Recently, I got an email from a potential client. He asked me,
“Hey, can you research a grant to help us get a computer lab and computers for our nonprofit?”
And I said,
“Here are the 7 different places that you can get free donated computers from!”
and he wrote back and said,
“No, seriously, we need a GRANT to get a computer lab, and the computers!”
And I said,
“So, you think that getting a grant is like dialing for dollars huh? That a grant will just plop into your lap and Boom you’ll have a computer lab? I’ll look for you, but here’s something you should know, first.”
You can look for grants for two weeks, spend another two weeks writing the proposal, and still only have a slim chance of getting the grant.
When I first started fundraising, I thought that all we had to do was get a grant, and then we would have it made. But in reality, all of the grants that we applied for did not get funded. And I felt bad that I had been paid but they had gotten no money from grantors out of the arrangement.
This is the usual error with small or fledgling nonprofits. They think that fundraising = grants, when, as you and I both know, grants are only a TINY piece of a much larger pie. See the pie chart below. This ain’t just a fancy metaphor!
Here’s a graph that explains how things get funded with nonprofits. 13% of money comes from grants, 75% comes from individuals.
And this graph shows which causes get money. These two graphs come from GivingUSA.com.
When I last looked into computer lab grants, in 2009, it would take over 6 months to even hear back if a proposal got a chance to go to the second round of the approval process for granting.
If you need money for programs NOW, I doubt that a grant would deal with your more immediate need.
Unless you or your board know someone at a foundation or fund already, you would be better off at looking at who can be major donors, and then asking them for the money for the computer lab, and getting donated computers in the meantime.
You should know the lay of the land, know which foundations are accepting proposals, which are not, which have scaled back their giving due to Depression 2.0, which foundations your board members and staff have connections to, and more.
Before going to look for a grant, ask staff and volunteers and board if they know anyone who knows anyone at a foundation. Chances are, someone will know someone.
Grants CAN make a difference for your nonprofit’s bottom line. Grants are useful in many ways. Grants should not be a stand-in for ALL fundraising activities, or depended on long-term for operation funding. As you can see, the majority of money comes from individuals. Even project funding could be much more easily obtained from individuals than from foundations.
You CAN get grants, as long as you are willing to wait. But if you can’t wait, then consider major gifts instead. This is where most of the money comes from. Individuals.
Want to find grants? Go here (Grantspace and the Foundation center have teamed up to offer this resource)
This is also good for non-US grant searches, including Australia, Canada, Mexico, Germany, South Africa, China, Singapore, UK and Thailand. Nigeria.
You are so right on, Mazarine! It reminds me of the potential clients who ask me about major donors … and it turns out that they have virtually NO donors.
Grants, like every aspect of fundraising, are built upon establishing relationships with funders. These relationships take time to build and any relationship takes commitment. I do believe that foundation grants can account for a sizable portion of a nonprofit’s overall funding stream – but they’re not instantaneous. In one year the Ford Foundation received 144,000 inquiries and only 2,000 grants were made. Chances are your organization’s initial grant proposals will be declined.