The never-ending process of submitting grant applications
Almost any day of the week, you can find the staff and volunteers of many local nonprofits spending countless hours writing grant proposals to present to charitable foundations and businesses to meet their application deadlines. According to the American Association of Fundraising Counsel’s annual study on philanthropic giving in the U.S., approximately 26 percent of a nonprofit’s income in 2010 came from a combination of large foundations, small family foundations, and corporations. To access these dollars, nonprofits are usually required to develop and present grant proposals describing the amount of funding the nonprofit would like to receive and what, specifically, the nonprofit would do with the funding if it received it. Many grant-making organizations set specific deadlines to receive funding requests, while others accept proposals all year long. The harsh reality of whether or not a nonprofit gets funded or not hinges on the quality of the grant proposal.
September 30 is the deadline for nonprofits to apply for Infineon Raceway’s Speedway Children’s Charities grants. Since 2002, Infineon Raceway has distributed over $3.7 million to Sonoma County youth-serving groups through this grant program. This year, Infineon has decided to focus its grant dollars on children’s programs related to health and nutrition, basic services (safety and shelter), and leadership initiatives, such as mentoring and gang prevention. As far as what this particular funder looks for in a quality grant proposal, Infineon Raceway’s Community Events Coordinator Denise Silver said, “First and foremost, I go over the entire application to make sure everything is filled out properly. For me, a good grant applicant gives precise honest answers and does not rely on a lot of adjectives. I am looking for concrete, accurate information, not ‘we hope to’ or ‘plan to,’ but rather focus on results that show the program is worthy of being funded.”
In developing a grant proposal, it is critical for the writer to clearly tell the funder about the nonprofit organization’s history, mission, programs, structure, budget, leadership, and track record. Most importantly, the writer must show the funder why the nonprofit can be trusted to effectively use the grant-makers’ funds. The grant proposal writer needs to clearly explain why the program for which funding is requested is important to the local community and specifically what positive changes will occur as a result of funding the program. Local grant writing consultant Karen D’Or stated, “Use the proposal-writing process to tell your organization’s story with evocative, sensory words. While you always want to follow the foundation’s guidelines, you should never forget to present a vivid picture of the work you do for the community.”
This is Patti England’s third year of managing Impact100 Sonoma’s process of awarding a $100,000 high-impact grant every year to a Sonoma Valley nonprofit that would otherwise not have access to that level of funding. Patti suggested, “Making a clear summary statement of the project is key, as well as describing the need or desire for the project and how it will benefit the stakeholders. It’s best to leave the pie-in-the-sky superlatives to the marketing brochure and concentrate on providing concrete facts and analysis.” Impact100 Sonoma awarded its first $100,000 Impact grant to the Boys & Girls Clubs’ College Bound Program and its second Impact grant to the Sonoma Valley Teen Services’ Skills for Life Program. Its third Impact grant will be awarded June 23, 2012.
The importance of truly understanding what a funder values and the types of programs it wishes to support is vitally important to a grant proposal being funded. A nonprofit staff member or volunteer who blindly responds to a funding opportunity posted online, without first contacting the funder to determine if there is a genuine fit between what the nonprofit needs and what a foundation wishes to fund, is usually wasting time. Developing a strong relationship with a funding source before submitting a grant proposal is the key to funding success. Karen D’Or added, “Before you submit a proposal, phone the foundation contact person. This will save time if the foundation is not a good fit for your agency. If there is a match, you have nurtured a potential new relationship. A recent example is that a quick introductory phone call to an out-of-state foundation, a prospect that could have been overlooked, actually resulted in a $40,000 gift to our local food bank.”
The Sonoma-based Vadasz Family Foundation has awarded millions of dollars to Sonoma Valley nonprofits since 1997. Meghan Beynon, the foundation’s staff member responsible for grant-making, offered this advice to nonprofit organizations, “Successful grant requests know their audience. There is not a one-size-fits-all formula. What may resonate with one foundation may not resonate with another. It is worthwhile to take the time and determine what information the foundation needs to make their decision.”
Sonoma Valley Fund serves as the bridge between donors and the nonprofit organizations they support, ensuring the prudent investment of funds and the achievement of legacy gift objectives. It is important for the organization to carefully select nonprofits to support that are in alignment with the wishes of the donors it represents. Harriet Derwingson, President of Sonoma Valley Fund, said, “At Sonoma Valley Fund, our grant committee works hard to see that the donors’ wishes are honored. Successful applications will be those that most clearly address the wishes of the donors and the criteria outlined for the specific grant program. In addition, we seek to verify that the organization making the application has the capacity to complete the project or program for which they are seeking the grant.”
Although grant applications only account for a quarter of most nonprofits’ budgets, they are probably the most time-consuming part of a nonprofit leader’s job. So, the more targeted these applications are to the specific funding requirements of the foundation or business granting the funds, the greater the chances of success will be.
Dr. B.J. Bischoff is the owner of Bischoff Performance Improvement Consulting, a Sonoma firm specializing in building the capacity of nonprofit organizations and government agencies to better serve their stakeholders. She assists her clients with strategic planning, organizational and personnel performance improvement, fund development, and community relations. She is President of Impact100 Sonoma and can be contacted at email@example.com.