Of all the avenues for nonprofit fundraising, grant writing seems to have the most “unknowns.”
New grant writers often sit puzzling over Requests for Proposals (RFPs) on foundation websites, wondering what to request, how much to ask for, and what exactly is a “logic model.” These are things you should know when submitting a grant proposal. But you don’t have to figure this out on your own.
Most foundations have a grant administrator who will answer your questions and help you develop the highest quality proposal.
This person is responsible for reviewing applications for quality and interest on behalf of the board of directors or review committee. So, asking him or her the right questions before submitting a grant proposal can help you increase your likelihood of successfully getting funded.
Here are five key questions to start with:
Question #1: “Are these requirements and deadline correct?”
It’s easy to trust everything you read on the internet. But, in grant writing (and pretty much everything else), it’s best to double check. For instance, sometimes foundations have IRS Form 990s (Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax) posted on their websites that are multiple years old.
So, when speaking with a grant administrator, ensure that the information you have about the foundation’s required documentation and deadline is correct. You don’t want to spend your time putting together a proposal only to find out that you missed a deadline that changed because an online source wasn’t recently updated.
Question #2: “Does our program/need match your funding priorities this year?”
Even when everything you read online points to a perfect match, it is more reassuring to hear that from a grant administrator. So, ask if you can briefly explain your program or need, and then ask if it sounds as though it is something the board would be interested in funding.
You may not get the definitive response you hope for, but it should help you determine your next steps. As a bonus for asking the question, he or she may also provide you with insights to help you craft your message in the most appealing way.
Question #3: What is your typical gift amount for a first-time requestor?”
An “ask amount” doesn’t have to be a guessing game; there is an art to asking the question.
Instead of saying, “How much should we ask for?” ask for a typical gift amount for a first-time requestor. This will give you a good idea of the organization’s capacity, especially if you’re a first-time requester
Knowing what you may be able to expect from each foundation will help you tailor your request and plan accordingly in the larger scope of your overall need and fundraising efforts.
Question #4: “If we submit a request, when should we expect to hear a response?”
You need the money. You’ve asked for the money. Now, you’re waiting by the phone or inbox to see if it’s heading your way. You could be waiting for months. While that waiting may be normal, what if they don’t respond to every request? Will you ever know if your application has been approved or denied? You can usually follow up, but when is the right time?
Asking their timeline for awards will let you know when you should expect to hear from the organization without spending months anxiously waiting.
Question #5: “Are you available to review our proposal before we formally submit it?”
This can be a long shot, but it’s always worth asking. If the administrator says, yes to a review before submitting a grant proposal, their insider knowledge will be invaluable. Their internal knowledge can help you revise your proposal in a way that will specifically appeal to the board or review committee. The worst that can happen is that the answer will be no, but you won’t know unless you ask.
Like most fundraising initiatives, grant writing requires relationship building with the organization’s grant administrator. Reaching out and connecting with him or her before (and even after) you submit a request can provide you with invaluable data that you may never get from an online search. And that data can change a probable disapproval to a likely approval, now and for future requests.