Three Tips to Jumpstart Your Grant Program

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The start of a new year can be a stressful and daunting time, but it is never too late to initiate or evaluate your organization’s grant program. The best way to get positive results with your grant initiatives is to plan for success. With over 20 years of experience working with many different nonprofit organizations, I have seen firsthand success when fundraising plans include a strategy to raise money through grant funding.

Whether your organization is small or large, grant funding is a good way to increase an organization’s revenue and sustainability. If you are beginning the grant search or have some grants you submit annually, now is the time to research potential opportunities to add to your list of grants to submit for this year.

Grant funding is a way to help financially sustain your organization. Since our inception, we have worked with many small nonprofit organizations with big missions. Funding to meet the goals and visions of the organization is critical. Along with other development initiatives, a grant funding plan is essential to the growth of any nonprofit. It is a long-term strategy that grows overtime to have a significant impact on the organization. Besides the potential to increase revenue, building relationships with funders can lead to greater awareness for your organization and possible partnership opportunities.

To get started, here are three must-follow tips to help you develop a sustainable grant program.

Create a Fundraising Plan

Consider all the programs, events, trainings and any other service your organization provides and whether there are opportunities for grant funding. What types of grants could fund a program or training initiative or maybe assist with operations? Create a diversified fundraising plan that includes possible funding objectives — list the programs (add operations to this list), events, online training or other initiatives. This will help you identify and target grant opportunities that are specific to your needs and provide you with the greatest potential for success. (Grant-awarded money should constitute about 20 percent of your fundraising goals.) Once you have specific requests in mind, commit the resources and time to research foundations and grant opportunities for your organization.  For small nonprofits, it is important to start a grant funding program to grow.

Jackie Horton, the Executive Director for the First Circuit Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program in South Dakota shares, “As a small nonprofit, grant planning and research is extremely important and having someone who can help with that while we sustain our current grant initiatives is invaluable.”

The grant opportunities included on your list should be those whose mission and goals align with your organization, all qualifications for the grant submission can be met, and the application can be completed and submitted by the deadline. Apply only for the kinds of funding already identified in your fundraising plan.

Write Tailored Applications for Each Submission

There is no one-size fits all grant application. To be successful, tailor each grant submission to the specific requirements of the funding organization. Make sure to emphasize areas where both organizations align – you want to demonstrate that receiving funds for your organization will meet the mission and goals of the funder. You want to build a case for why your organization should be funded and that includes statistical information and good storytelling. Make a strong, true and passionate case for what your organization does, who they serve, and the impact you are making to your cause.

Remember, most first-time grant applications may be rejected. It is rare to be accepted for a grant without an existing relationship with the foundation, and like all fundraising, a “no” should be considered to mean “not now.” Grant writing is for those who are consistent and do not give up on the first, second or even third rejection – just keep trying. Applying for funding is well worth it for those who are willing to put in the hours and understand that grant money is just one piece of the money pie. Think of grants as a long-term funding strategy that can reap benefits over time; if you think it’s a quick fix, you will be disappointed. Therefore, building relationships with funders is important and your first grant submission starts you on this path.

Build Relationships with Funding Organizations

Building relationships is a key component of any fundraising strategy. Funders want to invest in organizations they know and trust. If you are submitting a grant for the first-time there are some things you can do to start making your organization known to the funder:

  • Introduce yourself to the contact person vetting grant-related questions. Sometimes there is only an email listed but here is where you start. You can inquire about the specifics of the application. This initial contact works best when there is a person to speak with, so you can provide a bit of information about your organization. This initial contact (whether speaking with a person or by email) should be brief; it’s just an introduction and first step.
  • Respond to all correspondence – positive or negative. Take every opportunity to respond to the funding organization. If you get an email, respond that you have received it. If you get a letter of rejection, respond with a “thank you” and request reviewer comments to get some sense of how to strengthen your application for the next submission. Whatever the correspondence, respond in a professional, thoughtful manner that shows your appreciation and commitment to the process of obtaining this grant.
  • Stay connected to the funding organization. One way to do this is to get on the funder’s newsletter email list or occasionally review their website and press releases to see what the organization is doing. If you find something that aligns with your organization, you can send an email congratulating them on the initiative or new program and note how this relates to your organization. This is again, a long-term strategy that takes a bit of time but keeps building awareness and bringing attention to your organization.

Don’t Give Up

In anything we do, the key to being successful is consistency. A successful grant program is no different; don’t give up! Keep submitting grants, keep researching for opportunities – your consistency will pay off.  Horton cautions, “The grant process is a long-term strategy that takes planning and consistency to be effective.”

Don’t waste another day and develop a grant program. Get started by doing your homework – research grant opportunities and pick those that are most connected with your organization. Make sure your organization meets all criteria before deciding to submit the grant.

Remember to tailor each grant application. Don’t miss this step; make sure you answer the funder’s questions specifically. Make a case for why funding your organization would meet the mission and goals of the funder.

Finally, start building that relationship with the funder. This will take time but will offer great pay offs if you are consistent and make a passionate case for why funding your organization would be good for the funder. Effective grant programs will take time, but for financial sustainability, it is very important to get started.

Also, stay positive — don’t get discouraged by rejection; just keep going. Each submission will be better than the first and every rejection is not a “no” but a “not now,” so continue to submit, find new opportunities, and make connections with funders that can help your organization and its mission.

Earline Marshall, CEO of Marshall Management Group, LLC, earned her MBA from the University of Maryland University College. Marshall has over 20 years of experience working closely with nonprofits and provides grant research and writing services. Marshall Management Group also provides nonprofit management and communication services. To learn more email her at or visit website at