Years ago, I had the pleasure of leading a faith-based social service organization. Like many nonprofits, we depended on volunteers to deliver our services. We provided outstanding services to people in need. We had visions to do grand things.
…And we basically had no budget.
It’s hard to compete as a small, under-resourced non-profit in today’s climate. Most are either merging or collapsing. When requirements of grants are becoming more rigorous and you can’t afford the services of large consultants, how do you secure the funding you desperately need?
I’m saying this to all of my fellow nonprofit leaders — the overwhelming majority of you that operate on less than $1M — you got this!
It’s entirely possible to do it yourself, if you have the know-how and you plan the right way. I was able to successfully secure $100K in grants for my nonprofit in one year.
Here are the four steps I used, so you can do the same:
1. Focus on solving ONE problem
My favorite Stephen Covey-ism is “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
As nonprofit leaders, we’re tempted to serve every capacity in our community. (That’s why I have a special place in my heart for nonprofits!) But using limited funds, with limited volunteers, that’s not always realistic.
Instead of trying to be all things to all people, focus your efforts on one area you can really impact. Ask yourself, “what piece of the pie are we competitively positioned to take?”
Connect with ONE thing that has been identified as a problem or a need in your community, in your zip code. People are naturally more inclined to solve pain than create pleasure. Grants are more likely to be approved if there is a clear problem that your organization solves.
For my non-profit, our mission was serving the youth of the community. We could have done this in a variety of ways, but we chose to focus on reducing teen pregnancy during our grant applications. This was a serious issue that affected our community financially, emotionally, and culturally, and one that funders would surely see the benefit in solving.
2. Align your proposed solution with a proven strategy
Funders like to make investments in problems and solutions that have a high probability in yielding a return on investment. Ultimately, they’re making an investment in the community and they want to know their dollars are stretching.
Do your homework and find proven solutions that are effective at solving your problem. Whether it’s hunger or poverty or reintroduction after incarceration, find the strategies that WORK.
To solve the problem of teen pregnancy in our community, we proposed using an evidence-based counseling model for reducing teen pregnancy. It was a model that was gaining national attention and was on the federal government’s registry. Training in this methodology was provided by an organization here in St. Louis and nonprofits from all over the country were coming here to be trained.
We took a leap of faith and had our volunteers trained in this model. That made our grant significantly more appealing. The fact that our team was already trained in a proven, federally-recognized model made it even easier for funders to approve us.
3. Know and partner with others
Know your marketplace. Know where you stand within it. Know your neighbors who are working on the same issue.
This insight helps you to solve a unique need and not be redundant. If you’re a food pantry and there’s a food pantry next door, differentiate yourself. If your neighbor’s doing canned goods, fill the void and start collecting meat.
This also shows that you are collaborative, not competitive. It proves your commitment to solving the bigger problem. You’re not in it for yourself — you’re being thoughtful about how to address the social issue. These are all things that are attractive to funders.
4. Have a clear plan (and viable budget!)
Investors love details like Michelle loves Barack. Make it easy to find those details and you’ll make it easy to approve your grant.
Use your grant application to showcase your competence. A clear, logical plan communicates that you’re a capable organization. A disorganized or poorly-thought-through plan does the exact opposite.
Clearly map out the who, what, when, where, why and how you will execute your solution/program into your grant application. Answer questions like:
Do the people you have in place have the qualifications and skills to do the job(s) they need to do?
Are your facilities adequate for the program you want to provide?
Do you have enough volunteers to carry out the plan?
What holes do you currently need to fill and how do you plan to fill them?
Each piece of the plan needs to make sense. You don’t want to say your pantry is going to be open 24 hours with one person staffing it, or that you can accommodate 500 guests in a space that’s built for 250.
You also need to make sure your budget matches your plan. Investors are going to be especially interested in how their dollars are being allocated, so lay that out clearly. Trust me — if you don’t do this, questions will be raised! So it’s in your best interest to thoughtfully address it ahead of time.
In today’s climate, there are no guarantees. But if you follow these four steps, you’ll greatly increase your chances of securing funding and supporting your mission to move forward in 2018.
Are you applying for a grant this year? Let’s talk about it! Tell me in the comments what your organization does and what you hope to achieve in 2018.
We have plenty of resources to help you serve more people and make a bigger difference through your nonprofit. Click here to check out our resources page.