To be successful at foundation fundraising, you have no choice but to commit for the long haul. Just like running 26.2 miles, grantwriting is not a game for dabblers.
We often hear nonprofit leaders say, “we tried grantwriting, but it didn’t work.” We hear stories of freelance grantwriters or summer interns doing a concentrated blast of grant submissions only to yield a barrage of decline letters. Then they get blamed, often unfairly, for writing a poor proposal or submitting to the wrong places.
Here’s the thing. You have to get in the game. And you have to stay there.
Your odds of being declined for a first-time grant submission are far higher than your odds of receiving a grant.
Foundations are routinely asked for more money than they have to give away. As much as ten times or more! I’ve been on foundation boards and it can be miserable because for every grant request to which you’re saying “yes,” there are nine you must decline, even though you may be really impressed with their work. Truly, it’s heartbreaking.
Every foundation works differently, but in general the grant requests that take priority are these:
Agencies with which the foundation already has a relationship.
Once invested, foundations want to see the work blossom and this often means a long-term relationship. There are foundations that “roll over” their grantmaking by requiring nonprofits to submit only periodically or to take a year off now and then, but for the most part, foundations really prefer to have lasting and meaningful partnerships with their grantees.
Agencies that are recommended by board members, trusted advisors or other influencers.
Of course! This is the way the world works. Few foundations want to take undue risk so it makes sense that they’d give preference to places that have been vetted in some way.
Agencies that have been declined in previous years and that the foundation board and staff really wished they could have funded.
This is where staying in line really makes sense. If you’ve submitted before and they declined you, they might be hoping to see you on the docket again when they have the funds to take on a new grantee.
Agencies that are presenting something so amazing and outstanding that the foundation board is willing to set aside their other priorities.
By this, I mean they are willing to decline a grantee they already know and love, ignore a recommendation from a board member, or pass up an opportunity to give a grant to an agency they’ve had their eye on for some time. Trust me, this is rare.
So, if you want a successful grantseeking program, first follow some basic rules:
Then lace up those running shoes, get in the race, and stay in long enough to see it through.