Grant Seeking 101: Getting Started

In graduate school, they called me the queen of grants due to my ability to track down grants and help other people with their applications. In six years, I received over $160,000 in federal, state, and university grants to support my research, present and network at conferences, and conduct field work—all on a relatively niche topic (contemporary French literature, film, and graphic novels). The biggest lesson I learned is that there are a lot of grants out there, which means you can nearly always find a grant that is a fit for your project if you know where to look.

Equally important: not as many organizations are applying for grants as you might think. Which means if you’ve found a grant for which you are a good fit, and you can convincingly show that you’ll steward the funds effectively, and you take the time to apply and write a strong application, you have a pretty good shot of getting the grant.

These days, since my passion is to help social good organizations optimize all aspects of their day-to-day operations by creating workshops about nonprofit best practices, I wanted to share some information about grants and how they can help your organization succeed.

Are you ready to be the king or queen of grants at your organization?

Let’s take some time to consider whether grants would be an effective part of your fundraising strategy. Of course, we all want grants because they provide funds to implement new projects and support existing programs. But there are other benefits of grants you might not have considered.

Every time you apply for a grant, you’re raising awareness about your organization’s mission and services, and making the case for why people should support your organization. Not only does this create great copy for any fundraising and marketing messaging you may send out in the future, it also exposes the people reviewing your grant to your organization.

Even if you don’t get a grant, you’re still reaping the benefits of increased awareness about your organization. Once you’re on a grantor’s radar, they might even consider you as a partner in the future for a grant they consider to be a better fit. When you do receive grants, this achievement can bring positive press to your organization, which makes more prospective supporters aware of your mission. If supporters and prospects see that big grantmaking organizations are willing to partner with you, then they might be more likely to consider donating to your cause, too.

Before we can start reaping the many rewards of grants, though, we need to understand what we’re getting into to determine whether it’s a good fit. Let’s start with some key terminology:

  • A grant is a sum of money given to your organization for a particular purpose. This purpose can range from starting a new program or initiative to supporting general operating expenses—it’s up to the grantor to decide.
  • Speaking of grantors, they are the organizations, public and private foundations, and government entities that award grants.
  • And grantees are the recipients (hopefully you and your organization!) of that grant money.

Are you ready to get started?

The first step is to evaluate your organization and see if you’re ready to apply for grants. To check if your organization is grants-ready, you should first ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can you clearly articulate your mission, vision, and your impact on the population you serve?
  2. Do you have a solid financial history that will convince potential grantors you’ll be a good steward of their funds?
  3. Do you have adequate staff and time to devote to grant applications?
  4. Do you have a project or program for which you can clearly and convincingly articulate your need for funds?

Did you answer “yes” to all of these? Then it’s time to start looking for grants.

This series will help you navigate the ins and outs of finding the right grants, writing effective grant applications, and stewarding relationships with grantors after you get the grant. Over the next few weeks we’ll cover:

  • How to find the right grants for your organization: There are hundreds of thousands of grants available—but where can you look to find these grants and discover more about the grantors?
  • How to write an effective application: Now that you’ve found the perfect grant, it’s time to write an application that puts your organization in the best light possible. Are you using the most effective, persuasive language to demonstrate your organization’s impact?
  • How to think like a reviewer: Remember, grantors are taking a risk every time they give a grant to a new organization. Does your application make grantors confident you’ll be a good steward of their funds?
  • How to maintain a great relationship: The relationship does not end when the grantor cuts you a check. Ideally, you’re starting a relationship with a grantor which will continue over a long period of time. How do you cultivate and grow this relationship over time?

We’ll be looking much more closely at all four topics in my blogs in the coming weeks.

You can also learn more about about the latest trends in grantmaking and how to make your organization’s grant applications stand out from the pack topic in Blackbaud University’s Organizational Best Practices workshop, OBP: Fundraising—Grants.