|Finding Funding: An Introduction|
Finding Funding: An Introduction
Summary: Prepared by Katrinka Joffe for the International Women's Health Coalition. Provides general guidelines on how to apply for a grant. Includes advice on how to locate and research potential funders; basic tips on how to write letters of inquiry, funding applications, and proposals; and a list of helpful resources.
Applying for a grant may seem an intimidating process, but simply by becoming familiar with the general format and procedure the mystery will soon disappear. There are several tips that can make the process painless, and apply to most situations. Many of these tips are suggested in The Worldwide Fundraiser's Handbook 2nd edition (2003) by Michael Norton, and can also be found in several resource guides on the internet—some of the most helpful of these are listed at the end of this document.
Grant making organizations get many, many proposals every year and rarely grant funding to every proposal. A concise proposal that has clear connections to the funding organizations and unambiguous language will go a long way in furthering your cause. To begin the process, be sure about what you want funding for. Contributors often have specific priorities, and will not fund a project that falls outside of their focus. Norton suggests that you prepare a brief outline of your project, including: The issues or problems you are hoping to work with, how you plan to resolve said issues, the projected outcome, and the proposed budget. This brief description will help you identify funders with similar interests.
It is important to research the grantmaking organization to find out where their areas of interest lie, and what steps they require for an application. Most of this information is available online, usually under a subheading like "Grantseekers" or "Grants Program." Most foundations make it very easy to research their areas of interest, and they can usually be found on websites under a subheading like "Funding Priorities" or "Areas of Interest." Another helpful place to look is at sections entitled "Who we are" and "What we do," as almost all foundations make their mission statement available online. Sending proposals to an organization that does not give funding in your proposed area is a waste of time and resources, both yours and theirs.
What to look for:
Once you have decided whether to approach them, be sure to do so properly, following their directions. Some organizations provide a form to fill out online or an email address, and many ask for a Letter of Inquiry (often called LOI) which provides some specific details about your request. This information is usually found in the section titled "Contact Us," and includes address, phone number, and email. If you do choose to email, remember that it could end up as part of your permanent record or file with that foundation, and you should use a professional format and tone, even for quick questions. Most resource guides on funding emphasize the importance of finding the right contact person, as it may allow a useful relationship to form between grant seeker and grant maker. For smaller grassroots organizations, even careful research and following of guidelines may not guarantee success and personal relationships and networking are crucial keys to successful fundraising. Even if your application is turned down by one organization, having a contact may lead to information about future grants or even possibilities with another foundation. To cultivate these relationships, some recommend trying to meet with a potential funder before submitting a formal recommendation, but don't push the funder if the meeting does not seem welcomed by the other side.
Despite the importance of tailoring each proposal to a specific organization and discovering personal connections within a foundation, the fundraising process actually consists of several common elements. Once you have gathered together the materials for one grant application, you will find that those same materials are conveniently required for almost all grant applications. In fact, many foundations and grant making organizations accept the "Common Grant Application" (available online at http://www.nng.org/resources/cga.htm). Using this common application will allow you to simply make several copies of the same application rather than putting together a different one each time. However, the most successful applications are likely those which are personalized to some extent, and stand out to the person or people reviewing it. Thus, the task is made easier by the similarity of the materials involved, but nothing takes the place of an application which can "sell" a project to a specific organization.
In personalizing an application, you should consider who you plan to approach, what their priorities and foci are, how they should be contacted, their procedure for assessing grant applications, and how you will be presenting your project. The following are some points to consider when preparing your approach:
The proposal should answer some basic questions for the organization, and is most likely the only chance you will have to present your case. Most boards or panels that make the final decision regarding your proposals will not meet with an applicant until after they have decided to pledge their support. The following are some general factual questions that Norton and others think should be addressed at some point in the proposal:
In terms of writing: use concise language, and don't let the proposal get too lengthy. Several grant making organizations have said that proposals can be tedious to read, and recommend writing the proposal in an upbeat and lively fashion, avoiding flat language and format. Be sure to prove the effectiveness of your organization by backing up your claims by providing facts and figures or even case studies and specific examples of how people have been. Avoid long sentences, long paragraphs, using jargon, and repetition. Many who work in the field of fundraising suggest having someone else read through your proposal, preferably someone outside your organization. If something seems unclear to them, it may well be unclear to the organization reading your proposal. To strengthen your proposal you could include a few constituent, member, or client thank-you letters along with other agency support letters, if those are requested. Including a newspaper clipping about previous work or positive community attitudes towards your organization shows past success. Finally, listing past support you have received from other donors provides reassurance.
Grantmakers try to respond in a timely fashion, but can't always respond as quickly as you would like. Response time is generally between 4-6 weeks, but may be longer or shorter depending on the schedule of the financial year. Some grants are given on a rolling basis, others are only given during a specific quarter of the year. Check the deadlines to get an idea of how an organization approves grants. Depending on the size of the foundation, two or three people may be in charge of approving your proposal, or there may be a board which must meet to discuss all grants and can only come together every few months.