Four Things I Got Wrong About Fundraising (And One I Didn’t)
Entering the world of Ghost Writer a few months ago, I had minimal experience in the world of grant writing. I have been working with nonprofits for over 10 years but was usually tasked with responsibilities outside of grants. As is the case with most things in life, I quickly realized that there was a lot to learn and that some of the assumptions I held about the process turned out to be wildly incorrect. Instead of being embarrassed by my ignorance, I’m going to lean into it. I would like to share a few of my recent revelations with you, dear readers, in hopes that they may be helpful as you venture into the world of grant writing.
1. My first assumption: I believed that exceptional academic writing skills were the key to successful grant writing. I thought that if you were a skilled wordsmith, the grant would be yours. Now, let me say this – a beautifully worded grant narrative is never going to hurt you! It is important to tell the story of your program and make a compelling argument. However, there are additional aspects of your application that will draw a funder’s attention, beyond a well-crafted story. A successful application involves thorough research, measurable outcomes, answers to all the funder’s questions and, perhaps most crucially, it arrives before the deadline. It may sound straightforward, but failing to answer questions, fill out forms accurately, and submit on time can render all your beautifully crafted prose useless. The lesson here is: Don’t stress if you aren’t a professional writer. Focus on the things that the funder is asking for, make sure you can prove your program’s success and get it done on time.
2. I also used to think that funders make decisions based on the program's quality. I believed that after reading an impassioned proposal with amazing outcomes, they would say “This program is exceptional! They should receive funding to continue their outstanding work!" However, I learned that grantors are more inclined to support organizations whose interests align with their own. For example, if you are an animal rescue seeking funds for vaccinations, applying to a foundation focused on children's health is not the best approach. While you probably could argue that vaccinated pets contribute to improved human wellness, you'll have greater success applying to foundations dedicated to animal welfare, not human health. Don’t try to stretch your grant narrative beyond the funder’s scope. Instead, spend your time identifying funders whose interests align with your mission and make a compelling case to them.
3. Another assumption I carried with me was that nonprofits have their financial records and important documents neatly compiled in one accessible place. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case. Many times, important financial documents necessary for grant applications can be buried, forgotten, or lost on a disorganized hard drive. This is why having a robust infrastructure when it comes to shared file storage and computer data backups is critical to long term success. Consider this – do you know the location of your organization's 501(c)(3) letter? Do you possess both a hard copy and a digital version? If not, I strongly suggest taking the time to locate it and upload it to cloud storage today. (You can use free software like Dropbox or Google Drive to store these files, just make sure to give key individuals access). A photocopy of important documents can also be kept in a well labeled folder and placed in an accessible (but secure) location. The goal is to avoid spending valuable resources digging for documents when preparing your next grant application, allowing you to focus on your program. Little inefficiencies like this can take a big toll on the health of your organization. This principle extends beyond documents and file storage to encompass all aspects of technology, including phone systems, internet bandwidth, etc. When your systems don’t work, it dramatically reduces your organization’s health and productivity. Want to learn more? Read this blog about how a local nonprofit saw tremendous benefits when they hired a consulting agency to address their systems and operational deficiencies.
4. I used to think that only marketing departments in for-profit organizations benefited from a robust database. However, I've learned that in today's world, all organizations, including nonprofits, not only benefit from but require an accurate and user-friendly database for long-term financial success. Consider this: How do you invite supporters to join your mission if you can't connect with them? How much time do you spend creating mailing lists from old excel sheets? Isn’t there a better, more secure way to manage your donor data? While the idea of creating and maintaining a donor database might feel overwhelming, fear not – we're here to help!
At Ghost Writer, we understand the ins and outs of database management, and we firmly believe that having a simple, user-friendly database is not only achievable but also incredibly beneficial. (We rely on a fantastic tool called Little Green Light for this purpose – learn more about it here.) The key takeaway here is that incorporating a donor database can streamline your mailing process, improve donor relations, and ultimately help boost donations.
5. Lastly, I assumed that leaders of nonprofits wore too many hats and didn’t have time to engage in grant writing. As it turns out, my assumption was correct. While many Executive Directors inevitably take on the laborious endeavor of researching, applying for, and reporting on grants, very few of them relish the task or have the time. Nonprofit leaders have a myriad of important responsibilities, and the time intensive grant writing process should not be one of them. That’s what drew me to Ghost Writer and is one of the reasons I love what we do. When organizations work with us, we can dramatically increase the organization’s capacity for success, while also removing a heavy burden from its leaders.
In conclusion, working with Ghost Writer has taught me quite a bit in just a few short months. Maybe some of the assumptions I had at the beginning weren’t exactly correct, but I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with inspiring organizations throughout my community and the invaluable lessons I’m learning every day. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the grant writing process, send us an email! (firstname.lastname@example.org) It doesn’t have to be a struggle. We would love to learn more about your project and how we can help make it easier for you.