I’m quick to say that I have the best job in the world. I get to support some amazing causes, work with wonderful people (seriously, to my clients, I love every one of you), and get the chance to learn something new every day.
There’s one aspect of my job that stands out above all the others, though: finding out a client received a transformational gift.
That happened this week. After working hard on a creative, dynamic grant proposal, a client received word that a funder was making a 6-figure commitment to support a major new initiative.
I couldn’t exactly pop champagne in the middle of the afternoon with my kids at home, but believe me, I wanted to.
These are the moments where you see a mission grow in real time. Every fundraiser - and everyone who works in any capacity at a nonprofit - knows the satisfaction that comes with seeing an idea become a reality and the ways that new reality impacts the lives of more people.
It can take a lot of trial and error to get to that point. There is no shortage of new ideas in the nonprofit space, and funders only have so many dollars to go around.
We hear that story quite a bit: nonprofits have a great idea and a big vision to expand a program, but they have trouble securing the grant dollars to get there. While grant funding will always be competitive and depend on the goals of a specific funder, here are some concrete steps you can take to set yourself up for the big grant:
Embrace rejection: For every story I have about the thrill of receiving a big grant, I have several more about the disappointment that comes when a proposal is not funded. Sometimes organizations give up after receiving a rejection, but remember: oftentimes a “no” isn’t “no forever,” it’s “no for right now.” Connect with the funder, ask for feedback on your proposal, and understand what you can do to set yourself up for success in the future.
Numbers, numbers, numbers: The most important element that can make or break a grant proposal is your use of data. We all know why our great ideas will change the world…but funders may not appreciate it the same way as those of us who are on the ground. Figure out how you’ll convey the most important pieces of information, like where a project will take place, how many people it will reach, and what it hopes to accomplish. Establish measurements to track outcomes so the funder will be able to see your great idea leading to a quantifiable change in the community.
Stories matter, too: While a strong grant proposal has to have a quantitative component, don’t underestimate the importance of humanizing your work. Sharing a story or two from those who are impacted by your work can bring the data to life, making it clear that you have a strong strategy to create social change and real-life stories to prove it. Grant reviewers are human, too, and moving them with testimonials can be a powerful tool.
Don’t forget about relationships: It’s easy to treat grants like an anonymous request for funding. While we do sometimes have to apply for grants with no connection to the funder, it’s important to reach out and establish relationships whenever possible. These connections will help move you to the top of the pile when funders are evaluating applications and will ensure that your great idea gets the attention and consideration it deserves.
Pursuing grant funding can be challenging and frustrating, but when everything falls into place, it can help you fulfill your mission and expand your organization’s impact. Remember to stay persistent, build relationships, and do everything you can to tell your story effectively.