Grant Writing is More Than the Proposal
In my work as Grants Specialist at Toledo Lucas County Public Library (TLCPL), I am fortunate to work with grant writers of all skill levels; from experienced grant writers to individuals learning how to write their first grant and I have never walked away from an interaction without having learned something myself.
However, one of the biggest pitfalls that I encounter with inexperienced grant writers is that it is going to be a quick and easy process in which you send off an application, get a check, and you are good to go. This type of approach is bound to waste time and put your organization at risk with future grants.
Grant writing is a competitive process that takes tons of time and intentional effort. With more and more applications and proposals finding their way to foundations, the bar is set higher and higher for limited grant dollars. Each grant proposal differs in its requirements and style so sometimes it is difficult to give blanket advice on how to craft a winning proposal as there is no one correct way. Therefore, my advice is to front load your effort into the research it takes to find the right foundation.
According to the Foundation Center, the average rate of success for a grant proposal falls between 11 percent and 50 percent, depending on the size of the foundation and number of grants received. The best way for nonprofits to increase these odds is to apply to grantmakers that best align with their mission and project.
One of the most powerful tools to aid in this process is the robust database, Foundation Directory Online (FDO), and luckily, TLCPL is a member of Candid’s Funding Information Network which allows us to offer access to FDO to our patrons for free! FDO is the most authoritative database for grant seekers and searches more than 140,000 grantmaker profiles and more than four million grants made to nonprofits to find the best matched funder. I spend much of my time teaching people how to best use this database and find grants that will fit their organization, and many people tell me how impressed they are with the depth of information available.
Another very important piece of grant writing is to view the process holistically. It’s not just about your writing abilities (although they are still critical). You are trying to convince a funder that the need is real and that your organization is the best for the job. Some things to consider:
- Do you have the funds to sustain this project?
- Do you have a stable annual operating budget?
- Do you have strong leadership?
- Are your board members actively involved in your organization?
- How long have you been operating?
Grant writing is rarely the starting point for a nonprofit; rather, it is the culmination of all these pieces which represent the organization’s tireless efforts to meet a need in their community. That is why TLCPL also offers the Grantsmanship Collection in Main Library. It is a print book collection that encompasses topics such as grant writing, nonprofit management, leadership and fundraising. We provide these materials in order to better support your agency in tandem with a number of programs and trainings throughout the year on these subjects.
So as you can see, I encourage you to look at grant writing from a 20,000 foot view. Yes, there will be a lot of important details to include in a grant proposal but if you don’t find the right foundation or have strong leadership and a stable organization, you may end up wasting your efforts, and we don’t want that!