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What Funders Want: 5 Tips for a Competitive Grant Application 

Are you a nonprofit planning to seek grant funding for a project? To increase your grantwriting success and get funded sooner, follow these five tips to know what funders want.

Tip #1 – Get Ready

Funders want evidence of a thorough plan that is only in need of funding to get started. 

Before you start a grant search, get a detailed plan in place for your project. Beyond what you are doing and why, grant applications will require a timeline, a budget, a list of partners, and a description of how you will measure the project’s impact. (See more about impact on Tip #3). Ask yourself, how will money be spent? What businesses, contractors and partners will I work with? Get MOU’s, bid or quotes, and design concepts in place.  

Hint: There is always room for the plan to evolve, and agility is a great quality for project success. But right now, in the application stage, you must show a clear outline of how much money you need and how it will be spent.  

Tip #2 – Make a Match 

Funders want your project to match their grantmaking philosophy, program interests, and criteria.  

Many funders identify specific priority issues they fund. Some funders will not fund construction, some only support organizations in a particular geographic region, some, like the Union Pacific Community Ties Giving Program, require that funding benefit communities where they do business. Funders use many types of guidelines to make sure they are meeting their mission. Before starting a grant application, check to see if you meet the funder’s eligibility criteria. 

The best way to do this is to read the funder’s website, thoroughly. Look for funding priorities, objectives, or guidelines. You can also look at the funder’s past awards to determine your chances of catching their attention. Have they supported similar projects in the past?  

Hint: A good question to ask is, can I satisfy the requirements of this grant without sacrificing my project’s goals? If a grant program has you stretching the activities or outcomes of your project to match their guidelines, then it probably isn’t a good match.  

Tip #3 – Communicate Your Impact 

Funders want to know what impact your project made.  

The majority of grant applications include a question similar to this one from Oregon Community Foundation’s Community Grants Program: What will be different for your organization and the community/people you serve at the end of this project?  

You can expect this question to come up again if you are awarded, in the form of required reporting. So, how will you show progress and impact? From the beginning, outline a plan to assess and track your project’s success.  

In most cases, the plan will include data collection. If you have never collected data, you may need to do some searching for available baseline data to use as a comparison. Don’t let this stop you! There are many great resources available, including the U.S. Census Bureau’s Quick Facts, and The Ford Family Foundation’s Oregon By The Numbers.  

Hint: Qualitative data is as important as quantitative data, and both should be used to communicate project impact. Consider hosting focus groups, requesting feedback, or distributing a client survey.   

Tip #4 – Make a Grant Strategy 

Funders want to support projects of value that the community cares about, and that you are invested in seeing through to completion. They assure these points by checking for financial contributions from several sources.  

With that in mind, one funding source probably isn’t going to cover an entire project. Expect to seek funding from several places, including local individual and business donations, in-kind donations, sponsorships, and grants in small and large quantities.  

A grant strategy is the plan that outlines your path to full funding. It takes into consideration each funders’ timeline, grant requirements, and the likelihood of funding. A grant strategy is essential to your project’s success – do not jump into grant funding without one! 

Hint: At Eastern Oregon Business Source we are experts in fundraising and grant strategies! We can help you create an effective grant strategy, as well as coach you through the entire grants process. Give us a call at 541-215-9252.    

Tip #5 – Start Early, and Take It Slow 

Funders want you to follow their grant cycles and deadlines. This is true of most funders, although some, such as The Ford Family Foundation, accept applications at any time.  

Whether you’re under the funder’s timeline or not, give yourself time to write a well thought out application, be prepared to supply additional information beyond the grant narrative, and allow time for technical surprises.  

Most grants are submitted through the funder’s online grants portal and require a password or credentials. Many require you to upload paperwork such as a proof of your 501c3 status, organizational financials, or a list of board members with bios. These details take time! Log into the grants portal early, and work on the application in increments instead of in one sitting.  

It’s also good to be aware that once your application is submitted, the timeline is in the hands of the funder. The grant process, from application submission to award notification, can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months. Organizations should plan for at least a year to complete a grant strategy, secure full funding, and be ready to move forward with the project.    

Hint: Copy and paste the application questions into a word document and edit your responses there instead of directly in the online application. Pay attention to word or character limits. 

At EOBS, we help nonprofits of all sizes to prepare for successful grant writing. We’ve found these tips help make the process easier, and ultimately increase the success for nonprofits. Use these every time you jump into a project!

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