Perhaps you can relate to this scenario. You’re a seasoned professional who’s had incredible opportunities to manage a team, build new programs and maybe even develop a small business. Now, you find yourself in a non-profit position with the charge to bring money into the organization. What do you do?
In your endeavor to create a diversified fundraising plan, your past experiences give you confidence in engaging the right mix of major donors and corporate sponsors, but the mystical world of grant writing leaves you scratching your head. If any of this resonates, I hope the following selection of tips prove useful to you.
These basic best practices are provided by Natalie Harlan and Winnie Ennenga, our grants team at the NAH Foundation. Harlan has been a key contributor in supporting NAH’s grants capabilities over the last nine years. Ennenga comes to the foundation from Northern Arizona University, where she served as the assistant vice president for research administration.
- Check eligibility requirements and follow the guidelines. Time is a precious commodity, especially in the non-profit space. When applying for grants, pursue opportunities that align with your capabilities and strategic priorities. Paying close attention to eligibility requirements help you evaluate your overall fit. As you begin to develop your proposal, continue to refer to the guidelines that provide a roadmap for creating the proposal.
- Stick to your mission. While the grant space is competitive, there are still many opportunities for a wide variety of impact-focused organizations. Use discernment when evaluating opportunities that may pull you away from your mission. Doing so can protect your from possibly setting your team up for failure by promising results you’re not poised to deliver and putting yourself in an unfavorable position with a grantor that could tarnish your reputation within the larger funding community.
- Let your passion guide you. As the old saying goes, “Enthusiasm moves the world.” Enthusiasm can also move grant reviewers to fund your organization. Your passion supported by compelling facts and examples of your impact paint a picture of urgency and provides funders a reason to rally around your cause.
- Create a core team. Work with program staff to ensure you’re representing the expertise and perspectives of all persons who may implement the work. Collaboration is a great asset to this process; however, it’s also important to have one primary decision maker who drives progress forward.
- Manage time wisely and start as early as you can. Put a schedule in place, delegate action items and assign deadlines.
- Eliminate jargon and acronyms. Most reviewers are not subject matter experts. A good rule of thumb is to write for an eighth-grade reading level. Get straight to the point, use common sense words, and make sure every word you use serves a purpose to answer the questions asked.
- Allow time for fresh eyes to review. When possible, ask someone who is not connected to the project to review and provide feedback.
- Don’t leave your attachments for the end. Every grant application asks for organizational documents. It’s good practice to ensure these are always up to date and ready to go. The last thing you want to do is a scramble for the documents at the 11th hour.
- Fold in moments for assessment. Sometimes the burden of putting a grant proposal together and subsequently implementing the project begins to outweigh the benefits. Create moments to check in with yourself and the team. It’s better to protect your mental health and know when to walk away than submit a sub-par proposal at the expense of the team’s well-being.
- Show gratitude. Grant writing often calls for additional time contributions from team members and collaborators. Carve out moments to celebrate the combined efforts that went into the submission process and express your gratitude. This should be an enjoyable experience for all!
By Hannah Johnson, NAH