How to Find and Keep Funding for Your Nonprofit Organization
If you work for a nonprofit or social service organization, you know how important it is to secure funding from external sources. Many organizations like yours rely heavily—or exclusively—on this funding to keep their operations running, as it supports their activities and employees.
Thankfully, there are many ways to receive funding, including individual contributions, corporate donations, and government grants. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll narrow in on the different types of grants and discuss how to find and apply for them.
Types of Grants
Many kinds of grants exist, but most of the ones available for nonprofits and social service organizations fall into one of the three following categories:
Government grants are the most common form of funding for non-profits. Government financing consists of budgeted public funds set aside by different areas and levels of government to support various organizational activities. Government funding is a great way to secure long-term or recurring funding, as funds are allotted for grant programs each year. Here’s a collection of Canadian funding resources to help you on your search!
This category of grants is often linked to start-up companies but can fit different organizations depending on the cause they support. They can go by various names, labelled as competitions or challenges, but generally follow the same formula: a challenge is presented, and your organization’s job is to present a case for how to solve it. Questions will focus on the services you offer, the teams behind them, and your past successes or failures. It’s important to assure the selection committee that, if chosen, your organization will be able to do what you said it would.
One example of an innovation competition designed for social service organizations is called the Revera Innovators in Aging Program, which is a $20 million investment dedicated to improving the aging experience for seniors. They partner with organizations that share their values to deliver incredible advances in their field.
Since foundations are typically dedicated to a specific charitable cause, they can be a great option for nonprofits and social service organizations. Large foundations often run partnership grant programs where they team up with another organization to achieve a certain goal. Typically, the partner organization has unique capabilities that benefit the foundation and complement their activities.
A local example of a foundation that awards grants is the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation, which offers community grants to support affordable housing, healthy child and youth development, and social inclusion.
Now that you’re familiar with the types of grants available and have started to consider which ones would best fit your organization, it’s time to start your research.
If your first instinct was to start with a simple Google search, congratulations—you’re already thinking like a grant writer! You’ll likely come across some of the resources below, which are all good places to start.
- Government directories, like the Government of Canada grants portal
- Funding service providers like Fundingportal
- Funding agency directories like Thompson Rivers University
These directories allow you to filter grants by attributes like organization type, sector, and location. This saves you the trouble of sifting through hundreds of grants that aren’t a good fit for your organization and lets you focus on the ones that are.
You can also reach out to your board, as board members are usually deeply involved in the community and have connections to various funding organizations. They’re often happy to share these connections and make introductions, which is a great way to meet potential funders.
Another great way to discover new funding opportunities is by signing up to receive newsletters distributed by foundations related to your cause. Since most grants are executed in cycles—whether it’s quarterly, annually, or at other intervals—it’s important to be aware of their timing in order to forecast funding opportunities and make an informed decision about whether to apply. If you miss the deadline for one cycle, there’s almost always another chance. The best part about finding grants this way is that zero effort is required once you’ve subscribed. The notifications come right to your inbox, so you’re less likely to miss important opportunities. For example, if your organization provides counselling services, you should consider subscribing to the Counselling Foundation of Canada’s eNewsletter to stay in the loop!
It’s important to remember that even if you’ve subscribed to relevant newsletters or signed up to receive notifications, it’s still essential to set aside time every week to research grant opportunities so you can be sure not to miss out on new funding announcements or application deadlines.
In addition, you should monitor the social media accounts of relevant funding organizations and government representatives in your industry. Social platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are often used to share funding announcements because they allow messages to reach a large (but targeted) audience quickly and easily, and it’s necessary to be present on these platforms to avoid missing out on relevant opportunities. CharityVillage, an online community that gives Canadians in the nonprofit sector a place to collaborate and share ideas and resources, is a great example of an organization that uses social media to share nonprofit funding opportunities.
Once you’ve set up an effective process for finding funding opportunities, you’ll need to decide which ones to apply for. While it may seem like a good idea to apply for as many as possible, you’ll have more success if you’re particular about the ones you choose.
Deciding Which Grants to Apply for
It won’t be long before there are tons of grant opportunities on your radar, and this can make it harder to decide which ones to apply for. When you come across a new opportunity, ask yourself these important questions:
- Can my organization meet the grant conditions? In other words, are we eligible?
- Are the activities we would conduct consistent with our mission, values, and goals?
- Can the funded activities continue after the grant financing ends?
- Are we able to invest resources in writing a winning grant application?
- Will winning this grant be worth the effort required to apply?
Your answers to these questions will be a good indication of whether you’re a good fit and help you make an informed decision about whether to apply. If you decide that applying for a grant is the best choice for your organization, it’s time to start writing.
Reach out to the funding organization
Once you’ve decided on a grant to apply for, research it in-depth to really understand the funder and what they are hoping to achieve by providing the funding. Often, the best way to do this is to reach out to the organization directly. There is almost always a main contact assigned to each funding program who knows the grant requirements and can answer questions and provide additional resources. This person is available specifically to help you create a successful proposal, so don’t let their insights go to waste!
Although this may seem like common sense, always remember to be respectful when communicating with funding organizations and the people who work there. Establishing a positive relationship early on can benefit you in the long run, because people will be more likely to help you next time and keep you in mind for future opportunities.
Know who you’re writing for
When writing a grant proposal, be aware of your audience. The general public will interpret content much differently than technical reviewers, for example, and the level of understanding your readers have plays a huge role in the success of your application. Consider how the members of your audience think and what kind of language they’re comfortable with, then adjust your writing style to fit them. This isn’t an easy task, but it makes a huge difference!
A great way to see if your message is being successfully communicated is to test out your responses with colleagues or other people you trust to identify gaps in your writing. You are an expert on your organization’s vision, so it’s possible that something you may think is obvious can be critical information for others and shouldn’t be left out.
Create a list of standard responses
The more grants you write, the more you’ll start to notice the same questions popping up over and over. These common questions are basic and high-level, which is why they’re asked so often—they give reviewers a quick overview of your organization and what you’re about. Some common grant proposal questions include:
- What is your organization’s mission?
- What products or services does your organization provide?
- Summarize your organization’s history, including recent successes.
Since these questions are asked so often, it doesn’t make sense to create answers from scratch every time. In order to save time and reduce unnecessary work, create a repository of answers to commonly-asked questions. Because the easy questions will essentially be answered for you (thanks, past self), you can focus your energy on the questions that are unique to each grant.
Make sure to update these answers every so often to keep them fresh, and consider the effectiveness of your past answers when making these updates. There’s no need to drastically change your responses if they have a good track record of winning applications, but if your proposals are generally unsuccessful, it may be time to create and test out new responses.
Accurately track grant applications
Staying organized is crucial if you want to be a successful grant writer. Thankfully, there are lots of tools available to help you store and stay on top of your work.
First off, you need a place to store all of your documents, including past grant applications, current project work, and notes on upcoming opportunities. This will make it easier to pull relevant information from past work, see which applications were successful and which were not, and analyze and understand which factors impacted application performance. Some great online tools for document storage and management are Dropbox, Google Drive, and Sharepoint.
It’s also a good idea to use a calendar to track grant application timelines and make sure that no deadlines get missed. Whether you use a physical calendar or an online planning tool like Trello, organizing your tasks and timelines will help you better understand your capacity and be more realistic when planning for the long term.
By now, it should be clear that grant writing is a long process with plenty of steps. Although it can be intimidating, creating high-quality grant applications is a crucial part of securing the funding required to keep your organization afloat. With these tips, you’ll be writing successful grant proposals in no time!
Written by Samantha Jamal
Edited by Caitlin Feehan
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