Make Sure You're Applying for the RIGHT Grants

Make Sure You're Applying for the RIGHT Grants

This post is part of my All Things Grants series, where I walk through different aspects of finding, writing, and submitting successful grant applications. Stay tuned for more posts to support your organization’s grants!

Make sure you're applying for the RIGHT grants

There are so many available grant opportunities for social service organizations, but how do you make sure you are using your limited time and resources on the RIGHT ones? I have a Grant Opportunities Checklist to help you decide! This blog post will walk you through the free, downloadable checklist to determine which grant opportunities are right for your organization.

There are three main things to think about when determining whether to go after a grant opportunity:

  1. Is it a good fit?

  2. Do we have the resources to submit a strong application?

  3. Are we prepared for this opportunity?

Is it a good fit?

When it comes to grant funding, it is critical to ensure that the funding opportunity is a good fit for your organization. Sometimes organizations find themselves in the position of trying to be a good fit for the grantor (grant-providing organization)— but it should be the other way around! Social organizations that chase funding opportunities and try to fit what grantors are looking for can easily lose sight of their mission and vision. Instead, organizations should find funding opportunities that are a good fit for them.

When figuring out whether a grant opportunity is a good fit for your organization, there are several aspects to consider:

Does the opportunity align with our mission, vision, and values?

Grantors will likely not have the same mission, vision or values as your organization, but it’s important to ensure they don’t clash. For example, religious foundations may not be a good fit for some non-religious organizations. Similarly, a grantor that emphasizes “self-sufficiency” as a primary outcome may not align with organizations providing continuing services.

Does the opportunity align with our existing or planned programming?

It is important for your organization to fund existing or to-be-developed programming, rather than create a new program just because you found a grant to match. If the funding opportunity doesn’t align with an existing program or planned program, it’s best to focus on other opportunities. This will help you ensure you have enough resources for what you're already doing, and will prevent you from stretching your organization too thin or starting up programs that you cannot properly implement.

Is this the type of funding we need?

There are different types of grant funding, including for programs/projects, general operating expenses (e.g., typically unrestricted funding that can be used for any expenses, including overhead like administrative expenses), technical assistance, research, scholarships, etc. What type of funding does your organization need? If you need general operating funding but an opportunity only offers funding for research, then it’s likely not a good fit.

Is the funding offered sufficient given the grantor's requirements?

Sometimes funders require a lot of work (such as application or report requirements) for very little funding. It is important to see if the funding opportunity is worth your time and resource investment. For example, if a grantor is providing $2,500 but requiring a 30-page application, three site visits, and mid- and end-of-grant reports, it may not be the most efficient use of your time and resources. Consider the amount of funding and the requirements of the grantor as you determine whether the opportunity is a good fit for your organization.

There are a couple of other important, but not required, aspects of a good fit:

Has the grantor funded programs similar to ours?

While this is not critical, it is important to see what organizations and types of programs the funder has supported in the past. Many times, grantors fund programs in a particular field or area of service. If they have funded other organizations providing similar services to yours, they may be more likely to fund your program.

Does our leadership have any connections with the grantor? If not, can we start developing that relationship?

While pre-existing connections with the grantor are not always required, it is helpful to start cultivating a relationship with the grantor. Contacting the program officer or board chair (after checking to make sure it’s not discouraged by the grantor) is a great way to get the inside scoop of whether they would be interested in funding your organization. Meeting or having a call with the grantor provides you an opportunity to get feedback on your program or application, which can help you tweak your application and increase your chances of getting funded. They may provide you with other tips to increase your success as well, such as waiting until the next funding cycle or incorporating certain information.

Do we have the resources to submit a strong application?

If the funding opportunity seems like a good fit for your organization, you must also ensure you have the resources to submit a strong application. Ask yourself the following questions:

Can we complete the application within the timeline, given our resources?

If the funding deadline is too quick of a turn-around, or overlaps with really busy times for your organization (e.g., fundraising events, office move, etc.), then you may not have time to complete the application. It’s important to keep an up-to-date fundraising calendar to monitor your capacity. This will help you determine whether you have time to submit a strong application— which is critical for your reputation as an organization! If you submit an application that is missing attachments or haphazardly developed, not only will you not get the funding, but you will diminish your trustworthiness as an organization. This may prevent you from getting future funding from an organization, even if your next proposal is strong. While you can typically reapply for grants even when you’ve been rejected, it’s important that you always submit high-quality applications. If you were a funder and you received a disorganized application, would you want to trust the organization with your money? Probably not. If you don’t have time to submit a complete, strong application, it may be best to focus on other opportunities for now.

Are the people I need on my grants team available?

Even for one-person organizations, grants are a team effort. Someone else usually needs to provide additional information (such as financial statements), approve and sign the application, or review the application. In fact, I always recommend having a person that isn’t familiar with your organization complete a content review to ensure the application would make sense to a lay person. Is the team you need to submit a strong application available during the required timeline?

Do I have or can I get access to the information needed?

Grant applications often require information owned by different departments or people within an organization. From finances to human resource information to program outcomes, there are key bits of information throughout an organization that will need to be collected. Further, grants can also require information you don’t currently collect or track. If you don’t have access to the right information and/or can’t get it within the timeframe of the application, you may need to pass on the opportunity or talk to the grantor to see if there are other types of similar information they would accept as a substitute. Even if you can’t get the information needed for this application, you can still use this as an opportunity to advocate for better communication systems, data collection, or information sharing within your organization.

Are we prepared for this opportunity?

If the funding opportunity is a good fit for your organization and you have the resources to submit a strong application, check to see if your organization is prepared for the opportunity. Ask yourself the following questions:

If awarded this grant, can we implement the programming?

Some funding opportunities will be outside of your organization’s capacity to implement. If your organization is currently running a $500,000 operating budget and a $3 million grant becomes available, your organization needs to determine whether you can scale your program up by the project timeline— and if you can sustain it after the grant period ends. Scaling up the program can mean obtaining required matching funds, more staff, partnerships with other organizations, more sophisticated reporting, external evaluation, etc. Assess whether you can realistically implement the all programming needed (or required) for the funding, and whether you will be able to find ongoing funding for the program after the grant ends. If you end up receiving the grant and signing the grant contract, you will be required to complete the program activities and reporting, regardless of whether you have the capacity or not. It’s better to make sure you can implement the programming before you apply!

Do I think we will get this funding?

It’s important that you think you are likely to receive the funding before you create the application. If you don’t think you will get the funding, why not? Are there barriers or challenges you could address in the application to increase your chances? Sometimes opportunities are just not right for your organization, but other times there are things you can address in your application to increase your chances of getting funded. For example, if you have applied to this funder before and been rejected, did you follow up with the grantor to determine what could improve a future application? Can you address their concerns this time around? Similarly, if you received funding from the grantor before but didn’t meet your goals, can you use lessons learned from that experience to submit a strong application?

By using this checklist, you can ensure your limited fundraising time and resources are put to good use! 

I’m Amanda Wallander Roberts, MSSW, a consultant passionate about building fundraising and evaluation capacity with social organizations. I’ve helped over 60 social service organizations fundraise and evaluate programs, including raising over $22 million and developing more than 50 logic models, evaluation plans, and process maps. Learn more about my services or contact me for support today!

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