The Hearing Loss Association of Sacramento recently obtained $15,000 in support from the California Communication Access Foundation (www.communicationsaccess.org) and See-Speech (www.see-speech.com) for a new live captioning project. Over the course of the next year, this project is expected to provide free captioning to people with hearing loss throughout the greater Sacramento region and give the chapter new opportunities to expand their outreach. Sacramento chapter president, Kathleen Bowers (firstname.lastname@example.org), has some experience in obtaining grants. Below are a few thoughts from her on how to get a grant.
Billions of dollars in grants are given away every year, with funds for just about every conceivable kind of project. What’s more, many of these grants are awarded at the local level. If you see a need that you would like to fill, or have an idea for something that doesn’t exist in your community, you may be able to get a grant to make it happen.
Getting a grant may require time and persistence, but the return on investment is most often greater than that for a fundraising event or an appeal letter. Remember: grant-making institutions need you just as much as you need them. They have the financial resources to create programs. You have the ideas, experience and skills needed to identify and solve problems in your community. Find the right grantmaker, and the result will be a dynamic partnership. Interested in learning more? Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Review your public presence before you start. Unless your group is new, grantmakers will expect to see an attractive, well-organized web site as well as additional information about you on other web sites. One easy way to increase your visibility for grantmakers is to create a profile on Guidestar, a site that funders frequently use to gather information on nonprofit groups (http://www2.guidestar.org).
- Envision a fundable project. The most fundable projects are typically those that A.) most obviously make a major difference – in situations, communities, and lives, and B.) are a good match with the goals of prospective grantmakers.
- Think in terms of unaddressed needs and unresolved problems. Do you have a clear picture of your project’s goals? Are these goals connected to needs not already addressed by other organizations? Grantmakers will want answers to these questions, so you should be asking yourself these questions from the start.
- Get validation. In general, grantmakers will want to see some external validation for your group and your proposal. Partners, sponsors, matching funds, and statistical evidence are all forms of external validation. To obtain external validation, you may want to meet with other community organizers and experts. Explore ways that they might support you – anything from a testimonial to a financial donation or some form of partnership. Some groups have found it helpful to meet with public officials to solicit their support as well. Another way to get external validation is to conduct a survey to assess the need for the project, so that you can report your findings to the grantmaker. (A great resource for surveys is www.surveymonkey.com.)
- Touch base with the HLAA national office. Elizabeth LeBarron reports that she and Brenda Battat are happy to talk with you about your prospective grant-writing projects. Consider the national HLAA office a good resource. Over the years, they have had direct contact with many grantmakers, and have collected information on many more.
- Research grant-making institutions to find the best funding opportunities for your project. There are three main sources of grants: 1.) government agencies, 2.) private foundations, and 3.) corporations. Remember that these entities have their own goals! Your research should focus on trying to find a good match between your project goals and a grantmaker’s interests. Researching government grants can take some legwork. Often, Federal grants are given to states and counties who then divide the funds into smaller grants for local non-profit organizations. With some persistence, you can track them down by starting at the Federal or state level. One of the best sources of information on Federal grantmakers is the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA), which you can find online at http://www.cfda.gov>. Also try www.nonprofit.gov.
Finding private foundations and grant-making corporations is fairly easy, thanks to the Foundation Center, located online at http://www.foundationcenter.org.
Note that many grantmakers will require your group to either have your own 501(c)(3) (or other charitable or association status) or apply under the umbrella of another organization. If you don’t have your own tax-exempt status, don’t give up – talk with the particular grantmaker, as well as the HLAA state and national representatives, to get their recommendations on how to proceed.
- Once you have identified them, contact your best grant-making prospects –by phone or in person if possible. Ask for their application materials and the date of the next application deadline. But don’t stop there. Also ask about their current funding priorities and even for advice on how your project idea matches their funding objectives. This will help you better tailor your grant proposal to get the funding you’re seeking.
- Write the proposal. Government proposal procedures are usually clearly spelled out in written form. However, many government agencies also provide public forums where grant-seekers can bring their questions. These meetings are often well worth attending. Private foundations often allow for more flexibility in the grant-writing process. But all proposals are expected to contain the same basic elements in some form:
- The Problem that you have recognized and are prepared to address.
- The Solution – your project! Include what will take place; how many people will benefit; and how, when and where it will happen.
- Funds required for the project, including your plans for raising funds beyond what is asked for from this particular grantmaker.
- Your expertise, including the purpose and activities of your organization, its capacity to successfully carry out this proposal.
Ready, set… Brainstorm ideas for projects. Look around your community to find out where other nonprofit groups are getting their grants. And begin building relationships with people who have experience with grants in your community. They are among your best sources of information, and they can often be helpful advocates as well.