Today’s article is part of our series on grant writing, one area in which Tiny Frog Strategies works with organizations to get from where they are to where they want to be.

So here’s the problem: you need money for the ongoing core activities of your organization, things like paying staff, paying rent and buying toilet paper. Grant funders want to give money to activities that connect directly with your beneficiaries, like an innovative meal program or a new initiative with a local artist. You aren’t opposed to being innovative, but first you need to make sure there is toilet paper in the washroom.

Welcome to the ultimate catch 22 of being a nonprofit. The bad news is that this tension has been around for a while and is probably not going to be fixed any time soon. The good news is that your organization isn’t the only one who feels frustrated and others have managed to buy toilet paper AND try out new ways of doing things.

So let’s talk about how to deal with this problem.

Rule #1: Don’t let this grant be your only opportunity. This grant might represent a significant percentage of your annual budget, but remember that thing about not putting your eggs all in one basket? It applies to non-profit funding too.

I’m sure you have already figured that out – and you are still going to apply for that nice big fat grant opportunity, one that’s bigger than you’ve ever applied for before.

Rule #2: Spend time writing grant applications that actually get funded. Below are the key actions you need to take to make sure that your application nets the dollars you need: 

Get specific. In your application, be really clear on how much money you need, what activities you will spend it on, and how that will make the world a better place.

Creating your plan is what takes the longest in any grant application. It requires expertise and knowledge of what happens to make impact at your organization. And if you aren’t the person who has their hands directly on the programming, think of who does and go buy them a coffee now. Competing a grant application is actually a planning exercise, which takes time away from everyone’s day-to-day tasks. You’ll probably need to get a pastry too.

Mirror what the funders want. If they use language like “innovative,” then talk about what parts of your plan are innovative. If they fund programing for children and youth, then you need to be very clear how your programs will help children and youth.

What they want sometimes trendy, as big ideas come in and out of season. For a while, all the grants were all about capacity building, then they were all about innovation, and then social enterprise. If your funder has buzzwords flying around their applications, research them briefly and make sure you understand what they are talking about in general terms. But remember that it’s just fashion. The core of your work is what matters.

Use clear plain language. Chances are that the person reading the proposal will not be from your field of expertise. And it’s guaranteed that they don’t know as much about your organization as you do. So focus on clearly explaining what you do and why it matters, not using long words or terminology to impress them.

To test this, read the key parts of your application to a family member or neighbor – someone who doesn’t work with you. If they can understand what you are asking for, you are good to go. If they ask, “what does that mean?” then you need to find a simpler way to explain.

When I talk about simplicity and clarity, it includes both sector jargon and what you take for granted about your organization.

For example, at my favourite imaginary charity, Save the Pond, we assume that the pond is worth saving – it’s in the name! But a potential funder probably won’t know why this is. The application will need to include clear language to explain why the pond matters, such as: it’s home for wildlife, it’s part of the bigger water purification process, and some of the green algae can’t be found anywhere else in the world and could be the next treatment for cancer. Or something like that.

Bonus: be the change you want to see.

In your application, consider including a percentage of administration or ongoing costs in your budget. I wouldn’t make this a huge percentage, but 10 to 20 percent shows what costs your organization is bearing to make this grant happen. Be part of the solution that educates funders about what it takes to make things happen in the real world.

Because the good ones want to see change in our world as much as you and I do.

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