The main thing I have learned, in the jungle of foundation grant seeking, one needs to be a miracle-maker: A visionary of the field one’s organization works in, an apt copy writer, a strategic planner, a human resources expert, a PR and relationship maven, as well as a financial wizard.
In a perfect world, one’s venture has tens of experts doing this all pro bono. In the real world, start-ups need to educate themselves and get smart fast. The competition is fierce and the funders are merciless in detecting ‘hot air’ in one’s proposal.
Here are some ‘one-liner’ take-aways. They may seem self-evident to you, but were eureka moments for me:
- Start as LEAN as possible.
- Have a strong STATEMENT of NEED. You must have some facts and figures to back you up. But be specific: Don’t talk about world hunger statistics if you want to start a soup kitchen in your neighborhood.
- WHY YOU? What is your track record? Why are you the best to realize this project?
- Don’t mix up GOALS (broad), OBJECTIVES (concrete manifestation of the goals), METHODS (tools), and OUTCOMES (concrete, measurable results achieved with those tools).
- WHY these METHODS? Why didn’t you choose some other tools?
- Funders love collaborations and partners. But partnerships need to be concrete and formalized (MOUs).
- Funders LOVE cash. Keep in-kind contributions separate from the budget (e.g. in footnotes), but remember to highlight in-kind factors that support your cause.
- YOUR NUMBERS MUST TELL THE NUMERIC STORY OF YOUR NARRATIVE. The two need to match.
- Be very careful as to who’s a staff member, who’s a consultant in your organization (tax ramifications).
- Don’t staple, bind, or use fancy folders. Always send the proposal with regular mail. = Show the possible funders you don’t have $ to waste. (!!!)
- YOUR WEBSITE & SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM are probably the first window for your funders into the kind of work you do. Are they active, rich — are you discussing issues in your field? Are you talking about the specific project you are seeking funds for?
- CULTIVATE funder relationships. Call to ask advise before submitting, thank and follow up; if funded, be meticulous with reporting requirements and in communicating if something changes… AND in sharing interesting news — about your project, your field. This is what funders say when they want you to be a PARTNER to them.