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At this time, we are choosing not to renew [our membership]. We had hoped to use the membership to help us land grants for our scholarship program or our weight room refurbishing program. I have written about 50 in-state foundations and we have been turned down.
Disgruntled and yet eloquent grant writer from Houston
Although we’re disheartened that they have chosen not to continue their membership at TXNP, we are more concerned with the reasons why they have not had any luck with funding their programs. Yes, it is true that our foundation and trustee databases provide in-depth information on over 4,200 foundations in the state- what they give to, their grant guidelines, recent Form 990s, contact information, board members, sample grants, etc. We offer our readers forms that walk them through the grant writing development process and the components of a grant proposal, as well as editorials by leading consultants telling of the do’s and don’ts of writing a winning grant. But these tools only provide the basis to landing a grant. What fruit comes from this information is up to the organization. It takes more than just collecting addresses and foundation guidelines to receive funding.
Research and Relationships are the keys to success.
Fundraising is tough. Increased competition for dollars has caused frustration for nonprofits and funders alike. Nonprofits are clamoring for attention, while funders are overwhelmed by hundreds if not thousands of proposals each funding cycle. Because of these stresses on time and money, many worthy proposals are not able to be funded. Where the difference can be made, however, is in the efforts that you and your organization as a whole (for every employee can be a marketing machine) have made to connect with potential funders.
In his article, The Importance of Being Donor Centric, Tony Poderis states, “If an organization is to build donor loyalty and develop the strong donor relationships that will assure its long-term growth, it must make cultivating donors and managing its relationships with them a core organizational value. Donor cultivation must be embraced as an objective by every department, staff member, and board member.”
Therefore, after you’ve gathered your list of the top 15 funders that seem like likely candidates- they fit your mission and you in theirs, your project fits within their funding priorities and guidelines- it is time to set up meetings and form relationships with everyone from the receptionists and secretaries to the grant officers and presidents. You need to make them your next best friends!
To impart how important relationship building is when it comes to fundraising, according to William T. Sturtevant’s Strategies: How to Score Major Gifts, when the Lilly Endowment interviewed philanthropists who gave more than $100,000 to ask why they said “no” and declined giving opportunities, two of the most common reasons were:
Congratulations! Now you’ve formed that initial connection and have been advised to submit a proposal. Whether you have written hundreds of grant proposals or it’s your first time, it is always a good idea to take a step back to the basics. A refresher course if you will of the do’s and don’ts when writing a proposal.
1) Research is vital. Do the legwork. Although most of this should have already been done before you met with the potential funder, it is important to be thorough. Don’t just look at their funding philosophy or key programs. Look at all of them. You never know when they’re going to implement a new initiative that your organization would be perfect for! Also you should already have a well-developed project concept, budget, and program detail.
2) Adhere to the Guidelines. If the RFP states 12-point font and 1-inch margins then your proposal had better be in 12-point font and 1-inch margins. Read through the guidelines carefully. Go through them again after the proposal is completed and check them each off one by one just to be on the safe side. If not, there is a chance that your proposal will end up in the trash.
3) Inaccurate, vague writing, and poor presentation. It is important to remember that your proposal is a reflection of your organization so using clean, clear, and concise language to explain your program is a plus along with crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. Numerical errors in the budget, spelling and grammar mistakes, an ill-articulated project description, problem statement, or mission can undermine your credibility to funders.
4) In General, Blanket Proposals are a Bad Idea. These are a no-no in most fundraising books. Blanket proposals are the kind that you write one of and send out to as many funders as possible with the hope that one out of a hundred will say yes. Blanket proposals do not cater to each individual funder’s priorities or needs, so therefore are not likely to be funded.
After Submitting the Proposal
Your work isn’t done once you submit the proposal. Keep in touch with them. Send them your organization’s newsletters or event brochures- keep them in the loop. If you receive a rejection letter, be gracious. Follow up with a phone call or letter saying thank you for your consideration. You may even ask why it was not approved or for the notes that the panel or trustees wrote about your proposal. To know where you need to improve is the only way to future success.
On the other hand, if you get that glorious- YES WE WANT TO FUND YOU letter, jump up and down and rejoice and then get back to business because now its time to follow through with your project, cultivate a meaningful relationship with the foundation, and most importantly build trust. Show them that you can walk the talk and deliver what you said you would. Give the funders the recognition that they deserve and make them feel that they are a part of something spectacular. Deliver proof that you are making a significant and lasting impact in Texas and that their assistance is vital to your success.