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federal grants, grants

10 things you need to know about federal government grants

Federal grants are defined as awards given and/or sponsored by the US government. Examples of federal funding agencies include the National Science Foundation (NSF), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Here are 10 things you need to know about federal government grants:

  1. Federal grants are the big leagues. If this is your first grant application, federal grants are likely not your best first step.
  2. Federal grants are highly competitive. Typically less than 15% of applicants are awarded funds.
  3. Federal grants are often the most valuable. It is not uncommon for grants to be upwards of $250,000 or more. Many startups see these lofty award amounts (listed on the solicitation pages) and dream big! But with much money comes much responsibility ūüôā
  4. Often federal grants are awarded to larger, well-established organizations, especially those with high award amounts.
  5. An increasingly popular trend is partnerships. Groups of nonprofit and for-profit organizations are gathering together towards federal proposals. This is a smart move. Funders like the reputation and proven track record of the larger organization, coupled with the innovation and creativity of smaller, scappier organizations.
  6. Use grants.gov to quickly and (relatively) easily find available federal grants from every agency, all in one place. Watch my video to see how easy it is.
  7. Federal grants come with many strings attached. If successful, be prepared to devote significant time (and money) towards reporting, research, and evaluation measures required by the grant.
  8. Read the opportunity solicitation at least three times before you write a single word. The first time is to get a general idea of what the opportunity is, and what they are looking for. The second time is to look for how you fit in, and  the third time is to understand the main components and requirements.
  9. After reading through (usually 50+ pages), create an outline to ensure you address all the requirements.
  10. If a contact person is listed, don’t be afraid to ask questions! I have found these individuals to be very helpful and responsive in providing clarification and assisting with navigation. Just keep in mind that they cannot tell you anything that they have not told everyone else. Look for names and/or emails within the program solicitation. They are not always the easiest to find. For example, NSF calls these people ‘cognizant program officers’.

 

Good luck in your federal grant endeavors! If you need any help along the way, please get in touch at ashley@greatergoodconsultantsCT.com

 

grants, nonprofit development, startup nonprofits, writing

Top 3 Do’s and Don’ts of grant writing

People ask me all the time, “What is the secret to grant writing?”

The truth is, there is no secret! The difference between winning and losing proposals are pretty simple, and here are the top three:

Winning proposals…

1.Answer all the questions!: Writing a successful grant application is actually more of an exercise in careful reading rather than writing, as the number one reason grant applications are not funded is for failure to answer all of the questions adequately and appropriately.

2. Use data: Don’t just say you do something, or prove it! Use data rather than fluffy language to convey the impacts and successes of your program, as well as justify the need.

3. Follow the rules:¬†If the grant guidelines say to use 12-point font Times New Roman, use¬†12-point font Times New Roman. If only PDFs are allowed, submit PDFs. If their maximum award amount is $10,000, don’t request more than $12,000. This really comes back to number one above – read carefully to ensure you have done everything the funder says, exactly as they want it. And be sure to also follow the rules of proper writing, grammar, and citations. NO typos!

While seemingly simple, following these three rules will help ensure that your grant application does not go directly to the ‘no’ pile. From there, funders will have the opportunity to read about your innovative ideas, and see how valuable your work is!

 

grants, nonprofit development

Submitting an online grant application? Read this first

Submitting an online grant application-

 

It is Thursday night at 11:50pm. You are furiously uploading all the required documents into a funder’s online grant system to submit by 11:59pm – the deadline. Suddenly your cat jumps up on the desktop to come sit in your lap, but turns off your computer with his paw on the way up. You frantically turn the computer back on, begging it – “Come on, please still be there, please still be there!”

CRAP!

Only the first part of a 15 part application was autosaved. It is now 11:56pm. There is no way you will be able to upload everything in the next three minutes. You give up and go to bed, possibly shedding a tear along the way. Over 20 hours of work in the past month – for nothing! Your only consolation is that there will be another opportunity to submit this application…next year.

The truth is that this is not an uncommon story. Not only is it more stressful to be submitting a grant application close to the deadline, there are more reasons to avoid this common pitfall:

  1. TIMESTAMPS

Oftentimes funders print out grant applications submitted online so each Board member gets a copy. Online grant systems often print a cover page, and the very first item on this cover page is typically a timestamp. So say your cat did not jump up and you were able to submit by 11:58pm. The very first thing funders will see is that you submitted one minute before the deadline. If you can’t get your act together enough to submit early, can you really be trusted with a $1 million grant, as you were requesting? Not to say that submitting close to the deadline would completely count you out, but in today’s extremely competitive grant cycles, there is absolutely no room for anything less than perfection. Funders are inundated with grant applications, and they need something to thin the crowd. Seeing that you submitted very close to the deadline would be an easy way to go directly to the no pile before they even read a word.

2. OTHER PROCRASTINATORS

When there are lots of people (procrastinators!) on a website at one time, especially when it comes to grant application systems, those systems sometimes fail. Don’t take the chance – get in the system when it is calm to avoid any issues. I always recommend that clients submit at least two days before the deadline.

3. SYSTEM INCOMPATIBILITIES

Sometimes it takes doing it to realize if something is not going to work. For example, in one grant application system they required PDF documents only, when I had created Word docs. Luckily I had plenty of time to convert all the files and upload them, as there were still a few days to go. But had it been 11:50pm on the deadline date, I would not have had time for this simple fix. I have also heard of browser incompatibilities, difficulties copy/pasting into the application boxes, and the list goes on. By getting in there early, you will be able to address any incompatibilities well before the deadline.

4. RUSHING = SLOPPINESS

You never produce your best work when you are rushed. You make typos, don’t answer the question fully, repeat yourself, and other major grant writing no no’s. By planning to finish your grant writing and application a week before the deadline, you save time to come back to it in a day or two with fresh eyes to ensure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Again, there is no room for error, so your narrative and all associated documents must be perfect.

 

While it is true that some people cannot complete work unless a hard deadline is looming, massive amounts of stress, anxiety, and eventual heartache can easily be avoided with some simple planning when it comes to grant deadlines. As they say, those who fail to plan can plan to fail! Stay tuned for my next post where I will explain how to make a simple plan and never miss a grant deadline again!

grants, nonprofit development, startup nonprofits

Can a grant pay for salaries?

Can a grant pay for salaries?

It is a question I get a lot, and like most things in the world of grants, the answer is….

it depends.

Here are some scenarios of when it is possible to fund employee salaries with grants, and when getting a grant to pay for salaries is simply not realistic:

You could PERHAPS get a grant to pay for an employee salary if…

  • You have been invited to submit a proposal by the funder. This means they know you, are familiar with your work, and want to support you.
  • The RFP (request for proposals) or grant opportunity description says the funds can be used for salaries.
  • The grant offers ‘operational support’. This is the gold standard of grants, as is it can be used at your discretion to support organizational needs, including staff member salaries.
  • You have at least five years of existence as a registered 501(c)3 organization
  • You have consistently delivered well-established programs with measurable, positive impacts on your constituents. The salary would help you do something bigger, better, or keep it going strong.
  • You have existing income streams to support the other costs of your organization. Funders do NOT want to support your organization, particularly when it comes to personnel.

You likely WILL NOT get a grant to pay for an employee salary if…

  • You are a start-up organization (especially within your first three years).
  • The grant is intended for program support (although sometimes salaries can be included as part of the overall program).
  • You have no data to prove that your program works and imparts positive impacts on those whom you serve.
  • You rely heavily on grants (over 30% of your operating budget).

While there are no hard rules, these are my general observations of what I have seen when it comes to successful requests for salaries….and unsuccessful requests.

Do not make a salary request your first grant request

It is my recommendation not to request funds to support salary expenses at all within the start-up period (the first five years). If you are a new organization just starting out, request funds to support a specific program, and ensure nearly 100% of the funds go directly to programmatic costs. Do as much as you can with volunteers and your Board of Directors for the first five years, then when you have proven results and a successful program, consider a salary request.

 

 

grant research, grants and opportunities, startup nonprofits, STEM education

Get a grant in 5 easy steps

While perpetually busy, summer is a time when educators and busy nonprofit directors can find time to step back for a moment and reflect upon the year thus far. We are half way through 2017 – how is the year going? Are you programs or curriculum well defined? Do you have a clear focus on what you want to do? Do you have a plan? If you answered yes to these questions, add applying for a grant to your summer to do list! Here is how to get a grant in five easy steps:

Step 1:

Clearly identify what you are doing. You should be able to articulate what your mission is, who your target audience is, what makes you/your idea/your program stand out from the crowd, and what makes you well-qualified.

Step 2:

Define what you want to do. You should be able to articulate all aspects of your idea, new program, etc. What is it exactly? How many will you serve? What will your process be? What are the desired outcomes? What materials, time, space, etc. will you need? How will results be measured?

Step 3:

Research for grants that match. This is potentially the most challenging (and time consuming) step. It is not necessarily difficult, but is often a matter of weeding through many poor fits to find a few of the best matches. Use a grant research database to simplify the process. To find the best matches, look for organizations in your town, county, and state whose mission most closely aligns with yours. Click here to download a free e-book containing the best grant research tips, tricks, and free databases to get started.

Step 4:

Prioritize. When you do get a good research list together with several viable prospects, prioritize your list. Start with grants that have approaching deadlines, those that require the least expense of time (LOIs rather than proposals), or ones where you and/or your school may already have connections.

Step 5:

Apply!¬†Write your LOIs and proposals in exact accordance with the funder’s stated expectations. Include what they say, in the order they say it – and NO typos! ūüôā There is no ‘special trick’ to grant writing.¬†The key in writing an effective grant application or letter of intent (LOI) is to present a compelling case, backed by concrete evidence.

 

And that’s it! Five simple steps to getting a grant! While the process itself is not overly challenging, it can take quite a bit of time. Set a goal to do one step a week – breaking the process down into small steps makes it more manageable, and ensures the process will be done by the end of the summer! Now get out there and get a grant!

grant research, nonprofit development, startup nonprofits

FREE resources for grant research

Is applying for a grant on your summer bucket list? If so, check out these FREE resources to help you get started!

Once you have a well-defined plan, grant research is often the first step in the grants process. It can be a very time consuming process, but it is imperative to find the right funding fits. Not only is sending out random requests a waste of time, it can also damage your reputation in the (small) world of philanthropic giving. So how do you find the best fits? Here are some FREE resources to find grants:

READ

Finding Grant Funding, for Free! (download e-book)

Learn how the grant research process works, and how to find the best fits for you. Also includes top suggestions for FREE grant research tools to streamline the process.

WATCH

How to search for grants using grants.gov

Grants.gov is your one-stop-shop for every grant that exists from the federal government. Using grants.gov can seem intimidating at first, but the process is quite simple once you know where to look!

Using twitter to find grants

Twitter is like duct-tape – a million uses and counting! Watch this quick video to see how to use Twitter hashtags and search box to find grant opportunities.

DO

Grant research template spreadsheet

Stay organized with this simple Excel spreadsheet. Includes funder name, website, award amount, approach, deadline, focus areas, and notes. Everything you need to keep your research list organized, ensuring you don’t forget any important information!

 

At Greater Good Consultants, we are firm believers in individual capacity building. Thus, we provide these free resources to help you develop your innate talents and abilities to propel your organization to new and exciting places. All these resources have been created by GGC staff, and are free and available for download and use to promote the greater good within individual nonprofit organizations. Good luck!

 

 

grants and opportunities, nonprofit development, startup nonprofits

Start up nonprofit survival: without these three things your nonprofit will die

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States. As the number of nonprofit organizations continues to grow each year, competition for available funds – whether individual donors, business sponsors, or grants – has become fierce. With limited funds, ambitious Founders and Executive Directors often support their start-up nonprofit organization through massive outpourings of time and money. However, this method quickly becomes unsustainable, and the nonprofit fails once personal resources are maxed out.

The key to success in a start-up nonprofit is to have a strategic plan to guide and organize the organization. Here are the three essential parts of a nonprofit strategic plan:

  1. Strong Board:¬†The importance of a strong Board of Directors is often overlooked, but is critical to organizational success. Simply having board members is not enough. You need to have active, engaged, well respected board members that add value to your organization and help you do the heavy lifting. Especially in a start-up nonprofit’s early days, good board members will help you spread the word, activate their networks, and drive engagement. Board members should also assist in the daily and administrative tasks that can quickly overwhelm and consume a nonprofit executive director. Nonprofit board members can also give your fledgling organization credibility within the community, and with funders. Consider asking well-regarded members of your community to serve as a member of your board. Elected officials, faith leaders, community activists – try to get as many people on your nonprofit Board of Directors as possible. Not only will this help spread the message throughout your community, but it will also add credibility for your organization especially as it starting out.
  2. Data Collection and Evaluation Plan:¬†You have an eloquent proposal, an innovative program, and an established reputation, but you are coming up short in your grant requests. Why?¬†You need DATA.¬†As the competition for available grants continues to increase, it is essential to prove your organization’s success to potential funders. Get the proven, measurable results you need to enhance your proposals through a well-defined research and evaluation plan. You know you are doing great work, but that is not enough. You must collect multiple forms of data, then use it to prove to the world just how great it truly is.
  3. Sustainability Plan:When planning for your budget and operational costs, it is imperative to devise a sustainability plan. Your nonprofit MUST earn its own income. At a minimum, 75% of your projected revenue should come from earned income streams such as contracts, merchandise purchases, fees for service, etc., as well as individual donors. Grants should be used to scale something that is already working well – NOT something to help you get off the ground. Nonprofits that rely on grant funding, particularly those that are smaller, just starting out, and with no proven track record often fumble and struggle to make it through the first year. Sadly, many fail within the first few months.

Without a well developed strategic plan that includes a strong Board of Directors, research and evaluation plan, and a sustainability strategy, your nonprofit will struggle to survive. Unfortunately, over 98% of all US nonprofit applications are approved. A well-defined, sustainable strategic plan is hardly part of this process! But if you really want to make it in the nonprofit world, these are the three essential components that must be part of your nonprofit strategic plan. Is is quick and easy? Absolutely not! But it will position your nonprofit for success, while many around you flounder.

nonprofit development, writing

Make it or break it mission statements: How to write a powerful nonprofit mission statement 

According to Google, a mission statement is “a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual.” Every single grant application or proposal that I have ever encountered asks for your organization’s mission statement, most often as the very first question. In a nonprofit mission statement, you are essentially boiling down the crux of what you do and who you serve into one powerful sentence.¬†Here’s how to write¬†a nonprofit mission statement that funders will love in three easy steps:

1. Summarize WHAT you do
2. Define WHO you serve
3. Hint at WHY it is important

The crux of your organization should be immediately apparent in one clear and concise sentence. Here is an example of my mission statement from a STEM education project that I recently launched:
CareerInSTEM develops the next generation of STEM leaders and innovators through engaging resources and training for students, parents, and educators.

This mission statement combines all three of the above steps. Here’s how:

1. Summarize WHAT you do: engaging resources and training
2. Define WHO you serve: students, parents, and educators
3. Hint at WHY it is important: develops the next generation of STEM leaders and innovators

The trick is to combine all three into a short yet descriptive sentence. When you have a draft of your mission statement ready, ask yourself these questions:
a. Would anyone be able to read this sentence and have a clear idea of what the organization is about?
b. Is this sentence compelling?
c. Would someone want to learn more after reading this?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions,¬†go back to the drawing (or writing…) board and keep trying! Once they are all ‘yes’ to you, go out and ask at least five people the same questions. When you encounter a ‘no’, ask for their honest feedback and use it to make your mission statement better. Anyone is fair game – people on the street, subway passengers, friends, family, even via online survey. In fact, strangers are often ideal sounding boards, as they are truly objective and can provide clear insights that people close to you may not be able to provide.

Here are a few examples:

BREAK IT: We are changing lives through education.
MAKE IT: X Nonprofit equips single mothers in New York City with the job-specific skills they need to achieve financial stability.
Tips: Never use pronouns. Do not use words that end in -ing. Do not be vague. For example, ‘education’ can be lots of different things. Specifically state what you offer. Read more simple writing fixes here.

BREAK IT: X Nonprofit provides drug prevention education programs to at-risk youth in Colorado.
MAKE IT: The mission of X Foundation is to provide transformative educational experiences that result in resilient, confident, drug-free youth.
Tips: This break it was close – it states what the organization does and who they serve. But it did not hint at why it is important. This is the factor that really makes or breaks a mission statement.

Using these three steps, you will be well on your way towards crafting a compelling mission statement that funders will love!
grants and opportunities, nonprofit development

When grants are NOT the answer: straight talk on funding for start-up nonprofits

In a previous post, I wrote about that fact that you cannot rely on grant funding alone to support your nonprofit. In fact, grant funding should represent a relatively small percentage of your overall income.

Nonprofits that rely on grant funding, particularly those that are smaller, just starting out, and with no proven track record often fumble and struggle to make it through the first year. Sadly, many fail within the first few months. So what is a start-up nonprofit to do?

As promised, here are my recommendations when it comes to funding your small start-up nonprofit:

  1. Partner with existing, larger, well-established nonprofits within your field. Start small by joining forces with a larger local organization to offer a new program, collaborate for an event, or run a mutual marketing campaign. In partnering with a larger, well-established organization, you will begin to nurture a positive trusting relationship, and with the ultimate intent to apply for grants in conjunction with this larger organization. When first starting out, this is the easiest and most cost-effective way to make a name for yourself within your community, earn trust of stakeholders in your field, and have a responsible and experienced partner for potential grants.
  2. Seek community based donations before you ever seek your first grant. Many start-up nonprofits that contact me at Greater Good Consultants LLC immediately want to jump right into foundation, corporate, and even federal grants. While these are noble goals, they are not my suggested course action within the first year. Rather, I recommend establishing yourself within your local community first and foremost. For example, perhaps your local grocery store is eager to donate snacks for your after school program. Maybe the nearby pharmaceutical company has company volunteers that would love to come do a workshop with your students. Sometimes local community members might even offer you a cash donation Рyou never know until you try! Stay tuned for my tips on how to write a simple letter to prospective community partners.
  3. Start small and local. Why? Those closest to you are those most likely to fund you. You have shared interests, you work with the same people, you had the same problems, and you are all working towards the same solutions. Plus, starting within your community will help you gain a reputation, make connections, establish trusting relationships, as well as help you on your way to developing a proven track record with stewarding donated funds.

Those closest to you are those most likely to fund you.

Oftentimes, grants are NOT the answer. By trying these three suggestions, you will be well on your way to establishing the reputation, track-record, and internal capacity you need to apply for and win your first grant. Want more advice? I am always happy to connect! Shoot me an email at ashley@greatergoodconsultantsCT.com.

grants and opportunities, nonprofit development

What percentage of your nonprofit budget should be supported by grants?

What percentage of your nonprofit budget should be supported by grants? Unfortunately the answer is not as high as you likely thought it would be. According to the Foundation Center, one of the largest and most reliable resources regarding nonprofit data and information, the answer to this question is less than 20%!

screenshot sources of funding

According to this research, conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, foundation grants accounted for only 15% of total charitable giving in 2014. Thus, your nonprofit budget should reflect these proportions accordingly. Expecting 50% or more of your organization to be supported by grants in most cases is simply unrealistic and not sustainable.

KEY POINT

You cannot rely on grants to support and maintain your nonprofit organization!

In my work at Greater Good Consultants, I receive daily requests from ambitious nonprofit start up founders. They have noble missions, a passionate heart, and dedication to their field. Yet many of them are mistaken in thinking they can use grants to support the entirety of their nonprofit start up. As evidenced above, this is simply not the case.

When starting a nonprofit, it is always my suggestion to clients to not count on any grants! If you can’t get it done out of your own pocket, then don’t do it. When planning for your budget, at a minimum 75% of your projected revenue should come from earned income streams such as contracts, merchandise purchases, fees for service, etc., as well as individual donors. Nonprofits that rely on grant funding, particularly those that are smaller, just starting out, and with no proven track record often fumble and struggle to make it through the first year. Sadly, many fail within the first few months. So what is a start-up nonprofit to do? Stay tuned for my next post, which will feature my top suggestions for funding small start up nonprofits.