Local newspapers typically carry stories about local charities and organizations that award grants. These may be small but pursuing them is likely to be less competitive than larger grants and if several are pursued and won they can definitely add up. So check for local stories about businesses, banks, utility companies, neighborhood groceries, retail stores and others that provide grants to members of the community. Be sure to make note of the names of individuals involved.
You should have a list of nonprofits that are comparable to yours. Be sure to read their newsletters, check their 990’s and/or annual reports and web sites. If their activities are similar to yours they might be interested in partnering with you on a project.
It is often helpful to have a personal connection with a grant funding organization. Your Board of Directors is a good place to start checking to see who may know someone at a foundation to which you are applying for a grant. Your volunteers may also have a connection, or know somebody who knows somebody. If you know someone at another nonprofit which has received a grant from a particular foundation they might be able to be a reference for you or even write a positive letter about you and your organization. Whenever you or your nonprofit makes a large purchase, ask about the company’s community relations program and see if they might support you.
It is common for government agencies as well as some of the larger foundations to put out a Request for Proposals when they announce a grant. You can get some valuable information about that funder by carefully reading the detailed rules and guidelines they provide. You should be able to discern much from what they say about their mission, goals and priorities. This is very useful for you to know for future reference, even if you are not applying for this particular grant! Also take a look at the requirements for eligibility. If you are applying for this grant, you should also of course carefully note deadlines, what is expected of the winning applicant in terms of performance, what budget items are and are not covered, and what the review process will entail.
When researching a funder always take a look at details regarding grants they have given in the past. Note how much was awarded and on what timing schedule. Take a look at the funder’s yearly budget and the amount of assets they have (these figures are available on their annual Form 990 filing). Make sure their giving and their assets are large enough to be able to fund a project of your size — and that they have given similar amounts to organizations such as yours. It is best when applying for a grant from a particular funder for the first time that you do not ask for a huge amount. Let them get to know you and develop a relationship that may grow into larger grants in the future.
Take a look at the backgrounds and cv’s of the staff of the funding organization. If they have high level degrees and a history in academia their review methodologies and process are apt to be quite formal and rigorous. A smaller local charity or a closely held family foundation may have a more informal approach. Be sure to match your application to their personality.
Research corporations — and in particular those that have recently merged with another company — to see what community programs they may get involved in. Their annual reports and web sites are great places to get this type of information.
You can get some valuable tips by participating in meet-up groups found via the web, joining email discussion groups and forums for grant writers, in material on the websites of other nonprofits and in their newsletters. Subscribe to as many as you can.
Prior to submitting a letter of inquiry or a proposal it is wise to contact the foundation directly to ask for any current application guidelines, their annual report and any other publications that might be of interest. You may not reach an actual person but you never know — be prepared with a great sound bite about your organization in case you do happen to speak to someone who asks for information about the project you wish to fund.