Non Profit Grant Submissions – some lessons learned

As the treasurer/accountant for several non profit and charitable organizations, part of the annual budget process is to estimate how much grant revenue the group will be able to receive from various supporting organizations.

Recently, one of my organizations was successful in obtaining funding where they had been unsuccessful previously.  The board Secretary was curious to know what is was that made the submission I had prepared successful as compared to previous submissions.  It was an interesting question, and I thought it might make a good post to go through what I felt made the difference.

First a bit of context.  The executive of this organization is all new; fresh ideas and different (and yes, some conflicting…) perspectives are now being brought forward.  The best part is the mix of “old school” and new – our president is a charismatic guy who has been running all kinds of endeavors over his 60+ years.  If I had to point to the single greatest success factor, his “tell them a story with a cliffhanger ending they can’t resist” advice would be it.

If you’ve read my other posts you’ll know that I’m a fan of carefully crafting a compelling case that flows logically and clearly from start to finish.  In this particular case, I changed the perspective of the submission from “ours” to someone looking at the Society’s activities for the first time.  This created many questions to answer, background pieces to fill in, and most importantly forced me to create a compelling answer to the simple question,”why?”.

The basic data elements of the submission didn’t change, but the narrative explaining what we were doing and more importantly why we were doing it made the submission that much more compelling.  It was written in a way that was more engaging, and brought the reader on board with the whole plan.  The cliffhanger piece was to show how this project would allow us to open new avenues of access; the success of which would only be revealed in the years to come.

The final touch added was to clearly articulate what benefit the granting agency would glean from supporting our submission.  The first step was to understand what the agency wanted; this information can be gleaned from websites, advertising, strategic plans and other publicly available documents.  Armed with this information, I then picked up the phone and talked to one of the staff to confirm/adjust my understanding and allow me to tailor the submission to be a great fit.

In this case, the agency wanted public acknowledgement and to be seen as supporting a project with a clear linkage to their mandate.  The proposal included two specific, observable actions that would be taken to address the public recognition piece, and the project description was re-framed to demonstrate exactly how it fit the mandate.

The submission was accepted and approved, and the project is currently underway.  We are documenting everything and will be providing a scrapbook style document to the funders with the final closeout package.  With this success in hand, we will be returning for additional funding next cycle for a new project!