How to Take the Blind Date Out of Grant Writing

Rejection stinks.

Right when you think you have a perfect match, the other party lets you know they don’t think so.

It might take a few attempts at first, but with enough practice you will learn how to say the right things, make sure you have all the right qualifications and eventually you’ll live happily ever after.

We are, of course, talking about grant writing.

Grant writing is not an easy venture. Foundations and companies want to know all about your company and you want to put your best foot forward. However, it shouldn’t be a blind date. If you can work to make sure your first contact with the grantor does not happen when they are reading your grant application, your chances improve.

Here are some ways to improve the odds of getting that grant going your way and fending off rejection.

The Backstory

Before we get into the tips and takeaways, let’s start with a story. A couple years ago when I was Executive Director of a leadership development nonprofit, we started applying for a grant to help provide funding for a full-time position. Along with our nonprofit’s foundation chair, we identified several local foundations whose giving plans matched our missions.

First, we set up a meeting with one of the board members who knew the foundation chair to explain who we were and why we were looking for financial assistance. The meeting went great and we had a good feeling. Soon thereafter, the granting foundation invited us to apply and we were off. However, after the entire foundation board met, our application was denied.

A short while later, our foundation chair was working at a golf event where he ran into the grant foundation chair. They talked briefly about our organization and it was clear that he didn’t fully grasp the scope and reach of our nonprofit. After having his questions answered and hearing more about what we accomplish, he gained a much more favorable opinion of our organization and said we should try again when our waiting period was up.

So what can you learn from this story?

Shop Locally

When working to find the perfect grant, start locally. This will benefit you in many ways—mainly the grantors will be more likely to know of your nonprofit and the work it does in the community. Traditionally, grantors are more willing to invest in their community because they see the direct benefits. Because they are based in the same place as you are, the grantor is invested in the community and more willing to invest in your organization.

Also, some foundations and companies might have location restrictions on who they hand money out to, so this could work to your advantage and restrict the pool of potential applicants. This advice is not to discourage you from applying for large, national grants, but instead to know that your odds increase with a smaller geographic scope.

Work Your Connections

While it is great for granting organizations to know what you do, it is even better to know the decision makers. This is not saying you should go out and stalk a foundation’s board members, but if you are active in your community, chances are you will encounter a grant decision maker along the way.

Many granting organizations require a letter of inquiry or a meeting with someone on their board prior to a formal application. If you can take out the uncomfortableness out of those meetings, then it might help you land that grant. Again, it helps your cause if the first time a grant decision makers knows of your organization is when they are reading your application, then it helps your cause. Even if they don’t give you money, they can provide more personal feedback to help you during the next go around.

The downside to this is it takes a lot longer to develop those connections and get to the point where you know the right people. However, you should be working to expand your network now because it can pay off eventually—whether that is for grants or other business opportunities.

Every grant application process is slightly different, but if you put in work to make the process more human and less about papers on a table, your success rate can improve and you’ll eventually find the right match.