Is Grant Writing Still Viable in a Recession Economy?

Christian ministries and churches have asked themselves this question. How will this turmoil affect a funding sources giving to my ministry? Is grant writing still viable in this economy? The answer is yes, grant writing is still viable, EVEN in this economy.

This does not mean any of us can continue with business as usual. We will need to adapt our strategies, but we certainly will not have to discard them. Adaptation is nothing new to grant writers. On the contrary, those of us who have written grant proposals adapt with every Letter of Inquiry, with every proposal, to every funding source…adaptation is just part of the grant writing process. If the economy started booming tomorrow, we would need to adapt to that change as well.

So, what works? How do you acknowledge economic turmoil, yet seek funding? Here are six ways you can adapt your grant development strategy to the current market:

Think Locally:

This is always true. The closer a funding source is to your organization geographically, the more likely they are to fund your ministry. Moreover, in this environment, funding sources are likely to stay even closer to home.

Understand that there are real people behind these foundations who drive through your community everyday. They read the local paper. They watch the local news. Worship at a local church. This naturally compels them to want to relieve the suffering that they see. The suffering and struggles that they see are more tangible to them. If you can concretely display how your ministry is meeting the needs that they are already aware of, you are more likely to get funded.

Make it Personal:

Many funding sources discourage personal contact with a foundation. You will read “no phone calls” or “initial contact through letter only.” This serves as a gate-keeping function for funding sources.

If they require a little bit more work in order to make contact, they will weed out many of the organizations that are less serious, less qualified, and less prepared.

However, it is now more critical than ever to make a personal contact with the foundation BEFORE submitting a Letter of Inquiry (LOI). Changes in the market and the economy may have changed their giving habits. Foundations that were giving 6 months ago may not be giving today.

Some funding sources are only funding existing grantees. Others are reducing award amounts or changing their focus. The only way to know this is through a personal contact with the funding source.

Focus on People:

Focus on the issues that will make an impact on people. During difficult times, a stronger focus on programs and services makes for a more compelling case for funding than a new building or capital upgrade.

Discuss how your particular program will have an immediate impact on the people you serve. Often it is helpful to state a brief example of a current client served by your ministry and how your services directly benefited him, changing his life or personal situation.

Of course, it may seem that an increased focus on programs and services means you will be focusing less on operating expenses and current and future building projects. Not necessarily. Those interested in giving toward operating expenses or capital projects may be harder to find, but they are there if you spend enough time doing your research.

However, for funding sources that are interested in both programming and capital projects… lean toward a request for programming.

Keep Doing What you Do:

Now is probably not the time to try out some new and innovative idea that you have to see if it will work or not. A program with a history of success will prove less risky and more fundable than a new and unproven program.

Build on your current programs. Expanding a program to serve more people and fill a community need will be attractive to the right funding source for two reasons: it accurately portrays your past effectiveness and it projects the increased benefits of expanding an already-successful program.

If you do launch a new project, make a strong case showing how your past success predicts a high expectation of success for this venture. Discuss why you are initiating a new program rather than building on existing programs. A discussion of how this fills a need in the community or target population will also be important.

Ask for the Right Amount:

This is always important! Do not ask for too little or too much.

Asking a very large funding source for a small grant might seem to be a good idea. You think, “They will not even notice the $10,000 grant in the billions they give away.” But even these smaller grants require an administrative process that is sometimes quite cumbersome in very large foundations. Managing and administering funding that is for only $10,000 may require too much administration for the perceived benefits.

Of course, asking for too much money can also be a problem. This is especially true if the funding source has a stated limit on grant requests. Requesting more than the stated limit means that you did not do your research and are not following the guidelines established by the funding source.

Some funding sources perform a technical review of proposals to see if the guidelines were followed before reviewing the actual content and merits of the program and organization.

The right amount of money is based on the amount that you need to adequately run the program or provide the service. Do not try to pad the budget in case they give you less than you request and don’t ask for less than you need because you just want to bring in the funding. You will also want to fund the program through multiple funding sources. A good rule is to have no more than 25% of a program funded by any one source.

Request From the Right Funding Source:

You can write the best proposal ever written. Have the most compelling need. Have a great program in a superbly run organization in a deserving community. But if you keep sending this proposal to the wrong funding sources, the proposal will NEVER get funded.

Grant writing is really a misnomer as most good grant writers spend the large majority of their time in research and only a small percentage actually writing. How much? A successful grant writer will likely spend about 85% of their time researching funding sources and matching them to their organization. The remaining 15% of the time they will spend in writing. Of this, rewriting, reviewing, and editing take up the bulk of the actual “writing” time.

The secret to great grant writing is really to perform great grant research. Better research will lead to better writing because you will have a better understanding of the funding source.

Better research will lead to better results when funding sources know that you are writing directly to them. Like each of us, a grant administrator can tell when you have sent them a general form letter that you are going to send to every other foundation in the city.

Remember, most organizations do not need 100 foundation grant awards each year. Most ministries need 5 to 10 foundation grants to augment the support they receive from individual donors, special events, service fees, and other funding sources.

Grant writing is difficult, demanding, and …worth the effort. Ministries that are willing to implement a consistent, persistent, and organized grant development strategy will see results and will find the effort to be profitable. These 6 keys to success will help guide that strategy and make grant writing profitable for your ministry, even during these turbulent times.


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