Is Grant Writing Still Viable?
By: Jeffrey J. Rodman
Many Christian ministries and churches have asked themselves this question. The answer is yes; grant writing is still viable, even in this economy. This does not mean any of us can continue with business as usual. We will need to adapt our strategies, but we certainly will not have to discard them.
Adaptation is nothing new to grant writers. On the contrary, those of us who have written grant proposals adapt with every letter of inquiry, with every proposal, to every funding source. Adaptation is just part of the grant writing process. If the economy started booming tomorrow, we would need to adapt to that change as well.
So, what works? How do you acknowledge the economy, yet seek funding? Here are six ways you can adapt your grant development strategy to the current market.
1. Think Locally
Understand that there are real people behind these foundations who drive through your community every day. They read the local paper. They watch the local news. They worship at a local church. This naturally compels them to want to relieve the suffering that they see. The suffering and struggles that they see are more tangible to them. If you can concretely display how your ministry is meeting the needs that they are already aware of, you are more likely to get funded.
2. Make It Personal
However, it is now more critical than ever to make a personal contact with the foundation before submitting a Letter of Inquiry (LOI). Changes in the market and the economy may have changed their giving habits. Foundations that were giving six months ago may not be giving today.
Some funding sources are only funding existing grantees. Others are reducing award amounts or changing their focus. The only way to know this is through a personal contact with the funding source.
3. Focus on People
Of course, it may seem that an increased focus on programs and services means you will be focusing less on operating expenses and current and future building projects. Not necessarily. Those interested in giving toward operating expenses or capital projects may be harder to find, but they are there if you spend enough time doing your research.
4. Keep Doing What You Do
Build on your current programs. Expanding a program to serve more people and fill a community need will be attractive to the right funding source for two reasons: 1) it accurately portrays your past effectiveness, and 2) it projects the increased benefits of expanding an already-successful program.
If you do launch a new project, make a strong case showing how your past success predicts a high expectation of success for this venture. Discuss why you are initiating a new program rather than building on existing programs. A discussion of how this fills a need in the community or target population will also be important.
5. Ask for the Right Amount
Of course, asking for too much money can also be a problem. This is especially true if the funding source has a stated limit on grant requests. Requesting more than the stated limit means that you did not do your research and are not following the guidelines established by the funding source.
Some funding sources perform a technical review of proposals to see if the guidelines were followed before reviewing the actual content and merits of the program and organization.
6. Request from the Right Funding Source
Grant writing is really a misnomer, as most good grant writers spend the large majority of their time in research and only a small percentage actually writing. How much? A successful grant writer will likely spend about 85% of their time researching funding sources and matching them to their organization. The remaining 15% of the time they will spend in writing. Of this, rewriting, reviewing, and editing take up the bulk of the actual "writing" time.
The secret to great grant writing is really to perform great grant research. Better research will lead to better writing because you will have a better understanding of the funding source.
Better research will lead to better results when funding sources know that you are writing directly to them. Like each of us, a grant administrator can tell when you have sent them a general form letter that you are going to send to every other foundation in the city.
Remember, most organizations do not need 100 foundation grant awards each year. Most ministries need 5 to 10 foundation grants to augment the support they receive from individual donors, special events, service fees, and other funding sources.
Grant writing is difficult and demanding, yet worth the effort. Ministries that are willing to implement a consistent, persistent, and organized grant development strategy will see results and will find the effort to be profitable. These six keys to success will help guide that strategy and make grant writing profitable for your ministry.
Jeffrey J. Rodman is the founder, president, and chief executive officer of Here-4-You Consulting and Grant Writing, providing consultation for grant writing and funding development nationally and internationally to Christian ministries and churches, www.npfunds.com.