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Grant Writing Strategies: Using Grants as an Opportunity to Educate Funders about the Uniqueness of your Organization

Why apply for grants?

In order for most non-profits and community organizations to survive, funding becomes a priority.  One avenue to fund non-profits and community programs is the search for and writing of grants.  Grant writing can be a hectic and stressful endeavor because of the time-sensitive nature of most grant deadlines, competitive nature, and all the documentation required for the grant call for proposals. Still, having an understanding of how to write successful grants can go a long way in improving your organization's capacity.

Even before you search for and write grants, it is important to first understand your organization’s ‘story’ -- that is, its history, mission, community, needs, capacity, programming, passion, and future directions. Grant makers, foundations, the government, and corporations receive multiple proposals from similar community programming efforts. It is important that non-profits approach grant writing as an opportunity to educate grant makers about their organization’s story, community, and future efforts at building a better community.

Get Participatory! It would be nice if grant writing in the non-profit sector was not so competitive, as this competition can reduce community programming efforts and create unnecessary competition between community organizations with similar goals. With this in mind, you might consider a more collaborative and participatory approach to grant writiing. Participatory grant making can include the collaboration with other organizations in order to leverage resources for successful grant applications. Organizations can make an effort to learn about other local organizations' strengths and weaknesse, and submit a collaborative grant to address a problem or community building intervention. Such an effort could draw from the primary strengths of all organizations involved, as well as build inter-organizational communication and capacity. A collaborative grant will make your grant application look more interesting because of your partnerships; more importantly, it shows that you are connected to the storytelling network in your community and that is social change, not competition, that is your ultimate goal.

Consistent with the focus on understanding the story of your organization, below are some common grant application components that can assist your storytelling in the search for grants and the process of writing grant proposals.

1. Introduction/ Cover Letter — This will be the most important section of most grant writing efforts.  Organizations need to be able to come up with two to three sentences that boil down the identity of their organization, why they exist within the community, and why their program plans deserve to be funded.  It is important here to understand this is where good storytelling techniques are needed, as readers of the proposal will want to know what makes your organization and its programming different from others who are applying for the same grant.  It is vital that organizations spend the necessary time before the grant search to reflect on its own history, understand where they want to go in a realistic manner, and express the essence of the organization's story.

2. Problem Statement — Many grants will ask organizations to define the problem or the intervention in the community that needs to be addressed.  It is important that organizations can boil this down to a clear statement.  To make the problem more salient, data and statistics about the problem within your community will benefit the statement.  Additionally, creating a human interest story -- perhaps by focusing on the story of a specific individual or neighborhood group -- can make the statement more personal can benefit the statement.

3. Goals/Objectives/Outcomes — Many organizations, especially social service providers, understand what specific steps or practices can be applied within communities, but are not always as skillful when they try to relate these practices to larger goals, objectives, and outcomes.  It is important that an organization can relate practices to a larger story of how their programming will affect a larger social goal such as school reform, immigration integration, or poverty reduction.  Organizations will need to step back from their everyday programming and reflect on the larger goals, objectives, and outcomes they are striving to change.

4. Program Plan and Project Design — On the opposite spectrum of goals, objectives, and outcomes, many social change organizations may understand the broader social change goals, but often lack a clear step-by-step programmatic plan and design that many social service provider organizations are prepared to lay out.  Organizations need to be able to be able to provide specific activities and deliverables that are realistic and feasible when addressing the community problems they propose to address.

5. Program Budge — Many non-profit and community organizations want to change the world, but need to understand their budget and personnel capacity.  Small non-profit organizations need to be realistic and consider the grant amounts they can go after.  Smaller organizations will not be able to go after multi-million dollar grants and will need to tailor their story and grant writing around smaller grants that smaller foundations are giving out.  It is also important to consider staff compensation, transportation, technology, administrative expenses, and supplies.  Organizations will not be able to just direct all the money to the programmatic activities, but will need to consider how to take care of organizational structures as well.

6.  Evaluation — Evaluation is a critical aspect for your organization to think about when composing their story and grant writing.  Many organizations lack research and evaluation capacity because most money is directed to programming activity.  However, it is important that organizations have a plan to evaluate whether their programming activities are working or not and whether their programming is meeting its goals and objectives.  Evaluation may be done through surveys and other research tools. Refer to our research tools for other suggestions.

7.  Other Funding — Many grant makers will want to know that your organization has a track record of funding or that your organization is actively looking for other funds in order to be sustainable.  It is important that your organization is keeping tabs on successful funding applications and pending applications in order to enhance the story of your organization. This is another potential benefit of collaboration with other organizations -- if your organization does not have a track record in grants, partnering with an organization that does is a great way to move you in the right direction.

8.  Organizational Background—Provide a brief history of your organization, its accomplishments, its expertise, and capacity to carry out the work your organization is intending to find funding for.  The background can be a combination of an organization’s mission statement and history of key programmatic activities and accomplishments.

These are just a few key considerations when it comes to searching out and writing grants. The MetaConnects team looks forward to continually expanding this section as community practitioners share their own experiences and thoughts related to this process.

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