might lend money if your organization ever needed it. Get letters from volunteers and potential volunteers. You may be working out of your garage today but a successful grant application will show that will still be doing your good work a decade from now, even if it is still out of the same garage.