Is Our Nonprofit Ready to Apply for A Grant? By Chataun Denis
Do you have a written business or strategic plan that includes detailed descriptions of your products and services? A written guide for how your organization plans to accomplish its goals is probably the most important factor in determining if you are ready to compete for grant funding. The popular cliché, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail, is very valid. Not having a clear vision and anticipated outcome may communicate that you are not serious about your business idea. Now there are some organizations that are already in business and have a track record of success although not in written form. These are not the organizations to which I am referring.
The other reason I recommend having a business plan is that it will prove very important in the grant writing process as you will extract the information contained therein and use it to develop your grant proposals. Do not be intimidated by the idea of developing a business plan. Your plan could be a chart or a list. The purpose of the plan is to detail the organization’s mission, goals, and the strategies toward their achievement.
Your plan will include information regarding your organization’s structure and capacity to deliver in your chosen area of expertise. It will contain a profile of your target consumers and why they need your products or services. Including existing collaborations may help you leverage additional resources, which is always a plus, from the funder’s perspective. Product design is critically important as it explains to the reader how you plan to make a difference. Your goals, objectives, and benchmarks will communicate the likelihood of your plan being successful. You will also want to address how you plan to manage your venture. Will you use volunteers or paid staff? What are their backgrounds? Are they qualified to fill key roles?
The last two areas, if addressed well can give you a competitive edge over all other applicants. They are evaluation and sustainability. How will you know if you are having the impact you intended? Evaluating your programs you will know if you are meeting your outcome goals. If you are not, then do not expect to receive grant money. Also, do not underestimate the power of sustainability. Having a sustainable business that is not reliant on grant funding speaks volumes about your credibility and proficiency to run a business.
In addition to the business plan, there are numerous attachments you will want to have handy in preparation for your grant requests. A few are: board of director’s list complete with contact information and affiliation, 501 c 3 tax exempt letter, audited financial statements, and current and previous year operating budgets. You should purchase a binder and store these and other governance related documents for your organization.
Do not consider this an exhaustive list. As a guide, I’ve created a checklist titled, “Capacity Building Checklist” available for download. If you have most of the items, you are in a good position to begin competing for grant funding; if not, you’ve got some work to do. If you’re just starting out, or you’ve had your tax exempt status for a while, but just haven’t launched your programs yet, don’t count on start-up grants. You’ll more than likely have to finance the start-up yourself. The important thing to do here is develop a business model that relies on earned income, and document it all on paper.