There are a few types of grant applications to get aware of. Never ignore the type and format of the grant application requested by the funder. Grants that are not applied correctly are not reviewed, thus wasting your time and energy, resulting in getting no funds at all. These application types are:
Full Proposal –
This is a lengthy proposal that uses common grant format or application specifications required by the funder. It is generally time-consuming but gives a complete view of your organization, its practices, employees, and the people you serve. Full proposals usually have several narrative sections.
Letter proposal –
Generally, one to three pages in length, a letter proposal gives a brief but concise overview of your organization and the purpose of the grant request. Most foundations request a budget summary be submitted with the letter proposal.
Form Proposal –
Some foundations or corporations (as well as some state and federal grantors) have a fill-in-the-blank form for grant proposals. If this is the case, fill in only what is asked for in the space provided and nothing else. Some forms have a page to fill in a proposed budget, while others may ask you to attach a proposed budget.
Online Application –
There is a growing number of foundations and corporations that require the filling out of online applications. These are closely related to the form proposal. Make sure to review the online proposal before filling it so you can complete it in one sitting. Most online applications will not save your information, although some require you to create an account and password. These may or may not save your grant as you are filling it in. Each online application is different, so make sure you read all the instructions before you begin the process.
Proposal Plus Presentation (PPP) –
Some funders require some sort of proposal that will be reviewed by a committee who will then ask to have the prospective grant seeker present the proposal to the board of directors. They may want to interview your director, certain employees, or even people in the community who have utilized your programs or services. Make sure your presentation is short, informative, not a re-hashing of the grant proposal, and above all, be personable and prepared to answer any questions.
Writing the “Boilerplate”
To prepare for grant seeking, it is well worth your time to write a “boilerplate” grant narrative. The “boilerplate” is a complete narrative containing information about your organization, its history, the community and people it serves, the staff, board and administration, budget, programs, and services. The “boilerplate” contains every bit of information about your organization and what it does.
Drafting this document is time-consuming, and as your organization changes and grows, the “boilerplate” will change and grow with it (make sure someone is assigned to update it!), making it an informational asset available for many uses beyond grant writing – marketing, fundraising, and reporting, etc.
A mistake that many nonprofits make while seeking grants is using this document for all grant proposals. They make a ton of copies and simply send them out to foundations and corporations who (a) may not be a good fit for the organization, (b) requires a different format for their grants, (c) is not in a granting cycle, or (d) a combination of these things. It is a sure way to burn some bridges with prospective grantors! It is important to always use the required format and grant cycle calendars for each prospective funder separately – but more on that later.
Now, let’s have a look at the specific parts of the grant – all of which you should draft to complete your “boilerplate” narrative.
Parts of a Grant
The Executive Summary
While the Executive Summary is the first section of each grant, it is best to write this section last. This is a brief statement that describes the organization, the reason you are seeking grant dollars, and why you believe a partnership between your organization and the potential funder is a good fit. This section, usually only half a page to one full page in length, will describe the highlights of the grant proposal.
Mission and History
This section will contain your organization’s mission statement, as stated in the nonprofit’s Articles of Incorporation. The mission statement is brief – usually, one concise sentence – that describes what the organization does (for the community).
You will also need to draft a brief history of the organization, starting with its inception to the present, which the organization has served (and now many), where is it located, and how it has grown and changed over time. This is a living document that will continue to change as the organization changes, documenting the milestones the organization achieves. Remember to keep it brief. However, using bullet points to document the organization’s history is usually a great format to use.
Statement of Need (Purpose of the Grant)
The Statement of Need is going to incorporate some hard data – statistics that prove why your nonprofit organization and the programs and services you provide are important to your community – specifically the particular population you serve. (For instance, homeless individuals, children in need and battered women, etc.)
If your organization offers more than one program or service, you should write a statement of the need for each – complete the data that shows community needs. (You can see now why your “boilerplate” is so important!)
This is usually one of the lengthiest sections of the grant proposal. In the statement of need, you are trying to touch the hearts of the funders, to show them the good your nonprofit intends to do with the grant dollars you are awarded. While you are trying to touch hearts, you are also backing your statements up with hard data. This is one of the most important sections of the grant application, so be sure to take time doing research.
You may also want to seek out statements from individuals and families your programs and services have helped (testimonials), which may be in writing or else recorded or filmed. Most funders appreciate hearing from the people and communities your organization serves. They like to be assured that you have a good reputation in your community as a helping entity that is responsible for working toward amending a need.
Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes
A goal is an abstract or an intangible statement that states what your program or project intends to accomplish, while an objective is a specific statement that is bound to a time frame. Prospective funders want to be assured that you are setting goals and objectives for your program or project that anticipates some specific outcomes. An outcome is the end product of any objective.
- Goal: To introduce young children to music opportunities beyond the classroom.
- Objective: To provide music classes to 50 kindergarteners and first graders within the first year of the program.
- Outcome: In the first year of the music program, 49 kindergarteners and 51 first graders participated in music classes that were not offered in schools.
Formatting goals, objectives and anticipated outcomes into some sort of graph or chart make it easy for potential funders to read and understand. A graph or chart gives the grantor a snapshot of what the nonprofit intends to accomplish within a specific timeframe. Always remember to adhere to all formatting requests by the grantor, however, some grant applications provide a fill-in chart for your goals and objectives section.
Timetable for Implementation
Most grant awards are time-sensitive. Therefore, grantors usually request a timetable for the implementation of their grant applications. In this section, you will map the duration of a program or project. Some programs are ongoing, and in this case, that would be stated in the timetable, as well as ways your organization intends to fund that program in the future.
Projects usually take place over a specific time frame, such as within six months, three years, etc. Be as specific as you can with the time frames. This is a good indicator of potential grantors that your agency has spent time with, effort, planning, creating specific goals, objectives, and predicting outcomes.
A timetable may be in narrative or calendar form, depending on the application required by the grantor.
Collaboration and Community Partners
Many years ago, it was common for most nonprofit organizations to be autonomous. But back then, there weren’t as many of them around, and grant competition was not as fierce as it is today. Now collaboration is the key between nonprofits and community partners to provide services and programs.
Foundations and giving corporations like collaboration and community partnerships like to see organizations join together on projects and deliver quality services to those in need in their communities.
It is a good idea to keep a running list of all the agencies, foundations, corporations, government, religious, and educational entities your nonprofit regularly meet and collaborate on projects and the provision of services. Many grant applications will ask you to describe your relationship with community partners and projects or programs you work on together, or in which one or the other of you provide consultation. Funders like to see collaboration and forming community partnerships will help your nonprofit- and other local nonprofits- increase grant dollars for the entire community.
Community Need / Resources
Another question a grantor will have for your nonprofit when you are seeking funding is whether or not the programs you provide in the community are just a “duplication of services.” In other words, what the donor needs to know is if there are other nonprofits within your community that offer similar programs and services.
Duplicating services is not a bad thing – especially if you live in a large city, or if the target population is so large that one agency cannot handle the need alone. However, if your agency does duplicate or replicate services in the community, this section is a chance for you to talk about how your services are different, better or more complete, etc. What is important here is to explain in a logical way why your nonprofit’s services are important in your community, even though other agencies exist in the community that is doing something similar.
Constituents, Consumers, Clients – Who Does the Nonprofit Serve? Grantors seek demographic information that describes the people your nonprofit organization provides service to. Hard data about your target population can be found on uscensus.org if you are searching for statistics on households, sex, race, size of families, income, etc. If you provide children’s programs, there is a lot of statistical information available for free on kidscount.org.
Your organization will need to set up ways to track the services and programs you provide (and to whom) over time. You will use your statistical data as you seek a grant in the future, but if you are just beginning, you will have to rely on information that is available locally, statewide, and on federal sites like the U.S. Census Bureau.
Another key to success when seeking grants is to have people you serve have a voice in how your agency provides services. You may have a former client sit on an advisory capacity on your board of directors, utilize past clients as volunteers, or ask for testimonials from clients. The people you serve are your strongest marketing tool. They can tell a grantor (and the public) first-hand how your agency helped them. Your constituents are an asset you should utilize when seeking funds.
Staff Training, Education and Expected Certifications
In this section, you will document the knowledge, education, and experience of your administrators and staff. You may want to gather resumes and any certifications your administration and staff have provided. You want to show the grantor that your staff is well qualified to provide the services and programs your nonprofit organization offers.
Additionally, if your agency requires staff to have particular licenses, certifications, or requires continuing education and training, you will want to state what types are required and how the additional training will be acquired.
Gone are the days when nonprofit organizations could operate via grant dollars alone. It is important for your nonprofit to draft (and follow) a three to five-year sustainability plan and to share it with your potential funders. They want to know how your nonprofit will survive beyond grant awards.
Many nonprofits do fundraisers in their communities, seek corporate donors and supporters, and establish endowments. Some nonprofits may provide fee-based services, while others (like an organization that assists the physically challenged) may seek federal or state contracts that pay, in part, for the services the nonprofit provides.
Showing a grantor all the ways how a nonprofit has the potential to bring in revenue doesn’t mean you don’t need a grant – it simply demonstrates that your organization is fiscally responsible and that you are thinking about the future of your nonprofit and its sustainability.
Many grant applications also ask about other grants you intend to apply for. This section list includes other applications applied for or any other you intend to apply for with amounts requested and any determinations that have already been made. (For example, XXX Foundation- grant request $10,000, received $7,500 or XXX Foundation – grant request $5,000, grant declined.) It is imperative that you are honest in this section. Foundations, just like nonprofits, are public entities, and all records for grant requests and awards are available to the public – and the foundations you are applying to.
Evaluation is the most ignored and possibly the most important component of program planning. The most important thing that the donor will be interested in when you request funding is:
- What the success of the project or program is
- Were there any components of the project or program that were unsuccessful
- Who is responsible for reviewing the evaluation material?
- What the organization plans to do with the information
There are several types of evaluation tools. Talk with community partners to see what types they have used, what works and what doesn’t. Some agencies hire an evaluation service to formally document statistics and interpret them.
Your nonprofit may want to form a sub-committee on your board of directors dedicated to the evaluation of the programs and services offered by your organization. This committee would research different evaluation tools and methods, come up with a way to gather data, assemble it and make formal reports once or twice a year. This information can be used for reporting to grantors when seeking grant funding. This information is a great marketing tool for your organization as well, showing just how much impact you make on your clients and in the community.
Donors have a common list of required attachments that you must send along with your grant applications. The attachments are:
- A copy of the latest IRS determination letter (501c3)
- A list of all Board of Directors and their affiliations
- The latest audit
- The latest 990 (IRS)
- Supporting letters
- Annual Report (if available)
Some funders request or allow supportive materials, while others don’t. Supportive materials may include testimonials, newspaper articles, or articles in other publications, videos, campaign materials, photographs, and the like.
Some request letters of support will allow you to include them. A letter of support may be from governmental bodies, local politicians, other nonprofits, other influential persons, or businesses in your community.
Drafting a Cover Letter
A cover letter should be included as a courtesy at the beginning of any grant proposal. The cover letter should be short and concise, introducing your nonprofit and the reason you are applying for the grant. The cover letter mirrors the Executive Summary found at the beginning of the grant.
Always thank the foundation or a giving corporation at the end of the cover letter for the opportunity to apply for funding.
Proofreading your grant proposal is one of the most important parts of the process. Have someone other than the grant writer proofs the document. It is a good idea to have a couple of pairs of fresh eyes take a look at it – not just for errors, but to make sure the narrative makes sense to them, and all portions of the grant proposal are readily understood. Utilize spell check as well, but spell check doesn’t catch all the mistakes that a good pair of eyes can! (For instance, the words TWO and TOW).