Document Checklist for Grant Proposals in 2020

It is crucial to have all the necessary documents needed to apply for a grant. As stated in the introduction, yes, grant writing is an art. However, there is also a fair amount of science involved in the process. You may be a talented writer who is ready to get to work weaving the narrative of the tremendous societal impact you achieve into a compelling story. That story may also bring tears to the eyes of any grantor, but if you don’t have all the necessary documents and pieces of information needed to submit your proposal, the funder won’t read it. One foundation program officer I met said it this way:

“Because of the sheer number of proposals that we receive, sometimes the process is more about who we aren’t going to fund than who we are going to fund. Don’t make the job easier on us by not submitting all your documents.”

Grant writing requires a significant time commitment, and it would be a shame to waste time on a proposal that is dead on arrival due to a missing Board list. All grant applications require organizational information, a project narrative and project budgets; however almost all require extra documentation. While sometimes foundations will require seemingly random pieces of information (more on this in Chapter Two: Follow the Rules), in addition to the proposal, most foundations need at least the items listed below. Very few grantors will consider you if you do not have these items. Make sure that you gather these documents before you begin your grant writing process to set yourself up for success.

 

Initial Documentation

Mission Statement:

As many grantors award money to nonprofit organizations, most will require you to list a mission statement. Mission Statements are brief and impactful sentences that describe the work that the organization seeks to achieve.

Before you begin writing grant proposals, you may want to review your mission statement. Ask yourself these questions: Is our mission statement clear about what we are trying to achieve? Is it broad enough to not limit our programs? Is it short enough to be memorized by every staff member? Here is an example of a great mission statement:

“The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”

Your mission statement is a quick way for grantors to tell a lot about your organization. Nonprofit organizations are free to adjust their mission statements as long as the revised version fits within the original goal of the organization and as long as the board communicates the change with the Internal Revenue Service, volunteers, and donors. So, if yours is too long, outdated, or unclear, take the time during your next board meeting to revise it into a more impactful statement.

Letter of Determination:

Whether you represent a Limited Liability Corporation, a Sole Proprietorship, or a nonprofit organization, you have official documentation from your state or the Internal Revenue Service that indicates when your organization the date you established and the type of organization it is.

Grantors want to see these documents to verify legitimacy. Make sure that you have a copy of your official documentation on hand. If you neglect to attach these documents, it is a red flag to grantors indicating that you are at the very least disorganized, and at worst, you are not running a legal organization. It is never good to leave a grantor wondering whether or not you are operating legally.

Employee Identification Number:

An Employee Identification Number (EIN) or Tax Identification Number (TIN), they are the same, is a federally issued number used to identify organizations. Whether you are a business, nonprofit, or another type of organization like a Trust, you are required to obtain an EIN. Grantors use these numbers similar to your Letter of Determination, as a way to make sure you are legally allowed to receive potentially awarded funds. You can apply for an EIN online by visiting the following web address:

https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/apply-for-an-employer-identification-number-ein-online

DUNS Number:

A DUNS number or a Data Universal Numbering System number is commonly required when applying for state or federal funding. A DUNS number is a nine-digit organizational identifier. To understand the difference between a DUNS number and an EIN, think of it this way. An EIN is like your social security number, and a DUNS number is similar to your driver’s license number. You apply for an EIN when you incorporate just like obtaining a social security number at birth. Still, you also likely have a state-issued driver’s license number, which many groups use as an additional form of identification. A DUNS number is used to evaluate an organization through the lens of data points. Visit Dun and Bradstreet at www.DNB.com to apply for a DUNS number.

List of Board of Directors:

List of Board of Directors

Whether you are a for-profit or a nonprofit, if your organization has a Board of Directors, then grantors will typically want to see a list of who those individuals. Grantors can tell a lot about an organization from a Board List. For instance, if you are a nonprofit that serves women living in poverty, but your board is made up entirely of men, then that indicates a disconnect between the organization’s leadership and its clients. Board Lists also make visible any potential connections between grantors and the organization requesting funds.

Financial Documents

Previous & Current Fiscal Year Financial Statements: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a financial statement is worth a million. Grantors use these statements to get a picture of organizational health. Are you running a significant deficit? Do you spend too much on administration and too little on programs? Did you host a major conference last year that brought in unusual profits? Grantors want to see both the previous fiscal year and the current fiscal year to make comparisons and find trends. It is essential to have these documents ready when applying for grants.

Program Budget:

In Chapter Eleven, you can read more on how to structure your program budget. However, for our purpose here in Chapter One, be aware that program budgets are separate from organizational budgets. Grantors want to see how you will spend the requested money. Program budgets are your opportunity to breakdown those costs.

Recent Financial Audit:

All of these required documents are ways for grantors to ascertain whether or not your organization follows standard practices and procedures; they are indicators of organizational health. A financial audit proves to grantors that you handle finances appropriately, and you are trustworthy with money. Outside firms conduct financial checks, and they cost money, but the expense is worth it. Audits aren’t only used to instill trust; they are tools to help organizations understand how to address areas of concern. Lastly, it may seem overt, but financial audits must be recent. It doesn’t do any good if you submit a financial review from 1983; in fact, that would be a serious red flag.

IRS 990:

If your organization is a nonprofit, then you are required to file an IRS 990. This form is an annual financial report that verifies with the federal government whether or not your business proceedings fell within the guidelines for tax-exempt organizations.

 

Additional Documents

Policies:

Funders may require you to upload specific policies like your Conflict of Interest Policy or Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Statement.

A Conflict of Interest Policy is standard practice for organizations. Key leaders such as Board Members typically sign Conflict of Interest policies to acknowledge that, as a representative of the organization, they commit to acting on the organization’s behalf and, to that end, will not seek personal gain. They will also likely list potential relationships that may conflict with the organization’s aims to add transparency. If your organization does not have a Conflict of Interest Policy, you should consider creating one before applying for grants. You will find templates of policies online to use as inspiration.

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Statements indicate your organization’s commitment to including all persons within the staff, leadership, and volunteer roles. Increasingly, funders are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion and will ask you to attach your policy. If your organization doesn’t have a DEI statement, it is wise to start with an audit to assess how well your organization is doing currently, so that you can develop a plan for improvement. Beloved Community, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to improve systems of inequality by harnessing the power of individuals, developed a free online equity audit that is a helpful tool for organizations looking to increase diversity amongst their leadership. You can access this tool at www.wearebeloved.org

Business Plan:

Business Plan

For-profit organizations use business plans to provide a brief snapshot of the organization and its future. Business owners use Business plans when requesting business funding and support. Typically business plans contain the following information:

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Summary
  • Products and Services
  • Market Analysis
  • Strategy and Implementation Summary
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Sales Strategy
  • Milestones
  • Management Summary
  • Financial Plan

Grantors will often require a business plan from a for-profit organization, so it is vital that you have one. If you aren’t familiar with how to write a business plan, hire a consultant.

Annual Report:

Nonprofit organizations use annual reports to share stories of the impact that their organization was able to achieve in the previous year. Business plans project forward, but annual reports look backward. Annual reports are marketing and fundraising tools that contain the following information:

  • Mission & Vision
  • Recent Accomplishments
  • Stories of Impact
  • Financial Information
  • Major Contributors

Whereas business plans are somewhat rigid in structure, annual reports are more flexible. Some nonprofits chose to produce a newsletter-style report while some create and infographics and videos. Regardless of the format, grantors want to see annual reports to understand the contribution a nonprofit makes to society.

Transcripts & Resumes:

Transcripts & Resumes

If you are an individual seeking funds, you will inherently have fewer official documents; therefore, you should prepare to submit documentation that speaks to your qualifications and trustworthiness. For example, if you are applying for a research or scholarship grant, you will probably need to provide copies of recent transcripts as well as your resume and list of past accomplishments.

Personal statements may also be required. Make sure to tailor your personal statements to the grantor. Do your research to find out as much about the grantor as possible and mention mutual areas of interest.

Conclusion

These documents collectively paint a picture of your organization. You cannot apply for grants without these documents. In fact, with the movement towards online grant applications, many won’t allow you to submit the request without first attaching these documents.

If your organization hasn’t conducted an audit recently or if you have misplaced your letter of determination, then you need to spend time compiling those documents before you waste time writing grants that funders will discard instantaneously.