Grantwriting Basics

In this episode of the Nonprofit Jenni Show podcast, I spoke with two grantwriters to learn tips and tricks of the trade. My first guest, Lorraine McGuire, has experience as a development professional at World Vision and End Slavery Tennessee. She not only writes tons of grants on a regular basis, but also plans overall development strategy for End Slavery TN. My other guest was Tommy Wolosin, a technology consultant at Net Works who volunteers dozens of hours every year to helping nonprofit organizations write grants for the Frist Foundation's technology grant.

Please note: I highly encourage you to listen to the Grantwriting Basics podcast episode before reading this blog post! My blog lists some great “action items” for you to take after you listen to the podcast, plus additional resources you can check out if you have further questions. However, my podcast guests give so much additional rich information which isn’t included in the article you’re about the read.

When I interviewed Lorraine, I asked her what advice she would give to smaller nonprofits who can't afford to hire a grantwriter to handle all the grants they apply for. Here were her main points of advice:

  • Before you ever start working on a grant, research its timeline and requirements. Grants can take hours or days to write, and you don't want to waste your time working on one you don't qualify to receive.
  • You should also look at the reporting requirements before applying to a grant. Reporting is legally required if you don't want to have to forfeit the grant money at a later time.
  • Consider writing LOIs (Letters of Intent) to any family foundations you can find. LOIs are short (typically 1-1 1/2 pages), and you can use the first one you write as a template for the rest.
  • In her opinion, it's better to focus on grants from foundations that have a big chunk of money they give away to several organizations, as opposed to very competitive grants which only give an award to one or two nonprofits.
  • When writing your grant, be as general as possible so you don't pigeonhole yourself and what the grant money can be used for if you secure it. Having too narrow of a focus can make reporting very difficult.

I asked her where nonprofits can find grants to apply for, and her biggest piece of advice was networking with other organizations, grant writers, local organizations such as your Community Foundation, and nonprofit consultants. She also said blogs offer a lot of great advice, and The Big Payback is an easy, local way to get started in the grant process.

I also really appreciated my chat with Tommy, because he was able to give some specific advice regarding the actual grantwriting process. His biggest piece of advice for writing a grant is making a detailed plan for how you want to use the grant money first. He says many nonprofits make the mistake of simply applying to receive as much money as they can with the intent of finding a use for it later, and foundations don't want to give huge chunks of money to people who don't have a thought-out roadmap for how they would use the funds.

Tommy suggests working with an industry professional to determine the best roadmap for how you would use the grant funds if they were awarded to you. For example, he works with Frist Foundation applicants to find the most effective ways they can implement a technology strategy to accomplish their longterm organizational goals. When he first sits down with his clients, they often don't know the best technological resources available to them, so he helps them create a more efficient, cost-effective plan. His clients are more likely to receive Frist Foundation grants because they have better planning than those who don't consult a technology professional first.

Tommy also emphasizes that nonprofits should be sure they answer every question asked by the foundation, without writing a long, winding novel. (However, organizations should be as detailed as possible in the reporting process so they're more likely to receive the grant again in the future.) Grant writers should also be sure a few different people read the grant before it's submitted, and start working on the grantwriting process early. Finally, if a foundation rejects your application, you should give them a call and ask what you should do differently next time to have a better chance at being awarded the funds.

Be sure you subscribe to the Nonprofit Jenni Show to hear more advice from nonprofit professionals about management and fundraising issues.