Once you’ve figured out the magic formula, getting a grant is pretty easy. It’s not really free money when you think about the tangible things such as: paper, toner cartridges, postage and cost of preparing a good work sample.] It is definitely not free when you take the intangibles into consideration such as: time, energy, agony, therapy bills and the general amount of weeping one does during the course of writing any grant.

There are two types of free money. Money for non-profit organizations and money for individuals. Each has a different strategy for success.

Non-profits A myth about non-profits is that they are not supposed to make money. If one steps back and thinks Goodwill or The American Heart Association, one realizes that these organizations run themselves like a business and bring in millions of dollars annually. They are successful at fundraising because they practice good grantsmanship as well as, an implement excellent marketing strategies. Things a young 501(c)3 should take into consideration when writing grants include:
  • earned income,
  • audience or community served,
  • duplication of services,
  • communication of available services to your target market
  • staff ability, and
  • quality of programming

    Foundations are run by people. People get tired and cranky. The way you format a grant proposal has a direct relationship on whether or not you get funded. Keep in mind that they are reading thousands of grants in a short period of time. When you are writing a grant it is important to:
  • make a cover sheet which has a snappy, easy to read summary;
  • use succinct, clear language;
  • use a 12 pt. sans-serif font;
  • create enough white space for the reader; (I usually use 1.5),
  • use clean, bold headers for each section;
  • highlight what you are doing differently than other organizations;
  • have budget that makes sense;
  • ask for a reasonable amount.

    Asking for a reasonable amount of money is the basis of developing a good relationship with a foundation. When you request guidelines from a foundation, they will send you an annual report which tells you everyone they funded last year and how much each organization got. A mistake many young grant writers make is to: look at a similar organization; decide you are better and ask for the amount they got. WRONG! Step back from your own personal or professional need. Remember that foundations are run by people. What would you do if somebody you didn’t know came up to you and asked for $50,000?

    The most important aspect of getting free money is understanding that you are entering into a relationship.
  • Send them post cards about what your organization is doing.
  • Personally invite them to see your programs.
  • Write jaunty letters about recent successes you’ve had.
  • Find out who their boss is and put them on your mailing list also.
  • Call them up and see if they can meet to talk about your project.
    Many foundation directors or program directors for local and state agencies are there to help you. Sometimes, if you meet with a foundation director, they will tell you a reasonable amount to expect from the foundation. Again relationship is the key. Ask yourself…”How would I feel about a friend who only called me up once a year to ask for $50,000.”

    Finally, remember that they have very specific goals and objectives. You could have the coolest project in the entire universe. If it does not fit into their goals, they don’t want to hear about it. Don’t get confused that they are giving you money because they a good-hearted people. (They are…but business is business.) They are giving you money because they want something. This something is usually caged in high-minded ideals and save the world language. It is your job to figure out what they really want. One foundation recently changed their guidelines to actually tell you why. Equitable Gas wants to a more educated work force, so they only give money to organizations in places where their plants are located so they can create smarter workers.

    Individuals Individual grants follow similar guidelines. However, in the case of fellowships, the quality of your work sample is the most important part of your application.
  • If they ask for 5 minutes of videotape, give them five. Have the tape cued up to the place you want them to see. (They don’t have the time and energy to go searching around.) If they want slides, give them crisp, clean slide with good image quality. If the ask for ten poems, do not send hand written mish-mash or a typed poem printed on a dot matrix antique.
  • Ask your peers what your best work is.
  • Listen to them. Artists are often too close to their work to see it objectively.
    Finally - whatever you do - don’t tell them all about what you had intended to do. The sample work either conveys that meaning or it doesn’t. If you have to tell them all about it…maybe you should go back and make a new piece.

    See: fiscal agent for information about applying for a project through a non-profit. Then, use the above guidelines.
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