One of the greatest parts of membership in the Grants Professionals Association (GPA) is learning from colleagues around the nation. Recently our GPA LinkedIn group debated a question I get asked all of the time: “How does my new organization get its first grant?”
What’s most important about this question isn’t so much the answer as it is the misconception it implies: the grant funding should be a new organization’s first priority in fundraising.
The response by my fellow fundraiser Brandy Moriah Wicker, Chief Development Officer at
Cancer Care Services, underscores why counting on grants at the beginning of an organization’s life cycle is risky business at best:
“Grants are not generally a good source for startups,” she explains. “A handful of foundations provide seed money, but for the most part, you need a track record before you can get grant funding. A more fruitful early strategy for new organizations is hosting intimate fundraising events that will grow your individual supporters. Think of fun, creative themes and formats that will raise awareness and dollars.”
As Brandy advises, individuals are key to getting new organizations off the ground. By building a base of core supporters, your organization can begin to establish a fundraising track record, demonstrate success, and create a reputation in the community you serve.
From there, you can move on to these fundraising strategies recommended by Jeffrey Prottas, CFRE, founder and managing partner of Nonprofit-360 Consulting, LLC:
“Grant seeking is a smart strategy once an organization shows it can recruit support for its general mission. Foundations can provide the funding to launch great ideas and new programs. Of course,” he points out, “it takes a lot to be ready to put together a strong proposal.”
Jeffrey is right. In fact the first critical step in creating a stand-out proposal happens well before you put pen to paper. Competition for grants is fierce. Typically, no matter how persuasive your writing, foundations will not fund a request if there is no prior relationship and they have zero awareness of your organization.
Begin by making contact. Introduce yourself and your organization. Go meet the program officers, ask questions, and build rapport. This way, your proposal to the foundation won’t be cold—and you may glean terrific insights that will give you an edge in the process.
Then once you’ve established these relationships with the usual suspect funders in your area, start to broaden your net with some research. Visit the Foundation Center or bring in some outside funding research expertise.
I like the suggestion made by Kimberley Lee, Vice President of Advancement at Square One, to mix “typical” research with less conventional methods: “Try a ‘windshield survey’ of the Wal-Marts, K-marts, Home Depots, Petcos, and other major stores in your area,” she says. “Many of these corporations have foundation arms that make grants at local and national levels. Introduce yourself and the important work you are doing in the community.” The manager of your local CVS might be a helpful contact for leveraging grant support.
Bottom line is that grant fundraising for new organizations is not as straightforward as many people think. It is best to trust the experts on this one—I couldn’t have said it better myself!
For more information about how to find a grant expert near you, contact the
Foundation Center or Grants Professionals Association, which both maintain lists of consultants with a range of expertise in fundraising and grant seeking.