Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

Charlotte Melbourne  Author: Charlotte Francis

When approaching funders and deciding which ones to target, where do you start? And are some ‘easier’ than others and which ones give feedback? These are some common questions we get asked. The short answer is to do thorough research and find out all you can about the funder. But here are some tips to help you sort the wheat from the chaff.  

Which funders offer feedback?

Our advice is always to do two things: scrutinise the funder’s website and guidelines and build the relationship by first phoning before you put in an application. Some funders state on their website whether or not they give feedback. But if you have built a relationship with a funder and followed best practice guidelines throughout the process – including acquitting previous grants well – then you may well find they are open to providing feedback. 

Which grants should we apply for – is there a recommended application rating?

Choosing to apply to a funder requires you to do your research and assess whether your project matches the funder’s criteria and focus areas. Your research needs to be thorough and you should invest time looking at what organisations they have funded in the past, what kinds of projects, their average funding amounts and geographic area. Of course, subscribing to a Strategic Grants’ Customised Grants Calendar will save you hours and hours in finding the right grants - freeing you up to read the fine print and build the relationship.CFBlogCommunication is the Key

What is the average success rate among Funders?

There are many different factors that influence your chances of getting funded, and different funders vary in their approach and aims. Moreover, a lack of mandatory reporting for charitable Trusts and Foundations means there is a lack of data making it impossible to arrive at an average rate. However, some funders do publish detailed information on their giving. Once again, do your homework!

How can we maximise our chance of success?

The first thing to note is that the writing is only about 20 per cent of the process. Before you start drafting an application, you need to have a long-term grant-seeking strategy in place and to engage and build the relationship with funders. Bashing out grant applications – playing the numbers game – won’t lead to success. For example, we recently heard of one grant writer who had written over 230 applications in one year (about one application per day), but only secured around $18,000. That, by anyone’s standards, is a very poor return on investment. By contrast, we have clients who have much higher success rates and win repeat grants from the same funder.

Some grant winning essentials include:

- Your organisation’s track record and ability to deliver projects with measurable outcomes

- Demonstrating an evidence-based need

- Ensuring that your project and funding amount align with the funder’s criteria and funding range

- Evidence that you are collaborating with partners and not duplicating effort

- Planned, strategic applications that are submitted well in advance of the deadline.



KSBNE Author: Kate Sunners

Grants and funding myths busted!

Disclaimer: This blog does not blow up nearly as many cars, empty quarries, crash test dummies or moustaches as Jamie and Adam from the Mythbusters show.

Myth 1:  I can’t ask for evaluation costs in my budget

Philanthropists just won’t fund evaluation! At least that’s what a recent study showed the majority of nonprofits think (Arts Philanthropy: Towards a Better Practice Model.2018. Melbourne Business School​).

But we can (thankfully) call this one busted, as the same study showed that according to philanthropists 40% are highly likely to provide funding support for evaluation, and 12% have a medium interest in funding evaluation.

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Myth 2:  I can’t ask for salaries in my grants budget

Sure, most funders aren’t interested in funding salaries if you ask them for just a plain old salary.

But we know that all are interested in funding outcomes, and having good people working on projects is essential to creating outcomes, right? You might, for example, ask for part of a staff member’s salary for time spent on the particular project you’re pitching to a funder.

What’s the formula for getting grants funding for the part of a salary involved in delivering a project?

X hours spent achieving X outcome at $X hourly rate = $X

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Myth 3: Putting confirmed $ in your budget from other funders will jeopardize your application 

Nope! Funders want to see that your projects are organizational priorities, and that there is a strong need for them to happen: which means you should be actively looking for funding for those projects!

If you’ve already got some confirmed funding, that’s fantastic, because it shows how well organized you are and that now you just need $X from funder number 2 to make it happen!

Plus, it’s very important to always be transparent with your funders, so definitely don’t hide your existing funding under a rug while you fill in your application to funder number 2!

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to corporate funders competing in the same industry. Applying to another bank when you already have confirmed funding from another bank is likely to leave you with no funding from zero banks!

What about unconfirmed funding?

One of our funder friends confirmed at a recent Grant-Seeker Workshops that if you also list unconfirmed funding, you need to have a strategy in place if that funding doesn’t come through – a contingency. So, you need to be able to answer the question: what will we do if the unconfirmed doesn’t come through. Fund ourselves? Find another funding, scale back project etc?

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Myth 4: A good measure of the performance of a Grants Program is how many applications you put in

Total myth! It’s like saying a good indicator for measuring your employee’s performance is how many hours per day they show up to work. Yep, they’re turning up for their 8 hours a day, but what are they achieving in that time?

Same with grant applications. You can submit applications until the cows come home and have no success at all if the focus is just on churning (dairy pun intended) out applications.

Even worse, if the KPI is number of applications submitted, it may encourage poor practice! Like submitting applications to funders who don’t fund that sort of project.

What are some good KPIs of a grants program?

Come to one of our Grant-Seeker Workshops to find out

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Myth 5: Once your nonprofit has charitable status, the grant money will be free n’ easy.

Most of us know grants are hard work and a long term game (see our previous blog on why grants aren’t a silver bullet solution), but we do get the occasional phone call from a newly set up nonprofit exasperated that the first few applications they’ve put in haven’t seen success.

It’s easy to get disheartened, but good grant applications take a lot of project planning, time and learning from feedback. As long as they don’t specifically say they aren’t able to give feedback on applications, make sure you’re always asking your funders for feedback on your unsuccessful applications where appropriate (first thanking them for the opportunity to apply).

And even though you may be able to see the need clearly, it doesn’t necessarily mean every funder will consider your mission their highest priority. You need to do your research, find the funders whose values align with your organisation’s mission and projects, and start building relationships with them!

Try thinking of potential funders like investors: what kinds of sureties and details would investors be seeking? Ability to deliver? Strong governance? Evidence of good planning and risk assessment? An understanding of what they are interested in achieving (the project outcomes) with their money?

If you’re struggling with your grants success rate, we highly recommend investing in our online training, or attend one of our Grant-Seeker Workshops. Our training provides insight into the 80% of planning and strategy that goes into successful grant programs before you even get started on the 20% of writing the application!

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Got questions about your grants program? Want to know how to be more strategic and forward thinking with your grants fundraising?

Get in touch!