In my last post on getting started with grants, we covered the basics of grants and how to determine if your organization was ready to apply for grants. Today, we’ll talk about how to find grants, and how to determine whether the grants you do find are a good fit for your organization.
The good news is that, no matter where you are, there are a lot of potential grants. In the U.S., there are over 86,000 grantmaking organizations awarding over $60 billion in grants each year. You can expect this amount to keep growing, since foundations experienced a 2.4% increase in charitable giving in 2018, according to the Blackbaud Institute’s 2018 Charitable Giving Report. In Canada, there are over 10,000 public and private foundations awarding $6.7 billion in grants annually. Canadian foundation assets have been steadily increasing for the past decade, so we can expect the availability of those grants to continue to increase as well.
Grantors come in many shapes and sizes. The government provides grants at the federal, state, and local levels. There are several different types of grantmaking foundations, including public foundations, private or independent foundations, family foundations, community foundations, and corporate foundations. Non-traditional forms of grantmaking are also gaining in popularity, such as “participatory grantmaking,” where community members (not foundation staff) are the people who determine who receives grants. Likewise, individuals interested in investing in social good are exploring alternative avenues for charitable giving, such as limited-liability corporations, or impact investing.
Since there are so many types of grantors, you never know where you might find the best grant. It is a best practice to cast a wide net when looking for grants. Here are some good places to start looking:
- Your Network: Do any of your staff, board members, volunteers, or other people affiliated with your organization know about grants/grantors related to your mission? Better yet, do any of these people have any connections with those grantors?
- Your Region: The town, city, or county where you are located might provide grants specifically for local organizations.
- Previous Grantors: If your organization has received grants in the past, check out the grantors that provided those grants and see if they are offering the same grants. With these grants, you also have the advantage of an insider’s perspective to help you know whether the grant is a good fit.
- Peer Organizations: Are there other organizations with missions similar to yours? Check out the grantors that have given grants to these organizations and see if you might be a good fit for the next round of funding. The IRS Form 990 for nonprofits lists the major funders for an organization, so that’s a great place to start looking.
- Grant Databases: There are many searchable databases for grants, some of which are paid, others of which are free. You should also check out federal grants databases, like these for the U.S. and Canada.
Just like social good organizations, grantors also have vision and mission statements, and will seek to achieve those through their grant programs. Most grantors will only fund specific program areas, so think about what types of grantors might support your organization. For instance, a hospital seeking grants to conduct medical research will want to search for grantors with a strong interest in science. Identify key words related to your mission and use them to search for other grantors that you might not find using the channels listed above. By networking and staying on top of the trends among the populations and groups you serve, you can have a better sense of where to look for funding.
Once you’ve found a grant, it’s time to get critical. Just because you’ve found a grant that seems like it would be a good fit does not mean it actually is a good fit. Check whether your values, mission, and objectives align. If your organization has fundamentally different values from those of the grantor, writing a compelling application could be challenging. You also want to ensure there aren’t any specific requirements that could disqualify your organization.
The next step is to ensure that the available funding matches your project needs. Do your research to get a sense of what that grantor pays out, and whether the amount will cover your projected costs. If the grant does not list a specific amount, look for announcements of previous grant recipients to get a sense of the average grant size.
Think about whether the average grant will fund your project. If you need $90,000 for a project, but the grantor generally gives an average of $5,000 per organization, the grant is probably not a good fit unless you are seeking funding from multiple sources. Grantors want to be confident that the money they give you will help you accomplish your project, so make sure that you explain how the grant you are applying for fits into your larger project funding strategy. If you have already acquired funding from other grantors, be sure to point this out. You can use this funding as leverage to demonstrate that other grantors think your project or program is worth supporting.
You also need to consider the timeline between when you apply for the grant and when you might receive the funds. You may find a great grant, but if the timelines don’t match up with your project deadlines, then that’s not the right grant for your organization at this time.
While the prospect of a grant can be enticing, it’s also important to consider the amount of time and staff resources it will take to apply. While every grant is different, generally, the bigger a grant, the more involved and time-consuming it will be, both during the application phase and during the reporting phase after you receive the grant. Likewise, government grants tend to be more time-consuming and require more documentation. Think about the staff who will be working on the grant application. What is the value of their time? Ideally, the grant should bring in more funds than the cost of staff time to apply for the grant. If not, your staff might make a greater impact using this time for a different project.
As you investigate prospective grants, try to make a personal connection with someone who works for the grantor. This personal connection can help your application stand out and it can help you as you determine whether the grant is a good fit.
Remember, grant applications are a two-way street. You want to make sure that the considerable time and effort you are devoting to this process is worth it. Don’t ignore red flags like unpleasant, uncommunicative, or untrustworthy grantors. Only apply for a grant if you are confident that you can establish a positive working relationship with the grantor.
Finally, consider this: just because you’ve found a grant that might work for your organization does not mean that it is the grant for your organization. By doing your homework before you take the time to apply, you are saving yourself countless hours, headaches, and frustrations that can come from applying for a grant that is not a good fit.
Wondering what’s coming up in my next blog post? We’ll learn how to write an effective application that will take you from applicant to recipient. If you want to get a head start on next week’s topic, check out how to write an effective case statement for your organization.