A high performing grants program can provide your charity with significant income. Whether you are applying for grants occasionally or have developed a regular calendar of grant opportunities, there are some key steps to take in research, preparation, and relationship-building to be successful. The following article will provide five steps that will help maximise your grant income.
1. Know the landscape
Many charities are reliant on grant income and it is a highly competitive environment. Even before COVID-19, there was significant pressure on funders with grant rounds usually being oversubscribed. Knowing the grants landscape and how competitive it can be, charities reliant on grant income or seeking to grow this fundraising source need to best position themselves for success.
As we head towards the end of the year, now is the time to plan your grants for 2021. If you have not done so already, develop your organisation’s grant toolkit. This consists of required organisational documentation and a case for support. The list of required organisational documentation will vary from funder to funder but will most likely include proof of organisational status, bank details, most recent financial accounts or statements, annual or chairperson’s report, current year’s operating budget, and letter(s) of support. This list is by no means exhaustive. Collating the documentation well before you start applying for grants will help avoid unnecessary stress and rejected applications.
A strong case for support document will help a potential funder understand what needs your organisation meets, the benefits provided to the community, point of difference to other organisations working in a similar space, and why grant funding is needed. Do not make it too long – 6 to 8 pages is a good length. Funders are time poor so do not overwhelm them with too much information.
You will also need to confirm purposes and projects that need funding. Don’t do this alone. Bring the CEO, Finance Manager, and other relevant senior staff around the table and discuss what projects and purposes need funding and to what level. This is a great opportunity for the organisation’s leadership to buy into the grants process and for you to ask them questions and request the information you need. If your organisation is volunteer led, meet with the chairperson and treasurer.
Researching what grants are available and their potential fit is the next step. AskRIGHT have recently launched GrantsWIZ, a searchable database of New Zealand’s trusts and foundations. The preparation work you have already done on clarifying the projects and purposes requiring grant funding will help you make the most out of GrantsWIZ. The database’s functionality allows you to search based on areas of operation, beneficiaries (animals, children/young people, etc) and sectors funded (education, welfare, research, etc.), providing search results customised to your requirements.
Users will also see the financial information (assets and income distributed in the previous financial year) of each trust and foundation, providing insight into their capacity to approve a grant to the required amount. These features enable your charity to best match the projects/purposes to the trust and foundations that will potentially fund them.
4. Make your application stand out
Crafting a good grant application takes time. Avoid last minute applications. Find the right tone and words that strongly convey why your charity should receive a grant and the difference it will make to your beneficiaries and/or community. Good grant writing is about striking the balance between fully answering the funder’s questions succinctly, providing enough context for your request without waffling or sounding vague, and telling the story behind the work that you do. Remember that it is a highly competitive environment, and some funders will be reading hundreds of applications per day. Work at the application until you are satisfied with it and always have a colleague proofread before submitting. Here are some writing tips to help guide you:
Read and re-read the requirements and fund priorities. Where possible, mirror in your answers the language the funder uses
Assume the reader knows nothing about your charity
Avoid jargon and do not use overtly technical or complicated language
Be as concise as possible. (There are some good free online writing tools, such as the Hemingway App, that are very helpful here.)
Avoid speaking in the first person when referring to your organisation
Remember: It is not necessarily what you do (e.g. services & programmes) but how your charity is meeting the needs of the community, how you have determined these needs in the first place, and why it is so important that the funder partners with you to meet these needs.
5. Aim for a partnership, not just a transaction
The work doesn’t stop when you have the grant. Remember to say thank you to the funder and take every opportunity to develop a long-term partnership with them.
Saying thank you is easy, yet few charities make the effort to do so. Whether it is via a letter or email, a quick phone call or social media post tagging the funder (perhaps even a combination of these things), get into the habit of saying thank you promptly.
Nurture the relationship you have with the funder and try and go one step closer where possible. View the grant as a partnership, not just a transaction. Some ways you might try and achieve this:
Invite the funder to visit your organisation to see the difference their grant has made. This could be an invitation to see a specific programme or service, a building, or item, for example.
Extend an invitation to the funder for your AGM or end of year celebration
Make sure they are on the CEO or equivalent’s Christmas card/letter list
Incorporate them into your strategic planning session, especially if they have the capacity and track record of making significant multi-year grants
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