By Joy Skjegstad
In my many years of working with ministry groups on grant proposals, ministry leaders have frequently asked me “How do we know if we’re ready to write a grant proposal?” Below I have prepared a checklist of some of the things that it would be good to have in place before you start writing.
1. You have incorporated as a 501(c) (3) organization. Getting your legal status shows you are serious and forces your group to put governance and accountability structures into place.
2. You have vision and mission statements for your organization, even if they are informal.
Before submitting a grant, you should be able to write down, in just a couple of sentences, the vision and mission of your organization. A vision describes what the world will be like once your organization has completed its work: “all the children can read” or “everyone in our community has access to affordable housing,” for example. A mission describes how your group will go about achieving the vision, addressing who, what, where, how, and with whom.
3. Your program is functioning at some level.
Most corporate and foundation funders like to see something in action before they will send their support. If you are just starting your ministry organization, plan to have at least one program on the ground and running before you seek grant funds.
4. You have already raised some money for your ministry.
If your organization is new, grant money probably won’t be the first money you secure. Foundations and corporations typically like to see that an organization has at least some support from elsewhere before they make their commitments. Individual donors or church congregations may be your first contributors, allowing your group to lay some groundwork before asking for grant funding.
5. You have a strong sense of how faith fits into your faith-based organization.
When you say you are a faith-based group, what does that mean to you? Most importantly, does being “faith based” mean that some or all of your programs have a faith component with the goal of helping your participants grow spiritually? It’s important to sort out that key point before you start interfacing with funders that may not have a spiritual bent at all.
6. You have outcomes for your programs and a way to measure those outcomes.
Funders are looking for results, so you need to spend some time thinking about this before you write your propopsal: How will the lives of participants be transformed as a result of your work? Make your program outcomes as concrete and specific as possible, and describe how you will measure those outcomes. For example, if you’re helping homeless people, do they find jobs or housing because of the work you are doing? Or if you have an academic program for youth, do your participants start doing better in school?
You can make the process of writing a grant proposal much simpler by spending some time reviewing this checklist and getting prepared for the proposal-writing process. In my experience, organizations that take the time to get ready for grantwriting have much greater success in securing grants.
Joy Skjegstad is the author of Winning Grants to Strengthen Your Ministry (Alban Institute, 2007) and a 20-year veteran grantwriter. She consults with organizations around the country on nonprofit management and ministry development. She has also written Starting A Nonprofit At Your Church (Alban Institute, 2002).