Equity in Grant Writing: Building a Grants Strategy
Earlier this month, the Talem team led a Facebook Live discussion on Equity in Grant Writing. As we continue to explore this topic, we will hold space for discussions and provide resources to improve your grant writing toolbox.
For new grant seekers, grant writing can seem daunting. Where do you start?
Allow your organizational strategy to dictate the grants strategy. Grants should fulfill the priorities that have been decided on by staff and the board. Don’t dilute programs or add new programs simply to maximize the chance of receiving funding.
Understand your organization’s grant-seeking practices, funder relationships, and mission-driven priorities. Much like any other aspect of the organization, you will want to develop procedures and processes to vet funders, identify funding opportunities, and determine your capacity to manage grant reporting requirements. Just as a foundation is vetting your organization for funding, you should be vetting foundations to ensure they are a match for your organization’s mission and values.
A relationship starts with a funder when you begin your research. Not every relationship will place you and the foundation on equal footing; you may experience a power differential.
Find ways to connect before you ask for money. Stand apart by making a connection with foundations and network with foundations by engaging with them on social media or connecting with them at community funder forums.
Listen to funders when they say what is most important to them.
Develop working relationships with funders and teach them about the issues facing your organization.
Are you ready to get started? Save time and compile commonly requested information into one common location to streamline the grant process.
1. Copy of IRS determination letter: This is commonly known as your 501c3 letter from the IRS. You may also have a nonprofit status letter from the state but the federal tax-exempt letter is the most commonly requested item from foundations to verify your nonprofit status.
2. Additional sources of support with amounts: Foundations typically do not want to be the sole donor to an organization or project which is why they often ask for a list of project/organizational supporters. It is a tool to establish “trust” and show community and institutional "buy-in" to your work. As you develop your list, compile major donors (defined at your major donor level; e.g. donors $1,000+ or $5,000+) along with the name of the person/company/foundation, the program being funding, amount, and whether funding is received or pending. If you have individual donors who want to remain anonymous, list them as Anonymous with the project they funded/general operating support, the amount, and whether funding is received or pending. For example:
San Francisco Foundation, capacity building, $10,000 for two years, pending
California Foundation, youth program, $5,000, received
Anonymous (1), general operating, $2,500, received
3. Copy of your current annual organizational budget and/or project budget: This should include revenue and expenses for the current fiscal year (for many organizations that is January-December, but you may operate on a different fiscal year such as June-May). Typically, this is created by your chief executive or financial director and approved by the board of directors. An example of a simple organizational budget:
2021 Organizational Budget
Event Fundraising (e.g. Walkathon) $58,000
Foundation Giving $10,000
Annual Giving $25,000
General Contributions $60,000
Program/Event Fees $28,000
Total Revenue $181,000
Program Service Providers $56,000
Program Contractors $47,000
Program Materials $27,000
Program Events and Materials $14,000
Office/Business Expenses $1,500
Bank/Merchant Fees $500
Website, Internet, Phone $4,500
Total Expenses $169,500
A project budget will be organized in a similar format but will only include direct program expenses and a portion of indirect expenses (usually determined by your chief executive or financial officer of how much indirect expenses should be allocated to a project, e.g. 10% of utilities, rent, administrative costs, etc.). The revenue will show gifts that are allocated to the program rather than the entire organizational revenue.
4. Listing of the board of directors, trustees, officers, and other key people and their affiliations: This is simply a list of your current board of directors and key staff people. Some foundations will request Name, Board Role, Address, Phone Number, Email Address, Years of Service on the Board, and Community Affiliation. If your board is not comfortable sharing personal contact details, please let us know and we will find ways to work around this requirement. An example of the information requested:
Mr. John X. Doe (name) Board President (board role) Supervisor at TechUSA Corp (community affiliation) Years Active: 2018-2020, term ends: 2021 (board service)
321 Main Street (address) Anywhere, TX 75287 (972) 555-4321 (contact info) firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Janet Doring (name)
Executive Director (key staff role) Years Active: 2018-present (years of service to the organization)
(214) 555-3456 (contact info)
5. Brief agency history and description of its mission: This information is likely readily available on your website or other organizational materials you share with the public. Many foundations will want to know your mission statement, as well as your vision and values. Your history should discuss the founding of the organization, the number of years its been a 501c3, successes, and organizational impact in your field of service.
6. Project sustainability: This is often asked by foundations to make sure that they are not the sole/primary supporter of a program. They want to know how you will continue to run your program if they are unable to fund your program. You may include details about the percentage of community support you receive, other major foundation/corporate giving, earned income opportunities (program fees, sales, rental fees, etc.).
7. Evaluation methods and outcomes: Foundations want to understand how you measure organizational or project effectiveness. You can do so by demonstrating impact, how you engage in continuous improvement, and evidence you are delivering high-quality programming and services. You may have organizational objectives set for the entire organization as well as project/program-related goals to determine the success of specific work you are completing.
Consider this simple formula:
Organization's target population + program experience = outcomes
It may also be seen as a hypothesis:
“If 100 young people attend our Nonprofit summer program then 90% will improve their reading skills by one grade level, as measured by weekly reading assessments.
Identify how you will measure success and ensure you have the tools in place to adequately measure success either through quantitative (numbers-based) or qualitative (experience-based) outcomes. You may include information from attendance, surveys, skills assessments, and other measurement tools to show these results.
8. Copy of most recent annual report: This shows what your organization considers important to share with the public along with basic financial data. It is a way for them to gain background information about the agency.
9. Copy of audited financial statement or 990: Foundations often request financial data, and some will not allow you to apply without an audited financial statement. An "audit" means you have used an outside financial firm to conduct an organizational financial review of your annual revenue and expenses as well as your financial transparency and management processes. If you do not have an independent audit, you may be able to substitute an unaudited annual financial review or a recent 990 (IRS requirement for nonprofits with $50K+ in gross receipts a year, unless you have a religious exemption).
10. Detailed description of project/amount of funding requested: If you are requesting project funding, you will need to detail:
What the project is about?
Why are you implementing a new project? Or, if continuing, why are you continuing this project?
Who is involved (organizational partners, key staff members, other funders, etc.)?
Where it’s taking place and with whom (program participants)?
When the project will occur (one-time event, annual project, ongoing service structure, etc.)?
If you are requesting general operating support or capital support, we will need details about:
What are the general services/products provided by your organization?
What does success look like organizationally (number of people served, number of research articles written, etc.)?
Why do you need capital support (e.g. capacity building items or resources, building updates, etc.)?
Who are the key personnel who support the capital or general operations of the organization?
What is the general organizational structure and big-picture programming for your agency?
How do you offer services; to whom, when, where, and why?
11. Qualifications of key personnel: This is where you provide details about the people working directly with the project or who have project oversight. Usually, this includes the executive director, program director, and program administrators. A bio may include:
Dr. Doring has been executive director for Nonprofit since 2018. She has 20+ years of experience working in psychology providing clinical services and 10+ years running a nonprofit counseling center prior to her transition to our Nonprofit. Dr. Doring has a Ph.D. from UT Austin, a Master of Counseling, and a BA in Psychology from SMU. She provides organizational oversight for the Nonprofit’s counseling programs and has helped build relationships with local organizations and counseling partners to help the Nonprofit successfully meet its mission. She also is the organization’s primary fundraiser and helps sustain the organization’s $500,000 annual budget.