The ABCs of Grant Writing Success

Sade Dozan

Sade Dozan is a witness to the power collective voice has in transforming narratives and shifting culture.....

Let’s face it, the world of grant writing can be daunting. With RFPs, FOAs, RFAs, LOIs, EDs, feels like alphabet soup! However, all you need is a solid strategy and a clear voice—which really entails having a strong understanding of how to navigate the world of grantmaking and how your organization can best position itself for funding.

First, let’s start with the basics - What is Grantmaking?

Grantmaking, simply put, is when an institution distributes funds (an award - usually a check) to an organization. There are so many resources out there to tell you how to write a grant ( this awesome one). What’s key -- is that you’re aware of the differences in these grantmaking institutions and how they fund/distribute awards. This way, you can decide on what institution might be the best to approach depending on the strength of your organization. 

Grant Institutions typically fall into 3 categories:

Governments - Federal, state, or local (municipalities, school districts, counties) will often post calls for nonprofit/social good organizations to complete their desired work (such as community development projects, foster care coordination, in-school or out-of-school programs/implementation, human services, etc). These grants are sourced from public funds (through the government’s budget) and are highly competitive (but often have a high award amount ~500K+ depending on the project). Government grant-opportunities typically require extensive attachments, stakeholder letters of support, evidence-based data, and proof of prior success prior to applying. Think civic good and social impact, with data-heavy, evidence-based solutions.

Foundations - Private foundations are institutions that aren’t funded with public dollars (like taxes), but more so single sources (such as wealthier individuals or affluent families). Their giving programs typically require far fewer attachments and have a simpler process, but on average, distribute far fewer funds than their government counterparts. Focus areas are wide and far-reaching (from funding programmatic support, capacity-development needs, and even technology supplies). Think impact and depth, long-term solutions; foundations are most likely to fund scaling and pilot initiatives. 

Corporations - Corporations (like Coca-Cola, State Farm, etc.) are also private institutions, that have set up philanthropic-arms that distribute grants from a percentage of their company’s earnings. Sometimes called “corporate responsibility giving” these grant making focus areas typically are concentrated in communities where the company’s employees work, and often prefer organization’s that have employee engagement (such as volunteering, or sitting on the org board). Think scope and reach, corporate funders are most likely to fund local and employee-engagement programs. 

...and what is that alphabet you’re talking about?

Request for Proposals (RFP), Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), and Request for Applications (RFA) are notifications that grantmakers post in an effort to get potential grantees (you!) aware of the funding they have available. Not all notifications are public (invite-only), and some institutions don’t make postings at all—more than likely, they have what are called open submission opportunities. These grantmaking opportunities can sometimes fall within a window (on a set deadline, quarterly, or rolling throughout the year). 

Letters of Inquiry (LOIs) are a quick way for nonprofits to introduce themselves to an institution/program officer and to open up a conversation about how much money they need/why. If a funder likes what they see in an LOI, usually, they'll extend an invitation to submit more details about what you'd like them to fund (typically through a formal Proposal/Application). Just note, not all institutions require LOIs. 

Oh, and as a developing organization, it’s usually best to have the Executive Director (ED) or Program Director (PD) as the main point of contact for an organization. By streamlining the communications and contacts, you can build a better relationship with the potential funder. 

If your organization is newly developed, and starting out, look towards building a focused foundation strategy. Foundations are far more likely to fund pilots, expansions, and capacity-development programming. There are even general operating funds that support general overhead and administrative needs. As your organization grows its reputation and begins to have extensive data and records of the impact it has made and evidence of what it is’ capable of making in the short- and medium-term, begin to approach corporate and government entities. 

Grantmaking, and fundraising at large, is a long-term strategy. One step at a time, but don’t stop moving. You only can get funding...if you request it. With all that said, you want to make sure your nonprofit is around for a long time.

The next post of this series will touch on building sustainability, and tailoring your organization’s voice to your institutional audience. Subscribe to our blog to be notified when it's released. 


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