Tag Archives: proposal writing

Three things to consider before applying for a big grant

Three things to considerBig money attracts big dreams. Imagine what your organization could do with a large sum of money. Large could be $25,000 or it could be $25 million. It all depends on your operating budget. Whether you say “yes” to big money, or turn down an opportunity can impact your organization – and community – for years to come. Learn three questions to ask before making a decision.

When you are approached to apply for a large grant it can feel as if your nonprofit has won the lottery. Maybe you’re a grassroots program, a national advocacy organization, or a college or university. In most cases the response is the same: you are excited and begin to evaluate how your programs fit into the grant guidelines. If the proposed grant could cover multiple years your team may feel the heavens have opened. Maybe, and maybe not.

The first pivotal question to ask when considering a major grant is whether or not it is in line with your mission, goals and strategic plan. You can contort your nonprofit and change your direction to secure the funding. But what will that do to your organization? If the grant funding is for services outside of your focus why are you changing your priorities? There are legitimate reasons to change, but make sure yours is a conscious decision. Our general recommendation: don’t chase money that takes you off course.

If you accept funds that are not line with the core work of your nonprofit you can put your organization at risk. You may find that the time and money required for grant management, reporting, and evaluation are not covered in grant funding. Paying for these can become an additional – unfunded – expense.

Second, have you planned for the end of the grant – even as you prepare to apply for funds? For example, have you considered how you will replace the funds once a grant ends? Will the new grant-funded program/ service/advocacy become part of your long-range planning or business plan? If not, what will happen to those you serve?

Third, do you have the information you need to carefully construct a budget for the proposed work? Will grant funds cover current programs, or will you need to expand programming or launch a new program? Will you need to hire additional people? If yes, where will you find the talent you need? How will you retain current and new hires during the life of the grant? What will happen if staff leave your organization? How will you replace them?

Take time to make wise decisions for your organization’s sustainability.

Image courtesy of satit_srihin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Copyright 2015– Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw position nonprofits, colleges and universities for fundraising success. For help with your fundraising visit www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727.


How to write targeted proposals

Last week’s column focused on six basic things you should know before writing a proposal. With this column, we address three more nuanced things to consider.

Writing Targeted ProposalsSome nonprofits create a “boilerplate” proposal and send it out to as many foundations and corporations as possible, hoping to “get a hit.” That is one strategy, and sometimes it is appropriate. Making small modifications to a standard proposal is efficient, particularly when seeking to secure sponsorships and smaller grants. In general, we suggest a more targeted approach.

Here are three things to consider:

  1. What percentage of your revenue do you project will come from foundations or corporations? We recommend building diverse revenue streams. This is important for long term reasons such as having other revenue streams should foundation/corporation giving contract. A shorter term reason to diversify your revenue is that it signals financial health to foundations who are reviewing your proposal.
  2. What percentage of your operating or program budget are you requesting from a specific foundation? Looking to one funder for the majority of your funding sends a red flag to many funders. They have responsibilities they have to consider: one of those is what will happen to your organization or program if they need to reduce or eliminate their support. Does your proposal include a discussion of who you will be approaching for additional funds? Are these realistic potential funders, or foundations you would like to approach but don’t yet know if they will consider your request? This information helps a program officer evaluate your proposal and your ability to deliver on some or all of the deliverables. When developing your project or organizational budget be prepared to answer the question “what if you don’t secure all the funds that you need?”
  3. Is your nonprofit a strong match with the priorities of the foundation you are writing to? For example, if a foundation seeks to reduce poverty in a specific area, it looks to fund nonprofits with a track record of work in that area, that have accountable and effective leadership, and strong community relationships. This is in addition to effective programming and a proposed evaluation method.

These are the business decisions that should be made in advance of submitting a funding request and communicated through your proposal. This is the work of the board and executive leadership, and not the work of fundraising staff and volunteers. It is work that supports fundraising success and that takes time.

Looking for foundation support – “we’ll get a grant” – as a cure all for revenue shortfalls is not a fundraising strategy.

Fundraising is competitive, and as a nonprofit leader it is your responsibility to understand the funding landscape and to proactively address the serious questions that funders will ask.

Related Posts:

  1. The role of the business plan: An interview with Jan Young http://saadandshaw.com/strategic-plan-business-plan/
  2. Business planning for nonprofits: Learn the basics http://saadandshaw.com/business-plan-basics-for-nonprofit/
  3. Benefits of using a business plan: http://saadandshaw.com/the-role-of-the-business-plan-benefits-of-using-a-business-plan/
  4. Ten things you need to know about proposal writing http://saadandshaw.com/grant-writing/
  5. Cultivating foundations http://saadandshaw.com/bringing-home-the-money/
  6. Six things you should know before writing a proposal – http://saadandshaw.com/six-things-you-should-know-before-writing-a-proposal/

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Six things you should know before writing a proposal

 Writing ProposalsSummer reading is highlighted in Oprah and other magazines each year. A good read is great to enjoy on the beach or curled up on a lawn chair. But what about a good summer write? That’s right –start writing now to help the money come in at the end of the year, or perhaps next spring. That’s how it’s done. Writing proposals now prevents future complaints such as “how can I write that proposal in just three days?” It’s called planning ahead.

Here are six things you should know before writing a proposal.

  1. What type of funding are you seeking? Do you want a grant for a specific program, general operating support, equipment purchases, an advocacy campaign, or for a building (capital project)? Most organizations are looking for funds for multiple projects at the same time. For example, unrestricted or general operating funds are most coveted as they provide an organization with the greatest flexibility. But many foundations now seek to focus their giving more narrowly, and while they may want to support your afterschool health program, they may not be willing to fund outreach that helps ensure you reach the target group of children you want to engage.
  2. How much money do you need to raise in total? How much do you expect to raise from foundations? Corporations? Government sources? Individual donors? Many funders want to see a diversity of projected revenue and they look for it in your proposed budget.
  3. What is your projected impact? What will be different if your organization secures the funds it is seeking? Be specific.
  4. What types of written materials do you have that can help inform the proposal writing process? Ideally you have a case for support that you can draw from. If not, you will need access to your mission statement, vision statement, organizational description, program description, projected evaluation method, impact and – again – budget.
  5. Where could the money come from? You can begin your funding research using The Foundation Center’s online resources (fconline.fdncenter.org/ ). You can pay a small fee for access from your computer, or you may be able to use the database at your library as many libraries subscribe providing you with free access. When you identify a potential funder, review their guidelines closely before you begin writing. Make sure that your project and organization meet the funder’s requirements.
  6. Review the required attachments. Make a list of what you will need to provide. This often includes your 501c3 letter, audited financials, an organizational budget, a project budget, board list with affiliations, and sometimes a list of other projected funders for the project. The attachments alone can launch a mini-crisis if you try to pull these together two hours before the proposal is due.

Start now, and reduce future stress.

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Grant Proposal Submitted, Now What?

 fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, nonprofit proposal, proposal writing, foundations, Saad&ShawYou’ve written the perfect proposal. You submitted it on time. Perhaps you carefully reviewed the guidelines and found that your organization is a perfect match for what the foundation is seeking to achieve through its grantmaking. Or maybe a program officer reached out and personally asked your organization to submit. Maybe your nonprofit or university has received consistent funding over the years, and you have submitted your annual request – on time, of course. But you haven’t heard a word.

You should have heard by now. The proposal guidelines gave a date for when funding decisions would be announced. That date is now in the past. Days have passed. Weeks. A month. Ninety days. What do you do?

You could send a follow up email, or place a call inquiring on the status of your proposal. That’s a straight-forward and appropriate action. Let’s say you do, and you learn “the board meeting has been pushed back” or “we haven’t made a decision yet.” Now what do you do?

Here’s our suggestion: keep fundraising. Act as if you still have to meet your fundraising goal, even if you feel your proposal is a “sure thing” or a “slam dunk.”

For each gift or grant you are pursuing, have a “Plan B” and a “Plan C.” Here’s what we mean: if your nonprofit has submitted a grant to a foundation for $50,000 make sure you submit other proposals to other foundations or individuals in amounts that are equal to or greater than $50,000. And, don’t count each gift as if it would be received – use a 3:1 or 5:1 ratio of submitted proposals to funded proposals. Colloquially we call this “hedging your bets.” In fundraising terms we refer to this as “making sure you meet goal.” Aggressively work on alternative prospects who could give gifts or make grants equal to or greater than the gift or grant you are “waiting on.” Don’t put all your eggs in that one basket.

There is no way that every proposal you submit will result in a grant. Even if you’ve been given all the signals that “things are moving ahead.” Count only those gifts you can take to the bank.

While you can’t count money you don’t have, you can make sure you are ready to implement your proposal when the funds are received. Have you identified the personnel you need? Do you have an evaluation process in place? Has your team created a detailed project work plan to guide their activities and ensure that project goals are met on time?

Here’s the position you want to avoid: sharing with the board that you were unable to meet the organization’s fundraising goal because a certain grant “did not come through.” Hedge your bets, be aggressive, meet goal.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Ten Things You Need to Know About Proposal Writing

If there is a mythical “pot-of-gold” in the nonprofit world it is the foundation grant. Many start-ups – as well as established nonprofits – look to grants from foundations as a cure-all; the answer to all fundraising problems. You can spot this tendency when you hear phrases such as “Bill Gates has a foundation, let’s submit a proposal.”

We talked with professional proposal writer Marlene Lynn recently and asked her to share her expertise. Lynn has written proposals to corporations and foundations for the past ten years; she works with her clients to manage grant funds received, and follow up with and report to funders. She is meticulous in her work, committed to her clients, and is an advocate of strategic proposal submission.

Saad & Shaw – Briefly, based on your experience, what are the three big “mistakes” nonprofits make when they begin writing to foundations for grant support?

Marlene Lynn – Number one is poor planning. This results in nonprofits being caught in a cycle of chasing the money – reacting to unexpected funding opportunities and hustling to meet deadlines. I call this working hard, not smart. A proactive approach is to allocate resources to conduct comprehensive prospect research and use this information to create a grant action work plan. You could think of this as the grants portion of your agency’s development plan.

Another mistake is writing a proposal for something that you cannot actually deliver, from program delivery to financial management of the grant funds. For example, when I am working with program staff to develop new objectives, they will commonly propose objectives they want to reach rather than objectives they are likely to reach. I advise proposing conservative objectives that can be reached, or better yet, exceeded.

Lack of attention to detail can sink your proposal. For example, I have seen a well prepared proposal discarded – not even read – because one form or signature was missing, or a staff person hit the “save” button instead of the “submit” button after completing an online proposal. I recommend having a second person check your work against the funder’s instructions.

Saad & Shaw – What are the elements of a well-written proposal?

Marlene Lynn – Get to the point early and make it interesting. Follow instructions. Make every word count.  This often means getting rid of an adjective and changing the noun to say what you want. Picture your reader, facing a tower of proposals to review and getting tired or bored halfway through. Make it easy for them see the great work you are doing with succinct writing backed up with data. If you were to ask a stranger on the street to read your proposal would she understand it and find it compelling?

Saad & Shaw – What’s the difference if any between a well-written proposal and a funded proposal?

Marlene Lynn – A funded proposal sticks out from the crowd. It provides a track record of success in addressing problems that the funder has identified as a priority. It highlights what is unique about your organization. It is easy to read with information that flows from the opening statement to the closing remarks. It has heart and data references to back up the work. The proposal does not create barriers for the reader. For example, information is presented in the order it is requested, so if readers are using an evaluation checklist, they don’t have to search through your proposal for the information.  The reader can see that you have done your homework, and that your work and their priorities are a strong match.

Saad & Shaw – What role can board members play in creating a climate where a foundation requests (or wants to receive) a proposal? What is an LOI?

Marlene Lynn – Sometimes a board member is acquainted with someone at a foundation or corporation. The board member can have a conversation – in person if possible – with their contact to tell them about the great work of the organization. The board member plans the key points of the conversation in advance with a development staff member, so the board member understands the foundation’s funding priorities and can tailor the conversation to fit this context. The board member can then report back on the level of interest the foundation has in a proposal, and instructions on when to submit a proposal or Letter of Interest (LOI), how much to ask, who to send it to, etc.  An LOI is a Letter of Inquiry – a brief letter (two pages max) that introduces the foundation to the organization and may include informational enclosures such as brochures, annual report, and news articles about the organization.

Saad & Shaw – What are the elements of a successful LOI?

Marlene Lynn – An LOI will begin with a sentence summarizing the request – how much is requested and for what. Other elements include a paragraph describing the organization – the year and reason the organization was founded, who founded it, its mission, and programs or services provided; description of the need the services address; how your organization addresses this need and why your organization is successful; key accomplishments/outcomes your organization has achieved in addressing the need; and a closing statement that includes the name, phone number and email of who may be contacted for more information. Always thank them for considering your request.

Saad & Shaw – What is “foundation research” and why is it important?

Marlene Lynn – Foundation research identifies grant funding prospects for your programs, including an assessment of the prospect’s funding potential, as well as funding criteria, application guidelines, deadlines, giving history, and procedures for submitting a proposal or LOI. I recommend doing the research, and putting the findings into a prospect report. This document will include on a list of funding prospects with an assessment of the funding potential for each prospect, as well as funding criteria, application guidelines, deadlines, giving history, and recommended next steps for cultivating and/or submitting a grant request.

Saad & Shaw – Should an organization submit a proposal if its programs are not an “exact fit” with the funder’s guidelines? What do you suggest an organization do when this is the case?

Marlene Lynn – I would see if a board member or volunteer has a connection with the funder, and if so, follow the recommended steps outlined in the above question. The funder may be able to make a gift from discretionary (unrestricted) funds based on this connection.  Don’t be afraid to call the funder (unless their guidelines prohibit it), tell them your idea, and ask for their feedback. They will usually tell you whether to submit or what your prospects of a favorable review might be.  If none of this is possible, you could weigh the input (how much resources are needed for the proposal or LOI) versus the possible output (amount of funding and reporting requirements).

Saad & Shaw – What do you suggest an organization do after submitting a proposal? Should they follow-up? Wait? What is the protocol?

Marlene Lynn – Not usually. The funders usually say when they make their decision. If you don’t hear back by that date, then it is appropriate to follow up unless their guidelines tell you not to.  For grant requests that are denied, my advice is the opposite. Always ask the funder for feedback on your proposal, unless their guidelines or denial letter say not to. A phone call – human interaction – is best.

Saad & Shaw – Can you amend a submitted proposal if new information becomes available?

Marlene Lynn – No. However, if a funder is considering your proposal for a long time, you might send them an update letter on new benchmarks you have reached since your proposal was submitted, perhaps with your latest annual report.

Saad & Shaw – What needs to be in place for an organization to either work with a grant writer or to have someone on staff write the proposal?

Marlene Lynn – There needs to be funding in the budget (and the bank!) for the position(s), whether staff or consultant. This ensures that the work can be completed, and it shows funders that your organization is committed to achieving its mission. Funders don’t want to support programs that may not be around next year.

Learn more about Marlene Lynn and her services