Nonprofits seeking grants are more likely to receive letters declining their grant proposal than approving it. Competition is fierce and giving is not expected to reach 2007 levels for another six years, according to Giving USA 2013.
While foundation giving has increased only slightly since the recession in 2008, grant funds remain significant to nonprofit recipients in carrying their mgissions.
How much is distributed annually in grant funds in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey metropolitan area ? The most recent data from the Foundation Center indicates that in New Jersey, the total for all grants was $324 million and in Pennsylvania, the total was $813 million.
Nonprofits, including human service agencies, which receive government funding are particularly vulnerable. The Nonprofit Finance Fund Survey 2013 reported that 47% percent of human service agencies believed demand would increase in 2013 - and 47% believed they would not be able to meet demand.The Nonprofit Finance Fund is currently distributing its current survey and willl learn more.
The Urban Institute found that government was not making payment to nonprofits. In New Jersey, between 70-90% said government did not pay full costs; in Pennsylvania, 50-60 % report similarly. In New Jersey, for human services,108 foundations made 804 grants to 391 recipients for a total of $40,673,969. In Pennsylvania, 155 foundations made 1450 grants to 793 recipients for a total of $121,681,068.
How can nonprofits be more successful in seeking foundation grants?
Grant makers consider the whole organization when making a grant award, particularly a significant one. A grant application reflects the strengths of the organization as well as the need for the project at hand. Generally, as summarized by the Connecticut Council on Philanthropy, effective nonprofits share strong points that also make them competent grant seekers:
- Board, staff and those served hold a common vision;
- Superior performance in all areas of the enterprise;
- Programs and services that have successful outcomes and are relevant to community needs;
- Measurable goals and evaluation methods; using outcomes to adapt program design, continually striving to meet the organization’s mission.
Planning is not an event
Planning is necessary to successful nonprofits and to grantseeking. The late Peter Drucker, whose work transformed management in business enterprises, also recognized the importance of nonprofits – the third sector between government and business. About planning, he wrote:
“Planning is not an event. It is the continuous process of strengthening what works and abandoning what does not, of making risk-taking decisions with the greatest knowledge of their potential effect, of setting objectives, appraising performance and results through systematic feedback, and making ongoing adjustments as conditions change."
Effective grant seeking is an integrated function, not a separate activity that occurs occasionally or haphazardly. Foundation grants are a relatively small part of a nonprofit's budget - about 15% - but they can have a critical impact on its future.
Business planning assistance for nonprofits
SCORE, now in its 46th year, has the latest edition of its toolkit here.
GrantSpace also offers business planning counsel and links to multiple resources on its site.It also provides ample instruction on budget preparation.
Both provide basic information on business planning.
What went wrong?
When a grant application is denied, the number of qualified applicants may have exceeded the foundation's available funds to award. Other reasons a grant application is declined vary. For example:
- The project may not appear to be sufficiently aligned with the nonprofit's mission
- The funding is requested to meet an organization's need and does not show there is community demand for a particular service;
- The grant application itself may have errors in presentation or appearance. It’s imperative that grantseekers read and follow the grant maker's instructions.
- The budget was not clear, easy to understand and did not reflect accurate research in determining costs.
- The nonprofit organization may be proposing a project that exceeds its capacity to deliver and/or sustain;
- Foundation guidance to collaborate with other nonprofits was neglected.
- The nonprofit and foundation grantmaker have incompatible goals for advancing the target population. Kresge Foundation is not funding human service projects at this time, for instance, preferring to advance its own ideas in that direction.
- The amount requested may not be appropriate - too much or too little. So accustomed to doing more with less, some nonprofits err in asking for too little. Others seek to replace public funding with private grants at levels inconsistent with the foundation's requirements.
Write a better proposal
With a strong nonprofit and a worthy project, increase funding opportunities by writing a better proposal. A nonprofit that has skilled staff may want to utilize online resources. There are countless web sites and how-to guides on various aspects of grant writing and relevant subjects:
- Glenna Crooks, PhD, expert and author of Strategic Grantseeking for Community-Based Organizations, has an exceptional array of materials available support effective grant seeking. Both editions of her book are available on Amazon.com. Dr. Crooks provides one of the most thorough and well-organized guides of its type.
- Foundation Center offers a short course in proposal writing.
- The Grantsmanship Center holds grant writing and grant management workshops.
- In the Philadelphia Metropolitan region, LaSalle University holds grant writing classes.
- The Free Library of Philadelphia at Logan Square recently held a proposal writing class and may be contacted to find out when the next session is schedule.
By accurately following the foundation's instructions, preparing a suitable budget and delivering a well-written proposal, a nonprofit grant seeker is better positioned to be assessed on the merits of the project.