The FIn a recent Abila webinar hosted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, presenter Debbie DiVirgilio guided participants through the grant writing process. Debbie is a certified nonprofit grant professional with many years of successful grant writing experience.

Note: if you missed the live webinar, or took part and would like to watch it again or share it with your colleagues, the recording is available for download here.

Whether you’re new to writing grant proposals, or, are an experienced professional, this presentation serves as a primer and also a re-focusing on the “essentials” for securing the most grant dollars for your organization.

A synopsis of Debbie’s presentation:

Competition for grants is growing. New nonprofits are forming all the time to meet increasing societal needs, meaning there are more organizations competing for valuable grant dollars. Anything you can do to give your cause a competitive edge is important, and success in securing grants is more likely if you follow the fundamentals.

First and foremost, when writing your grant proposal focus on the mission and how you plan to directly address problems in your community with the money you’re requesting.

Establish a track record

Debbie used The Paris Foundation as a great example of an organization doing grant proposal writing right. They carried out their mission, providing meals to the homeless in their community, for three years without asking for funding. When the necessity came for additional funding they began applying for grants with a story to tell and a track record with concrete results to back it up: i.e. served 37,000 meals to the homeless in their community. 

While you may need to apply for funding from the very beginning, make sure you have a good story to tell.  Once you receive your funding make sure you follow the funders’ rules, and develop a track record and relationships necessary to establish a reputation for doing great things and making appropriate use of grant dollars.   

Identify Grant Makers

Before applying for a particular grant, do your homework:

  • Are their organizations or programs doing the same work as you?

  • What is the unique need that your program meets?

  • Leverage the expertise, knowledge and contacts of your founder, board and staff

  • Consider promoting your project as a “pilot”, foundations are sometimes more apt to fund pilot programs

Meet the Grant Makers Criteria

The most important rule is to follow the guidelines that grant funders put in place.  Check the Foundation’s website carefully to see what they fund and make sure your program and needs align to their guidelines and criterion. It is extremely important that you follow the exact rules laid out to ensure you win the grant you need, and ensure a quality relationship with the funder in the future.

This could also be as simple as making sure that you staple your final reports versus compiling a formal binder, or, recognizing that they want reports laid out in a particular way.  Do not try and get too fancy if the funder is not tasking for it.

Finding Foundation Funding

  • Start locally – a local foundation is more likely to be interested and vested in helping to meet a local need

  • Develop relationships within the community

  • Building your network by going to community events can be extremely important to developing the relationships you need.

Seeking grants in smaller communities

Raising money within a smaller community can come with some unique challenges, Debbie addresses these with a few recommendations:

  • Identify local corporations that may be seeking to help out within the community

  • Look at competitors as well as potential partners

  • Use The Foundation Center’s directory to conduct a reverse-search function in order to find foundations that work in your geographic area

Develop a Funding Plan

  • Identify funders for 6-12 months out and organize by deadline

  • Research what grant makers want to see and might be looking for

  • Develop a complete overview of your organization and its mission. This will most likely take involvement from your senior leadership and maybe even your board

  • Explain what success looks like to your funder in a way that they can understand how you will directly affect the community

  • Make sure that the goals you lay out in your proposal are realistic and measureable.  It should be easy to determine success at the end of the grant period

Use Data to Tell Your Story

  • Use data to help support the story you are trying to tell

  • During the application process, bring a team together from across your organization to make sure you have the tools and processes in place to measure against your goals

  • Be honest. If you succeed, celebrate!  If you don’t, be sure to explain what you learned from the process and what you will do next time to reach your goals

  • Include a narrative with the budget. Make sure the two agree

  • Use emotion to connect the foundation staff and board to the work you do

Use Reputable Data to Demonstrate Need

Put the extra time into doing some research, even gathering outside, verifiable data that helps confirm the needs your organization is addressing. Some available sources might include:

  • The U.S. Census Bureau

  • School report cards

  • FBI’s US Crime Data

  • HUD promise zone mapping tool – to locate impoverished communities

Nine keys to Grant Writing Success

Debbie summarized her entire webcast with her top nine keys to success when it comes to grant proposal writing:

  1. Focus on the needs of the community.

  2. Calculate the budget using realistic numbers.

  3. Establish a relationship with the funder.

  4. Avoid using too many superlatives when you write your grant request.

  5. Be consistent throughout the application

  6. Connect each section of the proposal with the other.

  7. Double check your proposal for errors and typos.

  8. Give yourself plenty of planning, research and writing time.

  9. Always follow the directions provided by the funder.

While this blog post captures the main points of Debbie’s webcast, I recommend you watch the complete presentation which also includes a Q&A with the speaker and its attendees from the live webcast. An hour of your time is merely a small investment when it comes to the future of your nonprofit organization.

Share your thoughts and your own tips for successful grant proposal writing in the comments section below.