Goodness gracious — grants!

It’s spring, and that means grant season at the North Carolina Community Foundation. Here in the southeast we’ve got six affiliate grant cycles in full swing, so I’m polishing my reading glasses and preparing grant committee members for the annual cascade of applications.

Since the Foundation’s grant application process is simple and the criteria relatively broad, we receive proposals from many small nonprofits that might not have a lot of experience preparing grant applications. Our online grant application system and instruction modules provide a great foundation in grantwriting basics, and we are always happy to answer questions about a proposal or the process.

Over the past five years I’ve read more than 500 grant applications, and from that experience I’ve developed five questions for grantwriters who call for advice. Some of these questions may seem kind of obvious, but even the best writers benefit when they remember the basics!

  1. Did you read the instructions and grant criteria?  If application deadline is April 30, don’t plan on submitting the application on May 1. If the criteria says “grant awards typically range from $250 to $2,000,” do not submit a proposal for $35,000. So far this spring I’ve received applications for $25,000 and $35,000. Seriously.
  2. Is your paperwork in order? Community foundations may only make grants to 501(c)3 public charities, faith-based institutions like churches, and government agencies such as schools and libraries. If your organization is a public charity, it must be in good standing with the Internal Revenue Service. If your organization has received a grant from NCCF, it must have completed all of its reports in order to apply for another grant. If you aren’t sure if your organization is eligible, call.
  3. Does your project description make sense?  A project description that is crystal clear to a grantwriter may sound like a foreign language to a grant committee member – especially if the explanation is full of jargon and acronyms. Ask someone who isn’t familiar with your organization to read the application – well before the deadline – and take their feedback to heart.
  4. Do your numbers add up?  The Foundation requires a project budget for every proposal and an organizational budget for every applicant. Nothing will hurt your chances more than sloppy numbers. 
  5. Have you set aside time to proofread?  Successful, well-run organizations pay attention to detail, so spelling errors, poor grammar and bad math are not just unprofessional; they can doom an otherwise good proposal in a competitive grant environment. 

 Make sure you set aside enough time to answer all these questions, and you will be well on your way to submitting a successful grant proposal.