Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.
There is a saying among fundraising professionals that proposal writing is both an art and a science. The art aspect refers to how well an inspired writer describes a project and the grant-seeking organization. The science aspect refers to the comprehension of the technical structure upon which those words are arranged” (Blanchard & Bullock, 2010).
Grant funding can be a great way for a nonprofit to boost its revenue, with giving by corporations and foundations in the United States in 2013 amounting to $67 billion. Many nonprofit organizations are active in the grants marketplace, seeking funding to support their programs and operations; but with the number of nonprofit organizations on the rise over the last decade, the competition for funding has become more intense. Grant seekers must find ways for their proposals to stand out among the rest.
While many nonprofits give much attention to fundraising and grant writing, they often place less emphasis on supporting areas – such as planning and budgeting – that can improve the likelihood that a grant request will be funded, as well as lead to further financial stability of their organization. It is not always enough for an organization to write an amazing grant proposal. While that may help to win grants from some funders, other funders will want to take a more in-depth look into the organization and the program before awarding funds.
Some of the most common errors with grant proposals as identified from the perspective of the grant reviewer are:
- Poorly planned projects, goals, and outcomes.
- Unclear and unconvincing project descriptions.
- Poorly developed evaluation plans.
- Vague or poorly developed budget.
If nonprofit organizations take action to prepare in these areas prior to pursuing grant funding, they not only increase their chance of successfully obtaining grants but also increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their organization in the long run.
So what actions should nonprofits take to improve in these areas prior to pursuing grant funding? Here are a few tips that can help a nonprofit organization increase its chances that a grant proposal will be funded:
Clearly define program goals, objectives, and expected outcomes. All of these should be measurable and should demonstrate a clear link to the activities of the program.
Identify the relationships between a program’s inputs, outputs, and outcomes through the development of a logic model. Logic models also create a visual for the organization to see all the different inputs and activities that are involved in their programs.
Set a realistic budget for the program that includes both numeric values and a narrative that describes how each budgeted item links back to the corresponding program input or activity. A good rule of thumb is to overestimate the program’s expenses and underestimate its expected revenues.
Develop an evaluation plan that will be used for the tracking and monitoring of the program’s outcomes. An evaluation plan can help the organization gather evidence of the program’s success, which can be used to consider improvements to the program, as well as for submitting progress reports to funders.
Be accountable and transparent. Accountability refers to the implementation of policies, such as conflict of interest and whistleblower policies, and the provision of financial information, such as IRS Form 990 and audited financial statements. Transparency refers to the availability of information to those outside the organization, such as donors or other funders.
Regardless of how well a grant proposal is written, the foundation must be rock solid in order to persuade funders to select that particular nonprofit out of the multitude of other organizations that are seeking funding and to increase the chances that the program will be successful.
Stacey Romanotto received a B.S. in Finance from ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business. She is active in the animal rescue community and volunteers her time as a grant writer for a local nonprofit organization.
- Blanchard, A.P., & Bullock, C. J. (2010). Why Grant Applications Fail. Journal of the Grant Professionals Association, 8(1), 45-53.
- Dolan, D.A. (2002). Training Needs of Administrators in the Nonprofit Sector: What Are They and How Should We Address Them? Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 12(3), 277-292.
- Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the year 2013. (2014). Chicago: Giving USA Foundation.