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How to Prepare a Grant Letter for Nonprofit Funding

Ryan Ayers
Ryan Ayers

Grant writing is essential for nonprofit organizations looking to acquire the funding they need to stay afloat or grow.

Landing a much-needed grant is critical for some nonprofit organizations. As any nonprofit knows, there's usually a shortage of cash available to meet the organization's goals, and grants can help to fund large or small projects that make a difference. But how can you maximize your success in earning grants for your organization?

First and foremost, you should learn all you can about grant writing to give your organization the best chance of reaching its goals. For some passionate advocates, grant writing is one of the first lessons they learn as they attempt to secure a startup grant to launch a nonprofit.

Because most grants have very specific requirements for applicants, you'll have to customize each grant letter for the individual grant committee. But what goes into a great grant letter that helps your nonprofit stand out in the right way? Here are some tips for writing a strong letter that will (hopefully) bring in the funds your organization needs.

Before you do anything, do this

Before you can write a grant letter, it's important to know how to pick grants that your organization is a good fit for. It’s a waste of both the grantmaker’s time and yours if you spend time on grant applications that you're unlikely to get.

While it’s a good idea to be optimistic, it’s also important to be realistic and to realize that it’s better to focus your time on grants that make sense for your organization. That's where the Foundation Directory Online (FDO) comes in.

The Foundation Directory Online is an important tool for grant writers for several reasons. First, it allows you to search through more than 165,000 foundations that offer grants, millions of available grants, and profiles of foundations and nonprofits that help to give grant writers insight about what kind of organizations have been awarded certain grants.

Because many foundations do not have websites, FDO can help you find lesser-known grants you would not find otherwise. Before you even think about writing a grant letter, do some research on FDO and find a few grants that seem to be a good fit for your organization.

Warm them up

Once you’ve identified some grants you’re interested in pursuing, it’s a good idea to introduce your nonprofit to the foundation. Before you reach out to warm them up, however, make sure that they don’t have any restrictions on inquiries. Then, make a phone call or send an email to inquire about the foundation and the grant.

By reaching out, you’ll be able to ask questions, learn about the key players, and tell the foundation a little bit about what your organization does. After all, it never hurts to build a relationship and some name recognition before you apply!

Getting down and dirty: Writing the grant

Once you’ve started to establish a relationship with the grantmaker, it’s time to actually start writing the grant proposal. Read the requirements carefully. Most foundations will have specific questions and/or concerns for applicants to address, and you should pay special attention to these points in your proposal.

It’s also important to give enough background on your organization. Demonstrate your nonprofit’s success and make sure to show why the grant money is necessary to grow your impact even more. Using success stories is a great way to go – just make sure to get permission from people you are highlighting and treat their stories with dignity. Direct quotes are great for showing the impact your organization has had on individuals.

Remember to be authentic in your grant letter. You’ll be working with the foundation as you use the grant money, so it’s important to be upfront and honest (especially when it comes to what you can deliver), even if you feel the temptation to write more of what you think the committee wants to hear. Not only will this backfire, but feeling the need to change the way you talk about your nonprofit is a clear sign that you’re going after the wrong grant.

Grant writing is about more than words

As a grant writer, your job is to communicate why your nonprofit deserves to receive grant money over other worthy organizations. It’s a tall order, but thinking of grant writing as communication, rather than just writing, can help you focus on what’s important in the application process.

Whether you are able to get to know the people running the foundation before you apply or not, your ability to communicate your organization’s mission, values, and perseverance will make the difference in obtaining grant money. Think about more than just the words – think about what the money would mean for your nonprofit and those it helps.

Turning the tables: Attracting gracious donors

When it comes to grants, unrestricted, multi-year awards are the best-case scenario. Being able to use the money as the nonprofit sees fit reduces headaches and often allows the grant to be used more effectively. But how do you attract these gracious donors?

In a word, data. To entrust a nonprofit with multiple years of unrestricted grant awards, donors need to be able to see that the organization is successful at meeting its goals and will use the money wisely.

Data, due to its impartiality, is a great tool for bringing in ideal donors. If your organization isn’t already doing so, it’s time to start collecting and analyzing data that you can present to potential donors whenever it’s needed.

Maintaining organizational integrity

Nonprofits typically have lofty goals and very good intentions. Unfortunately, when money gets tight, it can sometimes be difficult to maintain the integrity and to remember what’s most important – the organization’s mission. A lot of time is spent looking for grants, applying for grant awards, marketing to individual donors, and figuring out where all the money will go.

As you work on your grant writing and fundraising efforts, remember to take a step back every time you sit down to write down a grant letter and reconnect with your nonprofit’s mission and values. Honesty and communication are key in grant proposals – it’s important to never sacrifice your integrity for the sake of an application.

Get some feedback

Writing your first few grant letters can be very challenging. If you've never been awarded a grant, then you may feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. That's why it's a good idea to get feedback – directly from the grantor if possible.

Although it might seem like a strange thing to do, asking the foundation offering the grant to look at your letter of intent before you submit it can be extremely helpful. Not only will you get feedback that may help you get the grant, but you’ll work on building that all-important relationship with the foundation.

Have patience with the process – and yourself

There’s a definite learning curve involved in grant writing. If you’ve never done it before, then it can seem intimidating. Have patience with the application process, and yourself. You won’t write the perfect letter of intent the first time, and that’s okay.

After you’ve applied for a few grants, it should be much easier to write letters of intent in the future. Finding your voice takes time, but if you give yourself the opportunity to improve, you’ll be more likely to land the funding your organization needs.

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
Ryan Ayers
Ryan Ayers Member
Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of Fortune 500 companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs with a keen focus on sustainable scaling, professional development and business growth.