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Small Non-profits and Effective Grant Writing

Okay, so you are a small non-profit and you don’t have any “official” development staff or experienced grant writers on staff. But you do have passion, you can fundraise, and you can network. You also probably have a lot of untapped resources in the guise of volunteers and previous supporters. So, let’s get started.


Network With Your Advocates & Current Funders: A great resource for uncovering funding opportunities are your current funders. Sometimes just making it known that you are looking for additional funding, or that you have an exciting project that needs outside sources of support will lead to some great connections. You never know if one of your board members, staff members, volunteers, or other supporting agency might know of an untapped opportunity.

Local Resources: Most communities have lots of various professional groups that meet monthly. There is also your local Chamber of Commerce, public library, and online resources that can be outstanding opportunities for gathering information, inspiration, and networking.

Invest in Some Research & Grant-writing Tools: If you don’t have the budget to invest in tools to help you find funders and write grants, then a free research session with Grant Advance will provide you with several well-matched foundations that fund similar organizations in your area (plus a lot more information). It’s a great way to reach out to a few foundations and explore whether foundation grants could work for your organization. Expect to spend about 30-40 minutes in a Zoom session.


Connect Through Friends, Family, & Colleagues: In the same way you leverage your relationships to research funding opportunities, make sure that you follow through with these natural connections when you get to the stage of requesting funding. Whenever possible it is always good to leverage any relationships that you already have. For example, if someone in your organization actually knows one of the directors of a foundation they could be a tremendous help in making a personal introduction of your organization to the foundation.

Be the Bowl, not the Bull, in the China Shop: We all know that the “Bull in the China Shop” is someone who is always accidentally making a mess of things. But the “Bowl in the China Shop” blends in and makes the place its home. You definitely don’t want to crash into a new foundation by sending in a full proposal – especially when you haven’t made any effort to introduce yourself and made at least some effort to find out about them. You won’t always be able to introduce yourself in the same way because many foundations don’t have a website or publish their phone or email information. In fact, most foundations only have an address through which to greet them. But regardless of your options, here are a few of the ways that you can make a good first impression and start on the road to building a good relationship:

  • Phone: If you are fortunate enough to have a number don’t be shy about picking up the phone. Be prepared to tell them a bit about yourself, your organization, and the project you are hoping they will support. But above all, ask them questions. Show a genuine interest in their organization, their priorities, and their processes. Ask them for help and guidance on how to apply. Winning a grant almost always depends on your ability to build relationships. What better way than by starting a conversation?
  • Email/Snail Mail: If you can only send them an email or a letter the process is still much the same. A brief, friendly, professional correspondence, similar to what a phone conversation might be, is your best starting point. And never make your initial contact by sending in a full proposal. Instead, always send out a 2-page Letter of Inquiry. Make sure to keep it brief, tell them about your organization, your project, why it is important, and then ask them for more information about their foundation. Definitely ask them if you can submit a full proposal, and if so, when, and how they would like you to do that.


When it comes time to submit a full proposal make sure you follow all the funder’s specific requirements and instructions. Make sure you have answered all of their questions and provided all of the information they requested. Make sure your budget (if requested) is accurate, the numbers are correct, and the format is professional (line up your columns people). And of course, make sure you meet their application submission and deadline dates.

After you have made sure that you are complying 100% with the specific process of each foundation, you should then ensure that you compose a professional, industry-standard document. The main components will almost always be Cover Letter, Executive Summary, Need Statement, Goals, Methods, Evaluation, Funding, Organization, and Budget (if requested). If you have a subscription to Grant Advance, these tutorials are built into the grant writing process in our Document Generator. However, there are great books and resources as close as your local library that will coach you on how to write a successful grant.


So, you got a cheque! Congratulations! Now, don’t let this opportunity go. Like any relationship it requires nurturing.

  • Acknowledge the gift with a thank you letter.
  • Update the funder with progress reports on the project.
  • Acknowledge their contribution in internal and external communication such as newsletters, social media, and blogs (remember to get permission from them first as some foundations prefer to remain anonymous).
  • If practical, invite them to openings, events, or site visits.
  • Keep up a friendly correspondence, even in the years that they do not fund you. Seasons Greetings, birthday cards, and inclusion in your annual letters to friends and advocates are all great ideas. Think of all the ways in which you can nurture a relationship that will extend for years to come.

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