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  • Writer's pictureDanielle M. Locke

Top 10 Grant Mistakes I See All the Time

Lately there has been a theme in my client calls... Grants. Specifically, unfunded grant applications and why. There are many reasons a funder may not choose to fulfill your application that have nothing to do with you or your application. Often, they just don’t have enough funds to cover the onslaught of applications.

However, I have seen so many nonprofits get tripped up on some simple mistakes! Below is a list of the top mistakes I see play out over and over like a broken record.

1. Going to the BIG Foundations first - I’m talking Ford, Gates, Gund Foundation. If you are new to Grants, try a small family or community foundation first. Honestly, they are more accessible to work with and tend not to scrutinize applications as much. It’s a good learning ground.

2. Throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks - Always seek funders whose area of funding focus matches your mission as well as the type of funding you are seeking e.g. operating or capital. Submitting applications that are way off base will only frustrate funders – and they talk to each other!

3. Submitting a “cold” application - Foundations tell me how often they get a surprise application from an organization they have never heard of. Call the funder and have a conversation about your intent to apply BEFORE you hit submit. Most foundations have staff that will guide you on the types of programs/projects they want to invest in.

4. Asking for funding before you have done anything – My friends, you gotta show proof of concept first (unless its actually a seed money grant). Funders are looking to make a smart investment. They want to see some results before they invest.

5. Incomplete application – Triple check your application to ensure that you have answered all the questions and submitted all documentation. With the overwhelming number of applications these days, program officers do not have time to track down your missing information.

6. Confusing budgets – Be specific, accurate and transparent. What does it actually cost you to do the project/program including staff, materials, facilities, licenses, photocopies, etc. Don’t exaggerate or try to sneak in unrelated expenses. Funders are savvy. They can smell a fake budget a mile away.

7. Unclear what you are asking for and what you will do with the money – I talk a lot with clients about getting clear on “Your Money Story”: who are you, what need are you addressing, how do you plan to address it, what does it take to do this, why you are the best one to do it and, what will the funding be used for.

8. Reads like Gone with the Wind – Brevity is your friend. Program officers don’t have time to read your life’s story, what inspired you to create this organization, the history of your evolution, etc. Once you know “Your Money Story”, you shouldn’t need long-winded answers to simple questions.

9. Not including Letters of Support – Foundations are done with duplication of services. If you want to get funded, you need to collaborate with others, simple as that. Schools, municipalities, health departments, community groups are great. Other nonprofits, even better.

10. Assuming facts not in evidence – That’s for my L & O fans out there. Do not imply anything in your application that is not true or that you intend to do. For example, if a grant indicated support from the school district, the program officer I worked with would simply call the superintendent to verify. If they didn’t know what she was talking about, you better bet that application was DENIED!

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