What Foundations Want to Know gave us the eight questions grant reviewers want answered. We’ve since answered seven of the questions. Grant Writing: What Need Do You Meet? told us how to describe the needs we want to meet. Grant Writing: How Do You Meet the Need You Describe? explored how to write about the program we want funded. Grant Writing: How Do You Define Success? talked about projecting success. Grant Writing: How Do You Measure Success? described several bases on which to measure success. Grant Writing: How Much Does Your Program Cost? gave us pointers in developing grant budgets. Grant Writing: Do You Have Community Support? showed us different ways to demonstrate community support. Grant Writing: How Will You Sustain Your Efforts? discussed different ways to show sustainability, even if you are a small nonprofit with few resources. Today we answer question eight: What makes you uniquely qualified to do what you say you can do?
Getting grant funding is a competitive process. To get the funding, your proposal must stand out from all the others in some way. In other words, you need to describe your organization’s uniqueness. Your nonprofit may be in its unique history, program management and implementation, financial position, or leadership. Since only half of nonprofits have one, having a written strategic plan also sets your agency apart. In addition, your proposal itself can set your nonprofit apart.
Highlighting Your Nonprofit’s Past and Present Efforts
Your agency’s history can demonstrate uniqueness. When was your nonprofit founded? Why was it founded? How long has it been in existence? How many people have you served during that time? What impact has your organization had on the issue you were founded to affect? What societal crises has your nonprofit faced? What did your agency to do to prepare for them? How did your organization deal with them? What events in your nonprofit’s history that are unique? What has your agency done that no other organization has done?
Don’t only point out what your nonprofit has done in the past. Write about present uniqueness too. Is your organization the one and only of its kind in the community? Is your agency a leader in the community? If so, what leadership positions do your agency’s leadership hold in the community? Is your nonprofit a leader in your field? What research efforts is your organization sponsoring or spearheading? What honors, awards, licenses, certification, or accreditations does your agency enjoy?
Is the program you describe in your proposal unique in your community? What does your program do that no other program does? Does your program serve a unique population? Is the scope of intervention broader or more comprehensive than other programs? Is the cost of the intervention lower than other programs? What are the program’s past results? Are the outcomes better or more long-lasting than other programs? What evidence can you reference to prove your claims?
A foundation will probably not ask you outright about what makes your nonprofit unique. Instead, you will be weaving your agency’s or program’s uniqueness in your proposal’s background and organization description sections and your program operations section.
Highlighting Your Nonprofit’s Management and Leadership
In addition to the uniqueness of your agency’s past and present, your nonprofit’s financial position may be unique. For example, if your agency is not experiencing the same threats as those in your community or in your industry, highlight why. If you have an endowment, emergency reserves, or months of operating reserves, say it. Most probably you will talk about how your agency has handled or is handling threats in your field or community in your organizational background and description sections. Your financial strength can be addressed in your sustainability section.
Make sure whatever financial position you highlight is consistent with the financial picture your audit and 990 paints. Even if you aren’t asked to submit it, your nonprofit’s 990 can be found on GuideStar.
Your nonprofit’s leadership team may also be unique. How diverse is your board membership and staff composition? Does the board or staff participate in advanced trainings above what is common in the field? Do any of your staff hold advanced degrees or certifications? Have any board or staff members been bestowed any honors or awards in their fields? In addition to highlighting organizational and program uniqueness, talk about what sets your board and staff apart.
As in describing your organization’s and program’s uniqueness, you will likely be weaving your board and staffs’ credential in your proposal’s background and organization description sections and your program operations section. You will probably be using descriptive adjectives and phrases, as opposed to stand alone paragraphs, although some foundations do ask for key staff duties and credentials. Another good place to highlight staff credentials is through their resumes, if asked for. If a foundation does ask for resumes, make sure the resumes are clean and up to date. You may have to rewrite the resumes.
If your agency has a written strategic plan, your organization already stands out in the field. Only about half of nonprofits have a written strategic plan. Having a written strategic plan is correlated to future success. Sometimes a reference to the strategic plan is a phrase at the beginning of a sentence alluding to the fact that the program you are proposing is part of a larger vision. If your organization has a strategic plan, referencing it even briefly will set you apart.
Proofreading Your Proposal
An often-overlooked way to set your organization apart is through the presentation of the proposal itself, that is, how it physically looks. For example, is the cover letter addressed to the right contact, at the right foundation, with the right address? Are all the names spelled correctly? Reviewers often get proposals that contain incorrect contact information. If the nonprofit can’t manage to get the contact information right, how in the world will it be able to manage the foundation’s funding? Before submission, check to make sure the proposal is addressed correctly.
Sometimes, in an effort to gain space, grant writers decrease margins and/or font size. Don’t do this. It just makes your proposal look crowded. If you run out of space because of the foundation’s page, word, or character limits, work on being concise in your wording as opposed to making margins or font sizes smaller. You want plenty of white space on each page. You want your proposal to look pleasing and be easy on the eyes. You want your proposal to be as readable as you can make it. If you were reading through a hundred proposals, which is more appealing to you? The crowded, text-heavy one or the one that is laid out nicely with adequate white space?
Typo’s, misspellings, and grammatical errors are also common. They interrupt the thought flow and make reading difficult. They also show poor attention to detail. Use spell and grammar checking software. Proofread your proposal. Proofread it again. Do whatever you need to do to avoid typo’s, misspellings, and grammatical errors.
Throughout your proposal, weave in what makes your nonprofit unique. Highlight your agency’s one-of-a-kind past and present. Talk about unique aspects of your program intervention. Write about how your agency has faced past crises and is prepared to face future ones. Feature board and staff credentials. Reference your nonprofit’s strategic plan, if you have one. Present your proposal so that it is easily readable and pleasing to the eye. Present your agency as cream of the crop through your layout.
Wrapping It Up
- Write about your nonprofit’s unique past and present.
- Point out the uniqueness of your program intervention.
- Show financial strengths that paint the same picture as your agency’s audit and 990.
- Highlight board and staff attainment.
- Reference your strategic plan.
- Submit a clean proposal.
Grant writing is just one piece of the fundraising pie. It is also important to identify your nonprofit’s fundraising strengths and gaps, explore diverse revenue streams, engange your board and excite your community.
To learn what your agency can do to move ahead, schedule a complementary 30-minute strategy session with me. During our time together, we will clarify the fundraising issues your nonprofit is facing, explore possible solutions, and develop a plan of action.
When you make your appointment, you will be asked a few brief questions about your situation so that I am best prepared to help you. I look forward to our conversation!