Nonprofits, associations, and other organizations with membership programs work tirelessly to create meaningful experiences for their supporters and communities. But crafting these experiences isn’t easy—or cheap. The dedication, planning, and resources that go into them require funding, and lots of it. Organizations often need multiple revenue streams to successfully organize events, connect with members, and run day-to-day operations.
For nonprofits and membership-based organizations, grants are one of the most impactful ways to generate this much-needed revenue. But because so many other organizations are vying for the same funds, grant opportunities can be fiercely competitive. On average, roughly 2,700 grant proposals are submitted daily—fewer than 200 of which receive funding.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through grant writing basics and highlight the steps for securing grant funding for your organization. Whether big or small, your organization’s work is important, and it deserves funding to help it flourish.
Reasons to Apply for a Grant
Grants are a great way to receive a much-needed influx of cash. Receiving a grant can help your organization gain visibility, attract new donors, and grow in membership. Nonprofit funding opportunities can support many initiatives, including:
Plus, obtaining one grant is likely to increase your credibility, making it easier to obtain more in the future.
How to Win Grants: 4 Steps
Now that we’ve outlined why nonprofits and other associations might want to apply for a grant, let’s explore how they should go about doing it! While the process can be time-consuming, the rewards are well worth it in the end. Keep reading for step-by-step instructions to ensure your grant-seeking journey is a success.
1. Identify your goals
A great place to start is determining what your association hopes to achieve with grant funding. That way you can focus your energy on applying for grants that best align with your objectives. When setting goals, it can be helpful to use the SMART criteria, meaning your goals should be:
Operating within the SMART framework helps ensure goals are well-defined, practical, and realistic in a given timeframe. Specific goals and outcomes can also help in better planning and resource allocation. Knowing exactly what needs to be achieved allows for a more accurate budgeting process, ensuring that the funds are allocated efficiently to meet the project’s objectives.
2. Research grant opportunities
In a nonprofit landscape where funding opportunities abound, it can be difficult to know where to begin. So many grants, so little time! A good place to start is by exploring grant databases like Grants.gov. Try typing in keywords related to your goals, or by filtering for eligibility, agency, and category for the most relevant results. You can also sort for opportunity status and select “forecasted” opportunities to get ahead of the curve.
Public libraries are another fantastic resource for researching grants. Your local library most likely has grant resources and directories available upon request. As an added benefit, choosing a local grant can help uplift and support your community!
You can also try looking into grantmakers that have provided funding to organizations similar to yours in the past. If you have a particular organization in mind that aligns with your goals and mission, peruse their website to see if they offer any grant funding. If they don’t have anything posted, don’t be afraid to reach out to them!
3. Narrow down your options
Now that you’ve accumulated a list of potential funding opportunities, it’s time to narrow your options and hone in on the most feasible options for your organization. You can determine which grants to focus your energy on based on a combination of factors, including:
- Eligibility criteria: This can include restrictions like the size of your association, your agency type, locality, or DEI requirements such as woman- or minority-owned.
- Values and mission: Is the grantmaking organization one you would proudly associate with publicly? Do their values and mission align with your own? How significant is the overlap? Are there any significant conflicts of vision? These are all important questions to keep in mind when deciding on a grantmaking organization. Remember, you’re interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you!
- Resources provided: Take into account what resources each grant provides. Aside from financial compensation, this could also include guidance and expertise, training and capacity building, networking and collaboration opportunities, or access to facilities, equipment, data, and other resources.
Then, think back to your goals to identify the opportunities that best fit your organization’s needs.
4. Prepare a compelling grant proposal
The final step is perhaps the most critical of all: writing a standout grant proposal. Incidentally, it’s also the step associations struggle with most! Use the following tips and best practices to craft a clear, compelling, and persuasive proposal to help stand out from the pack:
- Focus on how the grant will impact your organization. This demonstrates strategic thinking, a commitment to mission-driven goals, and an awareness of the broader organizational context. It also provides a basis for reporting progress and success throughout the project timeline. Demonstrating how the grant aligns with your organization’s mission and objectives reinforces the idea that the funds will be used to further the core purpose of your association, increasing both the relevance and credibility of your proposal.
- Before submitting, take the time to proofread and gather feedback from trusted sources. Small errors may not seem like a big deal, but they can demonstrate a lack of care or seriousness to grantmakers. Ensure your finished proposal is polished, free of typing or grammatical errors, and demonstrates your organization’s commitment to your stated cause.
- If necessary, recruit volunteers with grant writing experience or reach out to a grant consultant. These experts spend hours researching and writing grants, so they understand what grantmakers are looking for, and can help correct common errors in the grant writing process. Aside from experience, professional grant writers also bring passion and dedication to the table, and can help imbue your proposal with a similar missionary zeal.
A lot goes into running a successful nonprofit or association, from hosting events to engaging supporters on social media, to facilitating change in your community. Grants are an incredibly effective way to support an array of initiatives—and to help your organization better fulfill its mission for the long haul.
Despite the fierce competition, grants offer a transformative influx of cash that can fuel growth, visibility, and donor attraction. By focusing on the key elements highlighted in this guide, your organization can enhance its credibility, stand out in a competitive landscape, and increase the likelihood of securing funding to support the valuable, transformative work you do for your community.