Government and philanthropic grants likely provide essential funding for your nonprofit. But the process of writing and submitting grant applications is a major investment for your limited time and resources. Some complex Federal grants take up to 120 hours to complete, meaning that you can’t afford to get them wrong. With only around 1 in 10 grant applications accepted each year, how do you stand out in the competitive world of grant writing to ensure that your organization receives the funding needed to fulfill your mission?
Here are five best practices for writing a grant application that give funders and donors the confidence that your organization will maximize the impact of their giving.
#1 Keep the Funder in Mind
Whether you are applying to one of the 26 different federal grant-making agencies or a private foundation, the approval board is looking for nonprofits that fulfill their mission and goals. Spend time researching your potential funding source. What is their stated mission? What causes have they invested in previously? Do your goals align with theirs?
According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provides over six billion dollars in funding each year, “We provide funding to organizations to achieve measurable impact in the fight against poverty, disease, and inequity around the world. This is our largest funding vehicle, accounting for over 90% of our charitable giving.” Funders are investors who seek social change rather than financial returns. Like any investor, they are looking to place their money where they can get the best return on investment. The goal of your grant application is not to sell your mission, but to convince the decision makers that your programs fulfill their mission.
#2 Outcomes, Not Just Outputs
Fulfilling your organization’s mission includes countless everyday tasks and program details. These outputs matter. Understanding how you run your program and use your resources provides important insight into how your organization delivers its mission. But the most important information for funders is how what you do results in positive outcomes. They want to know that you will use their money to improve the lives of those you serve and the community at large, such as “Through our effective after-school programs we increased access to food security and improved social emotional learning skills.” As part of your grant application, you must answer the following questions: Are the lives of your program participants better off because of your services? Would individuals and communities suffer if your programs did not exist or were unsuccessful? How would more funding directly impact lives?
#3 Prove Your Impact
Anecdotal evidence in funding applications is often no longer enough to prove your impact. Funders want to see quantitative and qualitative data to prove that participants are benefiting from your services. Many nonprofits lack the data needed to support their impact claims, which puts them at a disadvantage during the funding cycle.
Including quality data in your grant application starts with collecting impact data from the beginning. You start by clearly defining the outcome measures you plan to track. Measuring a variety of indicators, including participant demographics, services delivered, cost and revenues, and participant feedback, is key to gaining a full understanding of how your programs are driving impact. You must then have a plan to analyze and communicate this information. Demonstrating to your funders how you monitor impact throughout the year gives them confidence that you are a sound investment.
If you are a new organization that is trying to receive the funding necessary to get your programs started, use data from established research on similar programs and services. Then explain how your programs are similar, what you plan to achieve, and how you will track and share your progress.
#4 Plan to Improve
Data is not just about fundraising; it is also about improving your organization. No program is perfect. Many programs that were designed with the best of intentions turn out to be less effective than planned. The best nonprofits show their funders what they’ve accomplished, but also how they learned, how they pivoted, and what they plan to improve and adapt based on these insights. Organizations learn by testing new strategies and methods and then evaluating those results regularly. This focus on innovation brings increased effectiveness, equity, and efficiencies, which then shows the value to your funders’ investments.
#5 Demonstrate Quality and Consistency
Nonprofits, like all organizations, experience variability and unexpected changes. Employee resignations, urgent situations, and volunteer turnover can all impact the consistency and quality of program implementation. Funders need to know that despite the inevitability of change, they can trust you with their donations.
The best way to show your commitment to quality and consistency is by developing and implementing a measurement plan. Your plan should include multiple short, medium, and long-term indicators and the strategy for evaluating them regularly. By using a measurement plan, you show funders that your organization is committed to success no matter the changes.
SureImpact is proud to partner with social-good organizations to help you achieve your measurement goals, win more grant dollars, and increase your long-term sustainability. SureImpact gives you the data you need to prove your beneficiaries are better off because of the work you are doing. SureImpact combines case management and impact management, empowering you to demonstrate that you are delivering efficient, equitable, and financially sustainable results.
To learn more about strengthening the relationships between funders and grantees, check out our on-demand virtual fireside chat “Impact Measurement: Bridging the Gap between Funders and Grantees.”