New and small organizations often come to me for help writing grants. I ask them a few questions and then often have to tell them that they aren’t necessarily ready for grants. When they ask me why, it’s usually due to some combination of the following:
You can’t just have a mission; your org needs programs because institutional funders like a target for their giving. They won’t simply fund an idea, because they are, by nature, conservative and will want to see a program with a basic track record and demonstrable, long-term upside that they can help you expand, sustain, and improve. You probably have ideas for a program or two, but are concerned that you need the money first. As you start to pick up donors, you can expand your program to what you envisioned. But at first, it’s a great idea to design early incarnations of your programs to run with little money and…
Volunteers are your org’s passionate army. They can help you do any number of things: help with your program implementation, marketing, clerical work, and more. And guess what? People that care enough to volunteer for your org or program are the ones that might eventually decide to donate. And as quick as that, you’ll be much more attractive to institutional funders, since they like to see support for your work in as many different ways as possible. Try one of these volunteer matchmaking sites to find people passionate about your mission. Or find a big local corporation with volunteer programs. People out there want to help you. You have to let them know that you’re there!
3. A Board That Gives
If your board doesn’t give to your organization – even just a little – that will be a red flag to funders. After all, if your board isn’t behind your programs financially, why should a foundation take a chance? And remember – there are many ways for your board to contribute: in-kind legal and financial services, finding other like-minded donors, use of spare office space… just make sure that it’s all demonstrable and quantifiable for a grant application.
Bonus: Well-organized Financial Information
You need to have projected overall and project/program budgets and then track reality throughout your fiscal year so you know how you’re doing. You don’t need an audit, but make sure that you can show budgets and revenue versus expenses in a coherent, accountant-approved way. If your non-profit is well-organized financially, it will go a long way towards signaling that you’re a good bet for funding.