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Documenting What You Say in the Grant Application

This is nothing more and nothing less than proof or backup for what the grant writer says in an application and is invaluable in establishing credibility. This also pays off not just in the current application round but in subsequent rounds, as funding agencies begin to see that your agency always presents truthful and complete information.
Examples of documentation include the following:
• Proof of matching funds (this can be a letter from the funding agency or a grant agreement)
• Rejection letters from other funders
• Memorandum of Understanding with a cooperating agency which shows that the applicant has solid partners to carry out the project
• Resumes of key project personnel
• Engineer’s or architect’s estimate of costs
• Income survey results
• Census or Bureau of Labor Statistics maps and tables
• Other research results
• Letters of support from community organizations or groups which will benefit from the project
• Drawings or renderings of the facility to be constructed or rehabilitated with the grant
• Map(s) of the project area
• Progress reports for previous grants from the agency from whom the funds are being requested
• Photographs
• Organizational documents (charter, Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws)
• Certificate of Good Standing issued by the state (for nonprofits; this may have different names in different states)
• Environmental review documents
• Financial statements, audit reports, operating budgets and tax returns
• Proof of 501©(3) status
• List of Board of Directors
• Resolution of support from a local government or the Board of Directors of a nonprofit organization

Historic Preservation Grants

The National Trust Preservation Fund provides two types of assistance to nonprofit organizations and governmental entities. Matching grants of from $500-$5,000 are given for preservation planning and education. Funding is also provided for preservation emergencies. Examples of preservation planning activities may include the services of experts in architecture, archaeology, engineering, preservation planning, land use planning, fundraising, and organizational development.

The Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation provides grants for professional advice, conferences, workshops and education programs which contribute “to the preservation or the recapture of an authentic sense of space”, as stated on the website. Prospective grantees must in general apply for at least $2,500 and no more than $10,000. There are some exceptions to this. Nonprofits and governmental entities may apply for funding for any type of project which meets these general guidelines. Individuals and for-profit businesses may apply only if the project for which funding is requested involves a National Historic Landmark.

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors is concerned with preserving the inside of historic buildings. Again, grants range from $2,500 to $10,000. Eligible applicants are the same as those stated for the Johanna Favrot Fund.

Heritage Preservation (, a national nonprofit whose mission is to assist museums, provides assistance worth $3,000-$6,500 to undertake conservation assessments. This funding is geared toward any non-profit institution which possesses a collection of items which tell a story. This could include museums as well as zoos, botanical gardens, and historical houses. The collection must be small enough to be surveyed within two days. The site also lists other sources for historical conservation.

Statement of Need

Although this is one of the most important parts of any grant application, it also tends to be one of the most poorly written. One of the reasons for this may be that many grant writers just assume that the need for the project is obvious. Do not assume anything. The grant writer must make the case for both the need for the project and the need for financial assistance to do the project in a very clear, comprehensive, concise, and compelling manner. These are the four C’s for writing any grant application. This section is no place for vague, general, weak, or “stretching” statements.

Grant reviewers are not fond of flowery language. They tend to regard this type of verbiage with suspicion. It is as if the grant writer does not really have anything substantial to say and relies upon words designed to disguise the fact that there is no substance to the proposal. Whenever I read something like that, I feel rather insulted, as if I had been confronted with a particularly bad sales pitch. What counts with grant reviewers is a simple, direct statement of the facts. Please let your facts shine through and speak for themselves. They do not need to be embellished or exaggerated. Do not, under any circumstances, tell falsehoods in your application. This will damage your credibility with the funding agencies and word will get around. Your success rate will plummet rapidly. At the risk of sounding redundant, I will say it again: it is not worth the risk.

As I have said before and will certainly say again, it is very important to be specific. The use of statistics, when available, makes a very compelling case. Individual histories and anecdotes are also helpful. In short, anything which can help the reviewer to get a clear picture of the project should be added to this section of the narrative. The basic elements of a well-written project need section are just commonsense. They are as follows: general description of the situation, the number and type of people affected, the extent to which these people are affected, and what will happen if the project is not done.

It is also extremely important to discuss the need for financial assistance in order to carry it out. The applicant must clearly demonstrate that without grant funding, the project will not move forward. If the applicant has been turned down by other potential sources, it is necessary to specify that and to include copies of the letters rejecting the request for funds. It is always helpful for agencies to know that they are not the only source which is being requested to provide funding. An applicant will have more credibility if it can be demonstrated that potential funding sources were carefully researched and a funding strategy was well thought out.

Another angle to demonstrate financial need is to show the allocation of funds in an organization’s total budget in order to demonstrate that no applicant monies are available. This information will show that all available funds are going toward operating costs and cannot be used for new projects or that other needed projects are consuming the entire budget of the organization. In many cases, a copy of the applicant’s most recent audited financial statement must be submitted along with the application.

In the case of municipalities or counties, information regarding the economic situation of the community is critical. If an area is considered to be economically disadvantaged and demonstrates high unemployment, low median income, and a high rate of poverty, then the assessable base or value of the real estate upon which taxes are calculated is low. This dictates that the local government has only a limited ability to raise taxes and thereby realize additional revenue. It may very well be that the population of this political jurisdiction cannot afford to pay additional taxes which could fund new programs.

In the case of nonprofits, financial need may be demonstrated by a statement that the organization has a small donor base or that a reduction in donations over a certain period of time has occurred. Information should also be given on the nonprofit’s operating costs in order to show the amount of money which is being spent to keep the organization going.

Writing a Compelling Abstract

This is a brief summary of the application, generally running no more than two pages in length, although many solicitations limit the abstract to one page. This element of the application is not always required, and should only be prepared when explicitly requested in the grant guidance documents. In some cases, the specific points to be covered in the abstract are delineated by the funding agency.

When specific guidance is not given, the following items of information should be included:

• The heading should clearly state the title of the project, the funding agency to which the application is being submitted, the name of the funding program, and the name of the applicant.
• The first paragraph should be a summary of the activities to be undertaken with the funds as well as the amount applied for-it is helpful to funding agencies to know exactly where their money is going at the very beginning of the application. This provides a clarity which makes a positive impression.
• The second paragraph should briefly describe the need for the project and give statistical information to back this up.
• The third paragraph should delineate specific positive outcomes resulting from the grant.
• The fourth paragraph should briefly describe the capabilities and experience of the applicant organization, as well as the reasons why the applicant cannot afford to undertake this project on its own
• The final paragraph should be a brief “wrap-up” which states how the project will be evaluated and then sustained after the grant period has expired.

After reading this chapter, it will become obvious that the abstract is no more than a very brief summary of each section of the application in turn. This is a very important part of any submission, as it provides a brief, “at a glance” description which should make a very positive impression in the very beginning.

Searching Service Clubs and Organizations for Grant Funds

Service clubs and organizations are among the most reliable sources of funding for local projects. Many of these organizations are part of a national organization which may fund specific types of activities consistent with their philosophy, orientation, and interests. These clubs may be service-oriented or fraternal organizations or both. The following entities may be able to provide a list of the service clubs in your area:

• local libraries
• chambers of Commerce
• municipal or county government
• news media

Service clubs vary widely in the source of their revenue and the amount that they have available to give. In several counties in my area, fraternal and service organizations are permitted by the state to have slot machines. However, this comes with the caveat that a certain percentage of the revenues realized through the slots will be donated to charity.

Most of these clubs appoint a committee to oversee the grant process and review requests periodically. It would therefore behoove the grant seeker to determine who the chairman of the grant committee is and make their approach to that person. I have seen a number of instances where a letter requesting funds is sent to the organization as a whole but not to the attention of any particular person. These requests generally are either lost or sit on someone’s desk for a long time. It helps a great deal if someone on the grant committee is already familiar with your organization and knows your work. It is rare that a service club will request more than a simple letter. Most groups try to keep the process as uncomplicated as possible.

Once again, I would recommend that the grant seeker contact as many service clubs as possible in order to maximize the chances of receiving funding. The same letter could be sent to all the organizations with only minor modifications.

Searching for State Grants

All of the individual states offer a wide array of grant programs in such areas as water and sewer, transportation, parks and recreation, economic development, historic preservation, law enforcement, and fire fighting. States award grants to municipalities and counties as well as nonprofit organizations. Some states will also offer assistance to for-profit entities in support of economic development. If your organization is a non-profit, get to know your local elected officials. It is quite possible that they will be able to supplement your list of potential funding sources by making suggestions from among the state programs with which they are familiar.

I always search for state sources of funding first. The state programs are easier to access than federal programs due to the fact that the applicant is competing only on the state level and not against other applicants around the entire country. A number of federal programs pass funds through to the individual states for distribution. Other state programs are funded solely by state revenues.

There are several ways to search for state grant funds without expending an inordinate amount of time. The most straightforward is to go to your state’s website, find the state agency whose name implies that it regulates the area in which you seek to find a grant, and follow that link to the information on grants administered by that agency. If you are working for a county and wish to find grant funds for parks and recreation and notice that there is a Department of Natural Resources in your state, it could be assumed that that agency is likely to make grants in your area of interest. In general, grant writers working for local governments soon become familiar with which state agencies are possibilities for funding their projects.

There is a website ( which contains links to all state websites as well as the agencies under that state. In addition, there are also links to certain counties and municipalities. It is possible to click on the state in which you wish to search and then click again on the subject matter you are interested in. This will lead you to the appropriate agency, and it will then be possible to search for grant programs under that agency. There are also links to the executive branch departments and boards and commissions in that state, which is helpful if you already know which agency regulates the subject matter you are interested in. This site is very helpful if you are a consultant working in more than one state.

Be Specific and Give Concrete Examples in Grant Applications

Following are two examples of how to describe the same project- a mentoring program for victims of domestic violence. The first example is the “fuzzy” one:

“The Newland Shelter for Victims of Domestic Violence needs money for its programs. We help victims of domestic violence and their children. The shelter fills a big need in the community. Our clients are very grateful for the help that they receive from us.”

This type of non-descriptive paragraph raises more questions than answers. The following items are missing from this description: amount of funding being applied for, exactly how the funds will be used, description of the full range of services given at the shelter, estimated number of potential clients, and the number of persons on the waiting list.

The following is a vastly improved project description:

“The Newland Shelter for Victims of Domestic Violence is applying for $30,000 in order to hire a counselor who will work twenty-five hours per week to train our clients in job-seeking skills. The shelter provides housing and meals for a two-year period for victims of domestic violence and their children. While our clients are resident here, they must take classes in child care, financial management, housekeeping, and other life skills. In addition, we provide a comprehensive counseling program which helps them to overcome emotional problems associated with the abuse they have endured. This grant will enable the new counselor to train all fifty of our clients in job seeking skills. Due to limited funding, we are unable to serve the sixty-five persons on our waiting list.”

It is patently obvious that the funding agencies will be much more likely to approve an application which contains the second example. It would be next to impossible to get funding based on the description given in the first paragraph. Grant makers want to know the exact picture and do not like vague writing.

How to Determine the Chances of Getting Grant Funding for a Project

The checklist given below shows the grant writer how a proposed activity meets the characteristics of a well-designed grant project. Granted, I have seen several cases where an activity which does not meet all the criteria below has gotten funded. The project may be very strong in several key areas but weak in one or two others and still get funded. Many times funders are moved by what seems to them to be the greater good to be served and go on to approve a project which is not “perfect”.

Rather than just checking off each applicable criterion, assign each one a value of from one to five, with one being the minimum measurement of that criteria and five being the most. For example, a project may lend itself to only limited measurement and evaluation. The grant writer may then decide to assign this factor a “two”, while a project which can be easily measured and analyzed statistically may be assigned a “five”. This is just another way to test your proposed activity to see the likelihood of its getting funded. The grant writer will get more accurate results by assigning a degree of measurement to each criterion rather than merely knowing whether or not it exists.

This checklist is as follows:

 The problem will be fully or partially solved.
 The project is ready to proceed.
 The project will be completed in a timely fashion.
 Matching funds have been committed.
 The applicant has a commitment for funding to sustain the project once the grant period is completed or sustainability will occur through project design such as for a new construction project or an equipment purchase.
 The applicant can demonstrate that an exhaustive search of other sources was conducted.
 The proposed activity has worked elsewhere for a similar problem.
 The activity was developed after looking at several alternatives.
 The results of the project are easily measured.
 An evaluation plan is in place and the appropriate resources have been secured.
 The project has support from the general public, the population to be served, professionals who work in the field, and governmental entities in whose jurisdiction it will take place.
 The applicant has a proven track record in administering similar projects and there have been no problems in the administration of previous grants.
 Collaborative agreements have been secured.
 Construction and rehabilitation activities have been at least partially designed.
 Any professional studies specific to this project have been completed.
 Cost estimates have been carefully documented.
 The project is included in the appropriate planning documents.
 Statistical data has been used to document the need and is included with the application.
 A feasible work plan can be developed for inclusion in the application.
 Any procurement activities can be conducted so as to meet the requirements of the granting agency.
 It can be demonstrated that the activity chosen is clearly superior to other alternatives.