Interested in learning the basics of grants for non profit organizations? Find out what you need to know from expert Waddy Thompson, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grant Writing, in this exclusive LoveToKnow Charity interview.
Locating Grants for Non Profit Organizations
LoveToKnow (LTK): What is the best way to locate potential grant funding sources?
Waddy Thompson (WT): Work in concentric circles outward. Start with anyone that has funded you before. Next look at those who have funded similar organizations in your area, and be creative about what "similar" means. If yours is a social service agency serving women, look to see who has funded local social service agencies and who funds women's causes. Finally, research all funders using an online grants database such as Foundation Center or GrantStation.
LTK: How can charitable organizations become aware of new funding sources?
WT: The Foundation Center offers a free newsletter with information on new funding opportunities. GrantStation.com and foundationsearch.com offer similar newsletters as part of their paid services. Readers of my book receive a free trial subscription to GrantStation.
LTK: What advice do you have for novice grant writers regarding the best way to get started securing funding for their organizations?
WT: Talk to the funders! Except for very small foundations, funders have program staff they pay to work with you. The program officers want to put forward to the trustees the very best proposals, so they want to hear about what you're doing and to guide you. I've always found program staff at government funders especially helpful. And I can't stress it too much: follow instructions and keep it simple!
Effective Grant Applications
LTK: What is the most important part of a grant application and why?
WT: The budget is the single most important part of an application. It demonstrates immediately if you have thought through all that is necessary to carry out the project and if you have adequate sources of funding to be successful.
LTK: How can an organization make its grant applications really stand out to funders?
WT: Follow instructions carefully! Many applications stand out for the wrong reasons - mistakes. And keep it simple. Fancy paper and bulky enclosures make it look like you waste money.
LTK: What separates winning grant proposals from those that aren't likely to be considered for funding?
WT: Lack of research dooms many applications. Funders have very specific goals for their money. Your organization and project must match those goals exactly.
LTK: What are some of the most common mistakes grant writers make, and how can these errors be avoided?
WT: The obvious are the most common: not following instructions and missing deadlines. When they ask for a 5-page proposal, don't reduce your seven pager to eight point type to make it fit. If they say "no brochures," don't send any.
LTK: Do funders look more closely at the content of grant applications or the format?
WT: Poor formatting can sabotage good writing, but fancy formatting won't help bad writing. Fancy formatting may, in fact, get in the way of your message.
LTK: What type of training do you see as being essential for individuals tasked with seeking grant funding for their organizations?
WT: You need to know the ins and outs of the business, including an understanding of why funders make grants and for which kinds of grants your organization is eligible. You also need to be a good writer and be good at working with numbers. A short grant writing workshop or course will be helpful, but you mostly will learn by doing.
LTK: What are your thoughts on nonprofit organizations hiring professional grant consultants to seek funding for them?
WT: Grant writing consultants can be a great help. You should expect to pay them a flat fee rather than a percentage, which is the ethical standard in the business. I do encourage people with tight budgets to consider creating the proposals themselves: who else can write as passionately about your work?
Following the Grant Award
LTK: Once an organization receives a grant award, what type of reporting responsibilities will the agency have to the funder?
WT: Reporting requirements vary, but you'll be expected at minimum to provide a narrative and financial report one year after receiving the grant. If you see your project taking longer than expected, contact the funder right away and ask for a time extension.
LTK: Are there any systems charitable organizations can put into place to make them look more appealing to funders?
WT: Regular evaluation of programs (whether internal or by an external consultant) will give you back up to demonstrate your programs' effectiveness. This always enhances a proposal.