There are three grantseeking pitfalls that I want you to avoid!
1) Not contacting the funder if you have questions about the guidelines.
You may be concerned about coming across as an inexperienced grantseeker if you contact a foundation or government program with a question. Or maybe you're not sure what the protocols are for contact.
But remember that one important part of a funder's responsibilities is to answer your questions. Your feedback may even help the funder to modify future RFPs or guidelines -- if you're confused about something, it's likely that other nonprofits are too.
When you ask your questions in a prepared and professional manner, you'll communicate the image that your nonprofit is diligent and careful -- an ideal potential grantee. Plus, your outreach can get your name and project concept in front of the funder early on.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Actively read the funding guidelines, with a highlighter and pen in hand. Note any questions you have.
- Copy and paste the guidelines into a Word document and start formatting your proposal with section headings and any text you have available. This will help you to identify any additional questions or areas of uncertainty. This technique is also a good way to avoid procrastination in proposal-writing -- you'll feel more momentum with your document started.
- Determine whether the guidelines state what kind of contact you're supposed to have with the funder. Then, based on the rules for contact and the questions you have, create a strategy for getting in touch with the funder to let them know you intend to apply and to pose your questions to them.
2) Writing a proposal that is incoherent and confusing.
Grant proposals need to make sense. They must clearly and succinctly describe your nonprofit's history and capacity, the need for your project, your planned goals and objectives, your approach to evaluating the outcomes of your work, and the costs and anticipated revenue stream for the project.
When your proposal confuses rather than informs its readers, you run the risk of being denied funding. To be sure, writing isn't everything. If they have confidence in your project or organization, some funders will give you the benefit of the doubt, putting your proposal in the category of "good project, bad proposal." But you don't really want to be in that category, do you?
Here's how to create a clear and compelling proposal:
- Begin by creating an outline of your proposal. (As described above, copy and paste the guidelines into a Word document to get started.) Highlight any sections of the proposal where you'll need to collect more information. Here's more detail about why and and how to use an outline.
- As you write the project's goals and objectives, make sure that your proposed activities complement the problem you're trying to solve. Use this nifty goals and objectives-creation chart to make sure that this part of your proposal is strong.
- Finish your proposal early so you can ask a good writer/editor to review your text before you submit it to the funder. It always helps to have a fresh set of eyes on a proposal. Be creative in seeking out an editor to help. Maybe your nonprofit has a volunteer who could do this work from home on an as-needed basis.
3) Not being a good grantee.
In fundraising, the best prospects are often the "lapsed donors" -- people who have given before but stopped for some reason. Just as with individual donors, it is a good strategy to return to prior grant funders to try to rekindle the relationship.
But if you damage your relationship with grant funders during the course of a grant term, they'll be loath to fund you again. There are many ways to alienate your funders -- too many to list here!
Here's how to be a better grantee:
- Submit grant reports on time and in the format required. Prioritize reporting deadlines as highly as you prioritize new proposal deadlines.
- Go the extra mile in communications. Add photos and pull quotes to your reports. Include testimonials and even personal notes from individuals impacted by the grant. On occasion, send informal updates and press clippings to your funders, in addition to the formal reports. The only caveat here is to avoid spending too much extra money on any of these special touches.
- Promptly answer any questions that come up from the funder during the grant term. It's a way of giving back to them -- and your responsiveness can pave the way to more funding in the future.
And even more mistakes...
I love the brave writers who tell the truth about fundraising -- mistakes and all.
Here are some great recent tell-all articles: