Why should a private or public granting organization trust your non-profit with grant money? How is your non-profit structured and what has it accomplished in the past? These are questions that need to be addressed in any grant application.
These factors are important to weave into the basic narrative of the project. Private and public grant reviewers are not looking for Pulitzer Prize winning narratives; yet the case must be made that your non-profit has the experience, the necessary staff and the capacity to achieve the goals and objectives written in the grant application.
In the case of faith-based organizations, it is often essential for both private and public funders to understand the separation of the religious mission from the ability to deliver programs or projects. There are a number of foundations totally dedicated to providing funding to religious organizations. The Foundation Center provides information about those specific foundations.
If it can be done, introduce the non-profit’s official mission statement into the narrative, especially if it incorporates a compelling reason for the existence of the non-profit.
It is common for an agency to receive far more applications than it could possibly afford to fund. What’s one way to present an appealing and winning case? What about if your non-profit is unique? Is it long-established? Is it the first in the neighborhood? Were the founders special in some measurable way? If the non-profit serves a special population: minorities, women, the disabled, or former prisoners; are members of these populations represented on the Board of Directors? Are staff also members of these special populations which the program/project is designed to serve? Does the non-profit follow a specialized training such as day care centers that utilize Montessori techniques or the center is a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)?
It’s best to find something – anything that presents a uniqueness that separates your non-profit from the many others. Essentially in the grant application, the grant writer is creating a marketing plan that demonstrates some degree of uniqueness.
The best proof of the non-profit’s ability to succeed is to analyze what the non-profit has done in the past. Does the non-profit have an enviable track record? Can the reviewers pinpoint examples of past accomplishments that will lead them to expect similar results if they award a grant to the non-profit? Again, the grant application will probably not ask direct questions about past accomplishments, but it will indicate places where the information needs to be introduced.
The best method of demonstrating a track history is to build a story line. When did the non-profit start offering this service or a complimentary one? It is interesting to note if the non-profit started in a specific way and then proceeded to alter its course because of obstacles. This is a mark of a flexible and dynamic non-profit No non-profit operates a program or service without problems.
If the non-profit offers a large number of different services, its only necessary to provide a line or two about those services. The grants writer wants to focus on past accomplishments that prove or demonstrate that the non-profit is capable of meeting the current grant requirements. Do not fill up the pages with superfluous information. The reviewers neither have the time nor the inclination to read pages of fluff. Focus on what the non-profit has done in the past that has a direct link to its ability to do something similar in the future.
If the non-profit has never done the specific service or program requested in the RFP, a different approach is necessary. Then the story line has to move in another direction. Why now is the non-profit capable of entering into a new service or program? Where specifically in its history are there similar links? Did the non-profit add new staff with a new set of expertise? Did the non-profit initiate new collaborations that allow it to enter into new territory? Did the community change and its needs shift? Is the non-profit moving with the community towards offering new programs and services?
The past accomplishments must be very specific. It’s not enough to just indicate the non-profit did this or that. Give dates, places, numbers served. Does the non-profit have press stories that support its accomplishments? Don’t send copies of the press reports; weave the information into the story line. Valuable attachments are letters of support from community leaders, other nonprofits, political figures that support past accomplishments and the potential of the non-profit to achieve the goals and objectives in the application. It is always easier to draft a letter of support and then they can modify the letter to reflect their own style.
If the non-profit has successfully received government grants then it’s important for the new reviewers to know that information. The easiest way to display that information is by creating a simple table with the vital information such as the following: grant title, amount, which grantor government agency, short phrase on purpose, and dates.
Does the non-profit’s strength arise from its staff? The easiest way of demonstrating the non-profit can meet the goals and objectives of the grant application is through the utilization of specific staff. Many grant applications will request job descriptions and resumes to accompany the application if funding is being sought for personnel. Those should be included whether or not they are requested as attachments. However, that’s not enough. It is important to emphasize the skills, education, and experience of specific staff in the body of the grant submission. It should be emphasized that it’s these skills that will make it possible for the nonprofit to achieve the aims of the grant application. Not only are the past important accomplishments of the non-profit to be stated, but also the past achievements of specific staff. Do they have awards or press stories worthy of noting? Do particular staff members have interesting personal stories to weave into the grant application as supportive documentation?
The tricky issue is when there is no specific staff in place. Non-profits may wait until the funding is available before they go out and hire staff. If this is the case, then it is the job description that becomes important as demonstrating proof of potential new accomplishments.
Capacity to Meet Program/Project Goals and Objectives
This is the selling point. Will the non-profit be able to meet its obligations? What is there about this non-profit, as opposed to other non-profits bidding for the dollars that assures the reviewers the money will be well spent? There may be direct questions about this issue and the grant application must address them head on with specifics. The specifics include fiscal accountability, past accomplishments, service to the community, staff distinctiveness and measurable/reasonable goals and objectives.
Unlike most foundation or corporate grants, the government is rarely interested whether the project is sustainable after the funding period. Government funding is usually multi-year and so it is expected that the program or service will continue for the three or five years of the funding cycle. The government doesn’t assume the non-profit will continue a program or service in the absence of continued government funding. However, most private funders ask how the non-profit will continue the funded program/project after the grant money is spent If there is potential for revenue (e.g., fees for classes, corporate sponsorships) then that should be noted. Or perhaps a new fundraising campaign will be initiated after the grant period. If this is a possibility then it should be noted.
If sustainability is an issue among government funders, it’s because the government grant money serves as seed money. For example, if the state government provides grant funds to create or expand a day care center or a charter school, then it is expected that funding must be available after the initial period.
Why Should This Project/Program be Funded
Unlike private foundation grant applications where the problems may be quite vague, government grants usually address specific issues and problems. In the RFP description, there may be pages of explanation why the government is interested in this problem. There is nothing to be gained by restating the obvious. However, a good grant application will succinctly describe how it is specifically addressing what may be a national or state problem.
Statement of Need
The “Statement of Need” section is the justification for why the project/program should be funded. It may or may not be directly addressed as a specific targeted part of the criteria; but regardless, it must be discussed. This section is where the grant applicant describes the community that will be served by the grant funding. The description of the problem must be very specific to the location chosen. Many corporate foundation grants ask questions about a statement of need and what specific geographic area is to be covered by the grant submission. Most corporate foundations fund grants where the corporation has operations or the bank has branch offices. So the geographic area where the grant will be having an impact is important and must be identified.
The grant application should identify physical, economic, social, financial, institutional or other problems that will be addressed by successful funding of the application. If possible create maps that pinpoint the actual geography. In a government RFP the granting agency will discuss the purpose of the RFP, and within this description will be the key dimensions to emphasize in a “Statement of Need” section. For example, in a recent federal RFP on childhood obesity, the statement of the problem was clearly provided. “Research has shown that obesity in childhood tracks into adulthood, carrying along with it increased susceptibility to hypertension, dyslipidemia and glucose intolerance. In fact, the striking increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity over the past 30 years has been associated with a marked increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes among adolescents.”
So, the Statement of Need has to directly address two issues. First, demonstrate that the community has a problem by providing statistics concerning overweight children, adolescents with type 2 diabetes, adults with diabetes, etc. Also consider how the statistics have changed over the past ten or twenty years. Second, the program described in the application must be designed to meet this problem with specific interventions that are effective. Statistics should be included that identify successful interventions. If the program being considered in the grant application is entirely novel or innovative then there must be statistics to indicate positive change will occur. There must be hints or possibilities described in the literature that point in this direction. Using reputable references is important; actual citations from acceptable professional or scientific journals are encouraged.
Use of Demographics
Every grant application should contain some type of demographic information. The best comparisons are between the subject area and the larger community. For example, if the area under consideration is a zip code, compare this zip code with the city or county, the state and the nation if it makes the problem more pressing. Comparisons should always be included, but carefully choose which statistics make a better case. It isn’t that statistics lie, but some present a more compelling story.
The most effective way of demonstrating the power of demographic analysis is graphically. It is a true adage that in using demographic information, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The easiest approach is to create graphs and tables that visually tell the story without much explanation. Microsoft’s Excel software is a useful tool. It is easy to insert these tables and charts into the text if you’re using Microsoft’s Word software. There are many better, more sophisticated statistical packages that produce beautiful charts and tables, but may not be as easy to use. Word combined with Excel software does a nice job. The writer doesn’t need to have any real knowledge of statistics or demographics to use the Excel software.
The most common graphic charts in the Excel software are column, bar, line and pie. Personal choice can determine which type of graph or chart is used, but remember that reviewers will probably be seeing the application and its attachments in black and white. Applications are usually reproduced for reviewers on black and white printers or copiers.
The Excel software column graph selections include: cluster, stacked, 100% stacked and then 3D visual effects. Again, unless the intent is to include all copies with color graphs, the 3D Versions can be distracting. The bar graphs are similar to column graphs except that the information is displayed horizontally rather than vertically. For information that looks at points over time such as monthly clinic visits over a year, daily arrests during the week, a line graph is a good pictorial choice. Using the line graph, Excel lets you then compare the geographic area under consideration with some other geography such as a city, county, state or the nation. A pie chart is also a favorite choice. It’s usually easy to read and a means of displaying information in a highly descriptive manner. Practical examples of using pie charts are describing the ethnic/racial backgrounds of an area’s population or results of a customer satisfaction question. The best looking pie charts use color, so remember that fact in using them in a grant application. As always when working with any type of charts, never overwhelm the reader with too many categories. It’s best to keep things simple.
Where To Go
Where does the non-profit find reliable demographic information on items such as age, race/ethnicity, income, poverty rates and gender? Begin with local government sources. Most cities and towns maintain some demographic information on their community for use by the local Planning and Zoning Board. All state agencies also maintain detailed information on the state either in the Planning Department or through the Economic Development Department. Every school district maintains detailed information about the school body: overall population of school-aged children, race, ethnicity, poverty (eligibility for free lunch), school progress, descriptions of the child’s household.
The best single source of all demographic data is the US Bureau of the Census. The web site is www.census.gov. Look for the Census Bureau’s “American Factfinder.” After you locate that site, click on “Fact Sheet.” This is a remarkable site for almost an unlimited amount of information on a large variety of demographic subjects such as population, housing, poverty, education, income, commuting to work, migration, etc. The problem is that it is not a particularly user friendly site. It takes experience to maneuver through the many sources of specific information. The 2010 Census material has been analyzed by the experts and is available (a full count of the population is conducted every ten years as required by the US Constitution). In addition to the ten year census, the US Census Bureau conducts a wide range of yearly surveys that measure economic activity, housing statistics, migration-immigration figures and overall population. The Bureau of the Census publishes yearly estimates of the population.
Other great sources of demographic information vary depending on the type of the information. For example, the federal Department of Justice is the place to go for crime statistics. There is a sub-agency that collects data of all kinds. For medical and disease information the sources are The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) or National Institutes of Health (NIH). The federal Department of Labor surveys and publishes a wide range of labor, employment, occupational information.
Competitive Analysis – Who Else is Doing This
Although a RFP may never directly ask about anyone else in the community is doing what your non-profit’s grant application is proposing, inevitably this is an issue. Think of the grant application as a product which will be compared to other similar products in the marketplace. If you consider the application as a marketing plan for the project/program, then assume two forms of competition: other applicants and other existing non-profits or programs in the community not requesting funding. There is a fear by private and public funders of encouraging unnecessary duplication of services.
As a part of the “Statement of Need” material, include information about other programs or non-profits that are doing similar activities in the community where the program is proposed. It is rare that the activity in your proposal is unique in the community. Should this actually be the case, then make certain that the uniqueness of the program itself is prominently discussed in the grant application. If there are programs in the community that appear similar, the grant application must concretely describe how the applicant’s submission is somehow different and superior to what is already available. Emphasizing the improved nature of the program is the key in effectively marketing the value of the non-profit’s application.
Demonstration or Pilot Program
Requests for applications that specifically seek “demonstration” or “pilot programs” are truly gifts. Search out RFPs that have these twin words – demonstration project or pilot project in the titles. It usually means that the common way of dealing with this problem isn’t working. The private and public funders have decided because a problem may be new or so long-entrenched that something totally innovative is needed. It is then the non-profit’s challenge to show that it has the talents, experiences or expertise that lends itself to successfully diving into something new. The non-profit that has a reputation for successfully fostering change in the community or solving intractable problems is a viable candidate for a successful award, even if it does not have a track record with the private or public funding sources.