I love connecting with nonprofits. They're excited and passionate about their mission. They're ready to change the world one client at a time. It's contagious and reinvigorates my life-long commitment to helping nonprofits raise more money.
But, one of the most prevalent issues among nonprofits I talk to that are new to grant writing is the misconception that grants are a quick way to raise a lot of money.
Grants are a marathon, not a sprint. Let me say it again for those in the back. Grants are not a quick fix!
First, let's chat about timing. So often new nonprofit executives believe that they are ready to start submitting grant requests as soon as that IRS determination letter arrives in the mailbox. While technically you can begin submitting applications at that point, it doesn't mean that your nonprofit is ready. (Need some help with grant-readiness? Check out our free, on demand webinar here.)
Grants fundraising takes time. Lots and lots of time. And that's a universal truth whether your nonprofit is brand new or it has a mile-long history of doing good.
Your nonprofit needs to be well-established with several years of performing your mission in your community, quality partnerships, credible data, airtight finances, client stories, and a clearly defined need. Simply existing and needing money is not enough to be successful with grant requests.
Even after you've invested time in these critical elements, building a grant fundraising strategy takes more time. You shouldn't just pepper the landscape with your proposal. You should anticipate spending months researching, identifying, and cultivating relationships with potential grant partners. "Cold" applications have a much higher likelihood of being declined. Building relationships with grant-makers is just as critical for success as it is with individuals in major gifts or annual campaigns fundraising.
And once you've submitted your application, you should be prepared for, you guessed it, more time. One consistent element of grant deadlines and review periods is inconsistency. Each grant maker has their own timeline which can range from days to months (I actually received a response in a matter of hours once). In some cases, you may not hear from a grant maker until their next awarding cycle which could be up to a year later. Some will tell you how long you should anticipate waiting before hearing from them; others do not share this information or even respond to your request if you aren't selected to receive funding. Plan to also spend time doing regular follow-up to stay on top of your pending applications.
The good news is that once you invest this time building relationships, fleshing out your proposals and need, and establishing credibility, you should be able to resubmit to a majority of your funding partners year after year. And we all know that existing donors take much less time than new donors. But, anticipating that you are going to hit your grants fundraising goal in a matter of months is going to lead to a lot of declined requests and disappointment.
Key takeaway: When starting with a blank calendar of grant opportunities, plan that you may not start seeing awards for up to a year.
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