As much as we don’t like to think about it, money is a necessary part of what we do as nonprofits. We need funding to work toward our missions and make real change.
And there are plenty of ways for nonprofits to receive funding. Individual donations, crowdfunding, corporate sponsorships, membership fees…and grants. If finding the best grant for your organization feels impossible, you’ve come to the right place!
In this article, we focus on one funding source specifically – grants – whether they’re right for your organization and where you can find them.
What Are Grants for Nonprofits?
Grants are typically awarded to a nonprofit organization for a distinct program or purpose. A grantmaker generally focuses its giving on:
- A specific population (such as children or organizations in New York)
- Certain types of nonprofits (such as animal shelters or environmental groups)
- Particular types of support (such as program development or funding for equipment)
Grants can also provide different types of support for your nonprofit organization. For example:
Operating support or unrestricted funding is a grant for day-to-day operating costs or to support the general work of an organization. It’s not dedicated to a particular purpose or project. Startup grants fall in this category.
Capital support is most commonly given for specific capital campaigns that involve building construction or acquisition, land acquisition, renovations, remodeling, or the rehabilitating of property.
Program development grants or restricted funding provide funding for a particular purpose or project.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Grants for Nonprofits
Grants can fuel big structural projects, enabling large-scale societal impact that otherwise probably wouldn’t be possible. Additionally, once you have obtained one grant, you are more likely to receive others, since grantmakers will see your organization as more credible.
On the other hand, grants can be very time-consuming. It first takes time to develop grant-writing skills that actually win grant proposals, then it takes time to write a winning application, and then it can take quite a while for you to see the funds in your bank account.
Additionally, grants usually come with strings attached. Typically, there are conditions that will refer to how exactly you can use the money. These conditions can also be related to particular program outputs or outcomes.
Typically, you will also need to provide reporting for any grants you receive. All of this adds up to a lot of time and energy from your staff, so it’s important to weigh to pros and cons to decide if grants are the right kind of funding for you to pursue.
Should You Apply for a Grant?
Before deciding to apply for a grant, take the time to discuss and consider these questions with your team:
- Are we able to invest the necessary resources in writing winning grant applications?
- Can we meet the grant conditions?
- Are the activities we would conduct consistent with our mission, our aims, and our strategy?
- Can the activity continue after the grant funding ends?
- What do you need to be funded? Why is the grant necessary for your organization to continue your work?
- Do you have the right staff with the right qualifications in place to implement your program?
- Do you have outcomes related to your past work? How healthy are those outcomes?
It’s also useful to take a breather, remind yourself of your organization’s mission and vision, and review your short-term and long-term organizational goals. If you’re going to give grants a go, then they should have a clear place in your overall organizational strategy.
In 2022, 64% of nonprofit funding came from individual donors, with only 21% coming from foundations and 6% from corporations.
Keep this in mind when developing your annual fundraising plan. While grants matter, individual donors make up the bulk of most charitable income.
Grants For Nonprofits – Quick Insider Tips
1. Align, align
As a nonprofit organization, you only want to work with and be associated with organizations whose mission and values are aligned with yours. If not, you’re risking your reputation and might end up losing donors and supporters.
Before applying for any grant, take the time to look through the grant-giving organization’s website, socials, and blogs, and read any news coverage about their work.
2. Start small and local
While you might be tempted to go all in and apply to your country’s largest grants (and by all means, go for it), it might be a smarter use of your time to start small and local. If your organization has never applied for a grant or doesn’t have a large number of donors, then local funding is the best place to start.
Starting with small, local grants helps you build expertise with the application process, and will help you build the credibility that you need to then apply for bigger grants.
3. Make a budget
Outline the project or the initiative you need funding for, and then determine the exact amount you need to fund said project. This will make your grant application more precise and the application process smoother.
Use this information to create a line-by-line budget that includes every dollar you intend to request and use. That way, you know what type of funding you are looking for.
Pro tip: This is the time to get buy-in from your board and staff! See if there are any new initiatives on the horizon that might be the perfect fit for grant funding.
If you’re new to budgeting, check out our guide to nonprofit budgeting, where you can download a free budget template.
When you start looking for grant opportunities, benchmark against other similar nonprofit organizations.
For example, if your nonprofit is an animal shelter – take a look at who’s funding other animal shelters in your local area or your state. This just makes finding grant opportunities easy for your organization. You may even be able to partner with a local organization to receive joint funding for a new program.
5. Triple-check the requirements
It’s better to spend some time carefully reviewing the grant requirements before applying to make sure you can meet all the stipulations than to find yourself in an uncomfortable situation later on.
As mentioned before, grant criteria vary drastically depending on the type of funding you need. For example, requirements for government grants differ from those of private foundations and other nonprofits.
It’s advisable to hire a grant writer (part-time or full-time time depending on your need) and let them do the research. An experienced grant writer will know where to look, which details to look for, how to incorporate important points in the grant application, and how to write you a perfect grant proposal. You’ll find good and adept grant writers on sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Upwork.
6. Be prepared
Before embarking on an often time-intensive and cumbersome process, make sure you’re prepared.
Have your strategic plans, your project plan, your mission statement, and any tax forms (including Form 990) on hand. Be sure to check the application deadline and adhere to any rules. You may also need to have statements from your leadership and work samples/impact stories ready to go.
Being prepared will make your grant application process more efficient and your grant proposal effective.
7. Demonstrate impact
Governments, foundations, and even corporate foundations continue to press nonprofit organizations to demonstrate the impact of their programs.
It’s no longer sufficient to simply say you do something. In today’s day and age, you have to prove it. If you’re not already measuring your impact, now is the best time to start. Not only will some grants ask for proof of the previous impact, but it will also be important to clearly think through how you will measure outcomes before you apply for a grant.
Sharing your annual or impact reports is a great way to demonstrate the real value of your organization.
8. Build relationships
Just like with every other type of fundraising, relationships matter.
Don’t hesitate to call a foundation to test the waters … would they welcome your application? Strike up a conversation with a program officer or the founder of a small foundation. Ask questions. Add them to your email list. And don’t overlook networking with foundation staff. Seek them out at conferences, call a program officer at a foundation, and discuss your project and whether it is a good fit. Follow the foundation on social media. You may never know where funding opportunities will pop up.
If your grant is rejected, find out why, and check if there is anything you can do better or differently in the future. Always ask if there is another funding source that they can recommend. Never burn bridges.
Where to Find Grants for Nonprofits?
If you’re based in the United States, the U.S. government lets you know of government agencies that can provide you with grants. It has a searchable online database of government grants for nonprofits to help you find what you need.
Use the basic search tool with a keyword or a combination of keywords to find the right federal grants for your work.
Pro tip: Join the Grants.gov mailing list to find grants for nonprofits through a daily or weekly digest of current federal funding opportunities.
2. Candid’s Foundation Directory
This Foundation Directory is the primary online source for grants for nonprofits available through private foundations, corporate foundations, and other nonprofits that accept grant proposals.They offer biennial, annual, and monthly plan options.
Google.org has over $1 billion in funds they plan to give out over the next 5 years. Tech grants for nonprofits are announced on a rolling basis and listed on their Google Impact Challenge page.
When they open their applications, nonprofits with relevant missions and projects can apply. Once a group of ideas are selected, Google announces the winners and offers ongoing support to see the project through.
Read more about technology grants for nonprofits.
4. Google Ad Grants
Google Ad Grants program offers $10,000 USD of in-kind advertising every month from Google Ads, an online advertising solution from Google. This means you get more advertising – and more outreach – absolutely free. Learn more here.
This search engine identifies grants for universities, hospitals, government agencies, schools, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, research institutions, and some small businesses and individuals. They break their grants down by even more specific categories to help you find the best fit for your organization.
6. Local/State Funding
Depending on where you’re based, it might be useful to try finding grants at a municipal or state level.
Contact the relevant local or state departments and/or look through their websites. You might want to consider contacting the Department of Health, Jobs and Family Services, Human Services, Department of Development, Small Business Development, Department of Education, Department of Transportation, or City Councils. Ask about the grants they have available.
Pro tip: Choose the department that most closely relates to your mission. For example, if you’re an educational nonprofit, your best bet is the Department of Education.
7. Search Engines
Sometimes, a good ol’ Google search (or a search on another search engine of choice) is all you need to find relevant grants for nonprofits.
For that search to be effective, though, you need to have keywords ready on hand. What are the 10-20 keywords that describe your work and your needs?
Your criteria can include keywords, subject matter, geographic area, target audience, gender, race, ethnicity, and any other parameters that fit your nonprofit. Make a list in advance so you can refine and focus your search easily.
8. Guidestar by Candid
Guidestar provides information on all kinds of nonprofits, including foundations. You can register for free and use the advanced search capabilities to find the 990-PFs of foundations.
Guidestar profiles can fill you in on a foundation’s goals and interests, which can help you decide if they’re a good fit.
9. Board members
An often underutilized resource, your board is a potential grant goldmine. As you do your research for funders, take note of foundation trustees and staff and forward those names to your board to see if there are any connections.
Also, consider directly asking your board members if they know of any family foundations, corporate foundations, or other grantmakers who might be interested in supporting the work of your nonprofit, and if they would be willing to make an introduction. Their employers might be other sources for financial support.
10. Go outside the box
Look at annual reports and newspaper articles. Who is giving to organizations that are similar to yours? Put any like-minded funder on your mailing list and start sending them materials about your organization.
Be sure to join a national professional organization such as the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). There will be a local chapter where you can attend meetings, network with fellow fundraisers, and learn about local opportunities.
Also, take a look at these to find grants for nonprofits:
Over to You
To apply or not to apply? Which ones to go for? And where to find them?
Grants can be tricky to figure out, especially for small nonprofits.
However, the more time you put into preparation, the better your results. Take the time to get ready, prospect, and understand how, why, and where your organization excels in providing services.
Looking for grants is not a one-off. Successful nonprofits commit to creating a grants program by researching grants all the time, learning as much as possible about grant writing, and making applications for grants frequently.
Don’t be discouraged by the inevitable ups and downs. You have to start somewhere. You usually need just one “yes” for all of it to pay off!
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