For anyone new to applying for and receiving grants for small businesses or nonprofits, 2020 was a relatively gentle introduction. The CARES Act allocated $500 billion to private sector businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan process, and many organization and business staff had their first experience applying for the loans and then working toward loan forgiveness, essentially transforming their loans into grants.
Why was this process gentle? Because it’s likely anyone concerned about getting a PPP loan forgiven was receiving regular communications from a lender, clarification through professional groups or other peers, and a lot of news constantly reminding all of us that we had deadlines to meet and documentation to gather.
In other words, we were all in it together.
Grant applications otherwise can be an isolating, you’re-on-your-own experience. But for any school or organization that doesn’t regularly apply for grants, the CARES Act PPP process can be an inspiration to make grant-seeking an ongoing part of your operations. After all, supporting your organization’s mission or business goals is the key part of showing stewardship as a leader.
Let’s take a look at what the grant-seeking process looks like and things to consider as you begin seeking regular grants for your nonprofit or organization.
The Grant-Seeking Process: How to Find Grants
Grant information abounds on the web. Fortunately, there are some key data collections that can speed the search for appropriate programs. If you’re in the United States, visit grants.gov for information on federal grants as well as links to non-federal sources. Additionally:
- Think local. Many grant-giving organizations are focused on helping nearby entities. A “grants near me” web search should be part of every grant-seeking strategy, as well as searching for grant information in local and industry news sources. The Community Foundation Locator from the National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations includes information on region-specific granting entities, and many states, such as California, Colorado and Illinois, offer education-related grants to the schools within their borders.
- Consider smaller amounts from smaller givers. You’ve probably heard of the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other large-scale foundations that include the names Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Mellon. These entities can gift game-changing grant amounts; the Gates Foundation alone granted $5.1 billion in 2019. While keeping an eye on the sizable opportunities should be part of your grant-seeking process, consider the benefits of putting together multiple grant applications for discrete amounts from smaller entities. The competition will likely be less intense, and the turnaround faster.
- Research companies with whom you already have a relationship. Identifying grant-making organizations and companies that you already work with can increase the likelihood that your goals align — and therefore your eligibility is more likely. For example, religious organizations, including individual churches, can offer grants to other churches or nonprofits who share similar values. Likewise, in 2020, Diligent offered a new We CARE grant for mission-driven organizations to aid in the transition to digital operations.
Barriers to Overcome When Seeking Grants
Now that you’ve identified a grant or grants you may want to apply for, what comes next?
If this is your or your organization’s first experience with seeking and applying for grants, the blank pad of paper or search engine field in front of you can be paralyzing. Like with any large project, breaking it down into smaller sections or steps is the best way to make progress.
- Determine purpose and eligibility. The largest factors in eligibility for a particular grant are the organization type and what the grant funds will be used for. Taking a step back and identifying the purpose of the funding you seek will ensure time spent is focused appropriately — not following a rabbit hole for sources you won’t be eligible for. Many grants are gifted based on a project or a specific type of project. They can cover costs associated with that project, including staff, materials and even utilities — but they must be used within the context of that project.
- If possible, build a team. If you can spare multiple people or solicit volunteers, the grant-searching process in particular will go more smoothly. Individuals’ different connections and perspectives may identify opportunities that otherwise could be missed. If staff time is at a premium, however, putting one very organized person in charge of the grant-seeking process can help.
- Create a tickler file or dedicated calendar for grant work. There’s little more frustrating than finding the perfect grant and discovering the deadline just passed. However, many grants will repeat on an annual or similar time frame, so setting a reminder to begin work on the next cycle in three, six, or nine months is something future you will be grateful for doing.
Time To Apply for a Grant
Ready to write your grant application but not sure you have the writing skills? You’ll find there are many resources, including online courses and books, to guide your way. And most grant-givers offer very detailed instructions on how to provide what they require.
The key is to focus on your project and its outcomes. How will you assess success? Funders frequently want a report on the success or changes that came about as a result of the project. Rarely will a grant-issuing organization solely fund the purchase of specific software or other tools. Typically, it will fund a project or an outcome that uses those tools, so it may be helpful to think in those terms.
The type and amount of documentation needed for an application can vary. If you already use a board portal such as Diligent’s Diligent’s BoardDocs, iCompass, or BoardEffect, finding the documentation the application requires will be made easier. If your documentation is not already stored in your board portal, making the effort to transfer historical documents can be a time-saving, concurrent effort while working on your grant application.
The grant-seeking process can be complex and take time, but it is well worth the dedication when your organization can achieve goals that otherwise would have been out of reach.