Updated: Oct 1, 2019
Are you sending grant applications out regularly but can't seem to break through from submission to award? Lots of "We get many worthy requests, but..." responses? Being successful at submitting grants requires more than just having a need that matches the funding priorities of a grant-maker. There are some fundamental fundraising elements you may be overlooking. Make sure you're not doing the following and you may notice those responses change from "Thanks, but no thanks" to "Congratulations!"
1. You bury the "ask."
If you're new to fundraising or uncomfortable asking for money, it is easy and tempting to bury the "ask." Being subtle about your request can be a one-way ticket to the rejection stack. Avoid using language like "We'd welcome your consideration of a gift" or "We would be honored to receive a donation from XYZ Foundation." Be specific about the amount of money you are requesting from each individual foundation. You can determine this amount by asking the grant manager specific questions about the foundation's giving history or reviewing the organization's IRS Form 990 to assess their typical grant amount for a nonprofit like yours. Make sure you can justify that amount with very specific details. For example: "With a gift of $15,000, ABC Nonprofit can purchase seven computers for our new computer lab in Atlanta, Georgia."
2. You have too little data.
While appealing to your readers on an emotional level is a necessity to a point, using too many client stories and not including data to back up your impact claims can prevent your proposal from being considered for funding. New grant writers can often focus on pulling on the heartstrings of foundation review committees when a balanced combination of client stories and data is the recipe for success. Grantmakers need to know that you're tracking your clients and services, assessing their success year-to-year, and adjusting based on the results of those assessments. For new programs, considering how you're going to measure their success is critical in a proposal. Lastly, you need to show how your nonprofit fits into the larger picture of your community, state, region, and nation. What are the issues you're addressing and what data backs up the need for your programs on all of those different levels? Prove that your nonprofit needs to exist and justify your programs and services.
3. You don't speak their language.
Drafting grant narrative templates makes the life of any grant writer easier. But, you should never just write a template, hit print, stick a stamp on the envelope, and send it out to a grantmaker. Taking a few minutes to customize your grant proposal for each funder will increase your likelihood of success. Review the RFP (request for proposals) or the funder's website. Use the language they use when describing their funding priorities. You may state that you provide programs for job-readiness. The funder may support programs for career training. You're saying the same thing in different terms. Using the language the funder uses will make the connection between your need and their funding interests more obvious.
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