Unit 4: Researching, Approaching, and Maintaining a Relationship with a Grant-Funding Source
Now that you understand the elements that go into a grant proposal, you need to conduct some research to find a funding source. You are charged with finding a funding agency whose mission best matches the mission of your project, initiative, or organization so you can convince them that you are the most qualified candidate to address their needs. Your proposal should build a case and tell a compelling story about your organization and the project.
Good deductive skills are essential for locating the information you need to support your grant writing efforts. As you conduct your research, keep the following three elements in mind.
- Focus on opportunities that match your organization's goals and objectives with those of the funder.
- Never try to create a program to fit the goals of the funding organization just to obtain money; think about what you want to accomplish with the funds. However, depending on the circumstances, it may be reasonable to tailor your project to align with funders' goals.
- Only write grants for projects you would attempt regardless of whether you receive external funding.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.
4.1: Funding Organizations – Individual Donors
Individual donors provide a large share of potential grant funding: for example, the Foundation Center reported that individual donors gave 72 percent of $303.1 billion awarded through private funding in 2012. In addition, individuals also donated eight percent of total private funding as part of a bequest (a person's will or legacy).
4.2: Funding Organizations – U.S. Federal Government Agencies
Keep in mind that grants from the U.S. government often require a great deal of organizational capacity on the part of grant seekers – to obtain, operate, and manage grant funds – because these programs are often extremely competitive.
As mentioned in Unit 2, grant administrators who apply to receive funding from the U.S. federal government should be familiar with the Federal Register and Grants.gov, which offer daily listings of requests for proposals, with descriptions, guidelines, and deadlines for upcoming federal grant opportunities. Take a look at their Grants Learning Center and their federal grant funding search tool.
Similarly, the U.S. General Services Administration publishes federal grant opportunities daily as they are released.
It is important to understand all of the requirements before you pursue these opportunities, since your organization may need to expand its operations to comply with them. For example, recipients of federal grants may need to hire or contract external grant reviewers or perform an annual external financial audit. Read all of the materials carefully, and be sure to build any additional costs into your budget when you write your proposal.
4.3: Funding Organizations – State and Local Government Agencies
Most state and local governments offer grant programs to nonprofit organizations within their jurisdictions. These grants can support projects at local K-12 schools, higher education institutions, arts agencies, and other local endeavors.
State and local governments derive grant funds from tax revenue and from federal funding appropriated to them as block grants which they are authorized to disperse at their discretion. A great deal of funding could be available.
Obtaining grant funding from state and local agencies is similar to working with any other type of government agency. Start by researching the grant opportunities listed on their website. Ask questions and seek out organizations that have received this type of funding. Create an ongoing relationship with your state and local representatives – it is always easier to approach them when they are aware of what you do for their constituents.
4.4: Funding Organizations – Foundations
A foundation is a non-governmental, nonprofit, or charitable organization whose main purpose is to offer grant funding to unrelated individuals, organizations, or institutions to support scientific, educational, cultural, humanitarian, religious, and other charitable purposes. The founders and administrators usually guide the direction, priorities, and goals of the grant funding opportunities.
4.5: Building a Relationship with a Grant-Funding Organization
Think about how you appeal to others to act on your behalf and how they react to your requests. How should you approach this relationship? Put yourself in the position of the person or committee that will review your application and think about what you would like to see from someone who makes a similar request for financial support.
You may begin creating a relationship with a grant funding organization by introducing your organization, initiative, or project to them and speaking at a casual business meeting with the individuals who administer their grant program. You could also introduce your concept through a more formal letter of inquiry (LOI) or concept paper. An LOI may be required as a first step to accessing a foundation before you are allowed to submit a proposal. Many larger cities also have networking events for local nonprofit organizations, helping put you in contact with potential donors.
4.6: Maintaining Contact with a Grant Funding Agency
Do not be afraid to contact the program administrators or officers who will review and administer your grant proposal. You can ask specific questions about the proposal submission or selection process, or get feedback on what they think about your grant proposal.
For example, you might ask if they think your work is the type of project the funding agency would consider supporting. Email your questions to the program officer, so they have time to respond, and you will have a record of the exchange to share with your colleagues.
Before you make contact, make sure the answers to your questions are not in the RFP guidelines or frequently asked questions (FAQ) section of the grant website. Begin by providing a clear, succinct summary of your proposal. Outline its main objectives, provide a list of outcomes, and describe how your project is unique and deserves consideration. You might ask what you could do to improve your chances for a favorable review. In past grand rounds, how many proposals were chosen, compared to the number submitted? What are some common reasons for rejection? Follow up with a thank-you note to be polite and keep the lines of communication open.
Staff members at most grant-funding organizations want to ensure you are on the right track. They want to attract capable, interesting projects that will succeed in furthering the goals of their organization. They can provide helpful advice to steer you in the right direction and help you present a winning proposal.