Finding the Right Grants for You by Carynne McIver Button
Once you find a grant opportunity, it can be tempting to dive right into the nuts and bolts of the proposal. In fact, the time before creating a proposal is a critical step in the grant process. Not every grant is going to be the right fit for your organization. Since most grants take hours or days to complete, spending some time learning whether you have a chance at funding is a good investment.
Here is a checklist to use when researching a potential grant opportunity:
❏ Do you align with the funder’s general mission alignment? Use filters in grant databases and websites to determine funder priorities. For example: healthcare, human services, education.
❏ Do they accept unsolicited proposals or are grants by invitation only? Find this on grant databases, website, or 990. Do not try to apply if they do not accept unsolicited proposals; you are highly unlikely to receive any funding.
❏ Do they have geographic restrictions? Find this on grant databases or websites. It is quite common for corporate funders to only grant within areas where they have offices.
❏ Do you align with their detailed priorities? Spend time reviewing their website (including links to giving guidelines, history, etc.) and giving history via 990. Consider not just funding area but approach, values, politics, preferred populations, etc. This information can help you determine whether to apply for funding and how to frame your proposal.
❏ Is their typical giving range appropriate for you? Use grant databases or 990s to find recent giving history. Are the grants large enough to be worth your time applying? Do other grantees have budgets comparable to yours?
❏ Does their giving history over past 2-3 years align with your needs? If a foundation always funds the same organizations with no new recipients or giving seems to be random rather than aligning with their stated priorities, you might need to take a closer look. It is possible the foundation is primarily directed by the personal interests of a family or board members and your proposal may not be considered without a relationship. Also consider what type of grants they have tended to fund--general, project, capital, capacity, etc. Does their history match your needs?
❏ Does the funder encourage contact prior to submitting a proposal? If so, reach out to share your proposal idea and see if they believe it is a fit.
❏ How difficult is the application process? If you have determined that a funder may be worth applying to, review website and 990s for deadline and application instructions. If the first step is complex, you may decide it is not worth your time.
Resources: Guidestar, GrantStation, FoundationCenter, and Grants.gov are all tools for finding grant opportunities. Sometimes opportunities can also be found through a simple online search, local government websites, or grantmaker/nonprofit associations.
Carynne McIver Button is a freelance grant writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She has a decade of experience in fundraising and grant writing and has helped non-profit organizations win over $3.7 million in grant funding. Learn more at www.mciverbutton.com