The Precarious World of Grants: How To Secure Funding in Uncertain Times

Written By: Aaliyah S. Ogletree


Wow! So you want to get a grant right? Are you sure you are ready for it? If not, no worries, this article will guide you through the nuances of securing the grants that you really need from a holistic perspective as it is a crucial component in achieving your goals. For the most part, even if you lack grant writing skills or if you are a Grant Writer it can be very daunting to pursue funding, especially in this social, political, and economic climate.

In addition, an alarming trend that is on the rise is fraud in the philanthropic sector, which has contributed to even more stringent requirements and conditions in grant funding; thus increased competition. From a psychological standpoint, there is a challenge that a great number of us deal with and that is the fear of rejection when approaching possible funding sources. It’s intimidating to ask a stranger “Hey, I know we don’t know each other, but can you give me $100,000?”  Fear of rejection also sometimes leads to procrastination of writing the grant and engaging in the grant process. The fear of soliciting funders is understandable, but we need to overcome fear and gain the confidence needed in order to secure support, especially if you want and need major gifts.  Yes, the fear of it all, we must confront it in order to be successful in anything we do in life.

Lastly, another challenge is time. Due to the fiscal health of the nation, individuals and charitable organizations are working with limited budgets. This problem constricts the amount of manpower to assist in the grant process. Losing an opportunity for potential funding because you missed the deadline or because your grant proposal was rushed and you didn’t effectively communicate your need for support can be very sobering, discouraging, and often leads to guilty feelings.

As you can see, all of these complexities create a recipe for an uncertain and competitive playing field for obtaining philanthropic giving. This article discusses the challenges that you will face and the vital foundational tools that you need to set into place before attempting to pursue grant funding and strategies needed once you start the grant process(grant life cycle). Considering these strategies and challenges will allow you to sow seeds for long-term success.

The Challenges You Will Face

  • Fear
  • Competition
  • Creating Effective Strategies to Secure Funding
  • Time  & Pressure

 What You Will Need To Do To Overcome Challenges

 Erase Fear

  • Education Is Key– Know what you are talking about. It’s important to know your cause and project inside out. Know why you are asking for funding. Increase your knowledge of the grant and donor process as well as how to write grants effectively. Learn everything you can about the potential funding source. Once you are educated your fear will lessen or completely evaporate either way it will allow you to gain the confidence you need in order to compete for funding. Remember knowing is half the battle.
  • Focus on the Mission– As the old saying goes “Keep Your Eye on the Prize.” Easier said than done sometimes, trust me I know. However, you must focus on the mission at all times as it serves its purpose to motivate you to keep going in order to gain the support you need for your cause even in the midst of adversity and rejection. Focusing on the mission puts it all into perspective and helps you remember why you are seeking funding in the first place. It’s not about you, it is about the cause. View yourself as a facilitator giving a potential funding resource the opportunity to meet a worthy need, which is essentially tied to your mission.
  • Facing Rejection-Know and accept the fact that there is a possibility that your   proposal will be rejected at some point. The hard truth is that you may have to hear ninety-nine no’s before you get to that one yes. You must put it all in proper perspective and possess a healthy disposition towards rejection because it allows you the opportunity to learn from those experiences and to realize that there are other funding opportunities available and it is not the end of the world. Rejection challenges you to find out constructively what you need to do in order to enhance your proposal and/or your approach. It can also strengthen your resolve to achieve your goals if you view it in a positive mindset. Opposition is really a disguised opportunity to get better, stronger, and ultimately leads you to victory if you don’t give up.
  • Preparation Is Key– Allowing enough time to prepare for grant proposals is key to effective time management in the grant process. You must be ready in order to receive it. It is as simple as that. The more prepared you are the more efficiently you can streamline the grant process; thus eliminating rushed proposals sent to potential funders because of a looming deadline. Believe me they notice and it could be one of the top reasons your proposal is denied even though the need matches their purposes.
  • Seek Assistance-It’s okay to ask for help or seek additional assistance. Everyone needs it. What if we don’t have enough money in the budget to fund professional development opportunities or to pay for a consultant? Get resourceful. Reach out to your board; reach out to colleagues in the field, seek free resources online, post an ad online , apply scholarships to attend conferences, buy books, the list goes on. Another idea is to contact a potential funder and establish a rapport and tell them what you are trying to fund and ask if it meets their purposes and what type of candidate do they usually fund. Step out there…Seek and You Shall Find!

Think Strategically

  • Create Effective Strategies– This is two-fold. The first step you should take is to create succinct, effective, and strategic short term and long term goals and strategies that serve to sustain your projects, programs, and/or organization as a whole. Evaluate what you have in place carefully.  Potential grantors want to be confident that you can handle the funding that you are seeking. They want to make sure that whatever initiative you are requesting support for is feasible and that you know how to make it come to fruition despite the fact that you lack funding. Having a strong foundation for your initiatives in place will allow you to write a strong proposal, which is the key to getting grant funding. The second step that I recommend is that once you determine that you have a strong proposal, then you should begin to create a strategic grant process plan. How many grants per month or year do you want to submit or think is feasible to apply to, how will you manage and streamline the information, how will you delegate duties for different components of the grant cycle and so on. Applying these suggested activities is essential to success in securing funding and managing funding resources in a highly organizational and efficient manner, thus lessening stress, pressure, and utter bewilderment.
  • Communicate Needs Effectively – You could have a great need and a great project, but if you can’t express it concisely and effectively then your results will most definitely be dismal. That is why I mentioned previously in the article that you need to be able to have clearly stated goals, objectives, and outcomes for your initiatives set in place because by doing so you will be able to effectively communicate your needs in the proposal and demonstrate that your project is well planned. Missing the mark in clearly expressing the need in proposals is one of the top reasons why a proposal is rejected for funding.
  • Conduct Strategic & Targeted Prospect Research– Do your due diligence in conducting prospect research. Align your project or purposes to the funder’s purposes. I can’t tell you how many times proposals have been declined for funding and the amount of time wasted on submitting proposals to grantors that are not in alignment. Do your due diligence and align your research to funders that are most likely to grant funding to support your cause. This is not the lotto. You must be strategic even in your research and how you will conduct your research. If you don’t know, then may I suggest that you learn all that you can about prospect research and how to maximize results through strategic research.

Work Smart

  • Be Highly Organizational & Detailed Oriented– Being highly organizational and detailed oriented gives you that competitive edge. It also helps with time management and allows you to be efficient with the grant life cycle. Why waste your time when you probably work in a dual capacity anyway?

Change Your Mindset

  • Practice Fortitude– Pace yourself and understand that the grant process takes time. Keep reminding yourself that it takes time when conducting quality work even if management is pressuring you. Know that if you do all that you can do on your end and you do your best, especially by taking heed to the recommendations in this article, that over the course of time you will get the grant that you need if you don’t give up. It will be worth it when the fruits of your labor come to fruition and you’re able to serve the community in which you serve. There is nothing better than making a difference in the world.
  • Engage in Healthy Competition– Yes, technically you are competing with other people and organizations in securing grant funding from the potential funder’s perspective. However, when competing for grant funding or for anything really it is best to view it as a challenge to compete with yourself. What do I mean by that? Challenge yourself and/or your organization to do its best and to be its best without the need to see what others are doing. Acknowledge that other entities who are doing great things are doing great things, but don’t let that be a motivation to “outdo” or “one up” them instead be inspired and allow creativity to flow for your project or goals in order for you to do great things. I believe that what I have described is healthy competition because if you don’t practice healthy competition, especially in this competitive playing field it can lead to you losing focus, insecurities, pressure to measure up, and for some people ethics can be compromised. You will always win when you play the game right, do your best, and maintain confidence in what you are doing. You can’t lose, so really on a mental level you will say “What Competition?”
  • Stay Positive– Need I say more?

In conclusion, I hope this article has helped you because it has certainly helped me over the years. Happy hunting and much success!


5 Nonprofit Trends to Watch in 2014

Great article written by Nell Edgington. Take a Gander  & Enjoy!

Among other obvious things, December is a time for reflection on the past year and predictions for the coming year. There have already been some great forecasts about what 2014 will bring the social change sector (herehere, and here). And as is my tradition, I want to add my thoughts about the trends to watch in the coming year. (If you want to see how I did in past years, you can read my nonprofit trends posts for 2011, 2012 and 2013.)

Here’s what I think we should watch for in 2014:

Growing Wealth Disparity-Evidence increasingly reveals that despite our best efforts the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, not shrinking. This growing disparity means that the work nonprofits do to address the ramifications of these inequities is in growing demand. The problems are simply too big and getting bigger every minute. At the same time government resources are shrinking so the greater burden for solutions is increasingly placed on the shoulders of the nonprofit sector. As problems get worse and money gets tighter the social change sector will take center stage.

Greater Nonprofit Sector Confidence-As the nonprofit sector is asked to do more and more, nonprofits will no longer be a “nice to have” but an absolute essential component of any way forward. We will move squarely away from the idea of “charity” and toward an economy and a mindset that fully integrates the social. No longer sidelined as a small piece of the pie, the nonprofit sector will be recognized for the undeniable and pivotal role it plays in our economy, our institutions, our systems. As such, the nonprofit sector will stop apologizing for the resources it needs to do the job. The sector will rise up and take its rightful place as a critical force in shaping a sustainable future.

Increased Movement Toward High Performance-As resources become tighter and we look to the nonprofit sector to solve mounting problems, public and private funders will increasingly want to see the return on their investments. And that can only be done by understanding what results a nonprofit is achieving. The growing push this year away from financial metrics and toward outcome metrics will continue to grow. Nonprofits will have to learn not only how to articulate the outcomes they are working toward, but more importantly, how to manage their operations towards those outcomes.

More Capacity Investments-And if we are going to get smarter about achieving results in the social change space, more donors will start to recognize that they have to build the capacity of that space. There is no end to the list of capacity-building needs of the sector.  From investing in more sustainable financial engines, to funding evaluation and performance management systems, to financing nonprofit leader coaching, philanthropists will increasingly recognize that if we are going to expect more from the nonprofit sector we must make sure they have the tools to do the job. A handful of savvy foundations and individual donors have already made capacity investments, and as those investments pay off, more donors will follow suit.

Accelerated Effort to Enlarge the 2% Pie-For the past four decades private contributions to the nonprofit sector have not risen above 2% of the U.S. gross domestic product. In recent years there have been attempts to grow that pie. And the big question whenever a new funding vehicle enters the space (like crowdfunding most recently) is whether it will be the magic bullet to shatter that glass ceiling. But we are not there yet. As social challenges continue to grow, the wealth gap continues to widen, and a new generation of donors comes of age, there will be increasing pressure to channel more money (not just the same money through a new vehicle) toward social change.

Photo Credit: John William Waterhouse


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