Disaster Fundraising: A Quick Guide for Grant Seeking

The following is guest post from Grants Plus, a consulting firm specializing in nonprofit grant writing, proposal reviews, and coaching.

The COVID-19 crisis has created unprecedented circumstances and concerns, particularly among nonprofits on the frontlines of response efforts. Its profound impact on society has greatly expanded the need for charitable organizations to step up their efforts and provide additional services. At the same time, the economic downturn has undoubtedly resulted in a contraction of donations, making it difficult for organizations to continue supporting their communities.

Right now, most nonprofits are having to find ways to replace lost income and shift their fundraising efforts to digital platforms. With many organizations facing staff furloughs and complete operational shut-downs, now is not the time to stop or even pause your grant seeking efforts. In fact, having a proactive plan for grant seeking is more important than ever, and any pauses now could lead to complications later on.

Luckily, foundations have a strong history of maintaining and even increasing high levels of giving during tough times. Your organization will need to be proactive in engaging these funders in order to stand out and secure their support. We recommend that you follow these key steps in order to continue developing funder relationships under the current circumstances:

  1. Proactively communicate with current funders.
  2. Seek special emergency funding opportunities.
  3. Establish a plan for moving forward.

This is an unprecedented moment in history, but this is not the first crisis the nonprofit sector has endured. The above suggestions are practices that have proven effective during times of struggle. By implementing these tips as well as those on this helpful resource page from Grants Plus, your organization will be well-equipped to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ready to face the crisis head-on and maintain momentum with grant seeking? Let’s take a closer look at the steps your organization can take right now.

Proactive communication is essential to stabilize your grant seeking efforts.
Proactively communicate with current funders.

Assessing your current grants and reaching out to your top funders is the most crucial first step your team can take. These grantmakers are already invested in your cause and will understand how the crisis is affecting your organization.

Many foundations are urging their nonprofit constituents to reach out if they’re experiencing challenges. Overwhelmingly, they’re being flexible in order to provide relief to applicants and current grantees. In fact, nearly 600 grantmakers across the United States have signed A Call to Action: Philanthropy’s Commitment During COVID-19, which is a pledge to flex current funding and deadlines and make more unrestricted funds available to nonprofit partners. But you must be proactive in communicating your needs with these funders.

If you’re facing any challenges that are preventing you from following through with the terms of an active grant, alert the funder as soon as possible and present suggestions for overcoming the obstacles. Prior to reaching out, consider these potential talking points:

  • Flexibility in using grant funds: If the current economic climate is preventing you from following through with the terms of an active grant, discuss pivoting how the funds get used. This may mean delaying a funded program or directing funds to a different program altogether.
  • Changes to your existing grant terms: Many funders are allowing grantees to modify the terms of their active grants, which means they may be willing to extend deadlines, change outcomes, and adjust reporting requirements.
  • The possibility of emergency funding: Ask about the possibility of additional funding to replace lost income or to fund your team’s direct response to the crisis. If available, act quickly and follow their required guidelines to apply.

Genuine, human communication with funders is of paramount importance, now more than ever. By communicating exactly what your organization needs to stay afloat during the crisis, your grantmakers will know what steps to take to help you. Right now, it’s important that your funders have a timely update rather than a comprehensive multi-year strategy. Share as much as possible, including where your organization stands now and what you anticipate for the future.

The very least you should do is be honest about the impact the crisis has had on your organization and its fundraising efforts. By being transparent with funders, you’ll establish a strong foundation of trust and may ultimately gain the flexibility to use funds however they’re needed.

If your team is unsure how to communicate effectively with funders, a fundraising consultant may be able to help. Those with deep experience with grants may be able to help you convey your urgent needs to grantmakers so that you’ll be much more likely to secure support. Take a look at this comprehensive list of top fundraising consultants. You may find a firm that can help your team form a solid line of communication with grantmakers sooner rather than later.

Seek emergency funding opportunities as needed.

Seek special emergency funding opportunities.

Historically, many foundations have stepped up, not back, during crises in order to continue supporting nonprofit partners. Once again, they’re proving their commitment by substantially increasing emergency funding.

Since the Seattle Foundation launched the first COVID-19 Response Fund, many foundations have followed suit. Now, hundreds of foundations have adapted their grantmaking strategies to provide emergency funds and resources to supplement the losses nonprofits are facing. To date, Candid estimates that a total of $5.1 billion in crisis funding has already been granted to nonprofits that are addressing critical needs. This number continues to grow day by day.

What should your organization do to secure emergency funding from grantmakers?

To start, find out if your community has a rapid response fund. Community foundations and United Way chapters often coordinate these funds, and most represent a coalition of philanthropic, business, and government partners. One of the best ways to find these opportunities is to regularly check the Grants Plus COVID-19 funding resources page. From there, be sure to regularly visit the websites and social media feeds of your top funders and of other large funders in your area to see if they’re offering emergency funding.

Additionally, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the CARES Act, which is a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill to provide emergency financial support for nonprofit organizations. The loans that may be of interest to your team are as follows:

  • Paycheck protection program loans: Nonprofits with 500 or fewer employees may be eligible for low-interest Small Business Administration (SBA) loan amounts up to $10 million for payroll and associated costs. The maximum loan amount is calculated at 2.5 times your organization’s average monthly payroll costs for the past year.
  • Economic injury disaster loans: Nonprofits with 500 or fewer employees may qualify for economic injury disaster loans of up to $2 million with interest set at 2.75% (and grants of a quick $10,000).
  • Fully refundable tax credits: If your organization is facing a shut-down order and has lost 50% of its revenue compared to last year, you may receive up to a $5,000-per-employee tax credit.
  • Industry stabilization fund. Nonprofits with 500 to 10,000 employees may be eligible for loans at a 2% interest rate that have no payments due for the first six months. Applicants must be able to prove that the funds are necessary to support ongoing operations.

If your organization might benefit from one of the above opportunities, walk through the documentation your organization needs to prepare for the CARES Act loan application process here.

To locate opportunities and maximize your chance of securing emergency funds, look into hiring a fundraising consultant. Those who specialize in grants consulting can bring crucial guidance during these difficult times. Start researching with Aly Sterling’s list of top fundraising consultants to find one who can help you secure the funds you need to maintain operations.

Develop a grant seeking plan for the immediate future.

Establish a plan for moving forward.

No one knows when things will return to “normal” or what our new “normal” may be. What we do know is that this current unstable footing we’re experiencing will eventually settle, and we’ll be on to the next horizon. Because of this, your organization should keep its future plans in mind when seeking support today.

Once you’ve established a plan to address the current circumstances, it’s imperative that you get back to your long-term, pipeline work. In order to do this, you must understand the impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on your organization. Then, address organizational impact by doing the following:

  • Address how the COVID-19 crisis has affected your work and its future impact.
  • Convey the continued significance of your mission in the context of everything that’s happening.
  • Highlight your successes and how you will continue to support each of your current funder’s priorities.

Once you’ve established a solid plan for current funders, you’ll want to continue identifying and cultivating prospective funders. History has shown us that even in the worst economic downturns, most grantmakers don’t change their core priorities. Based on this, you may be more successful in seeking funding to support your core, ongoing mission. A funder whose priorities align with yours make for a strong prospect, because it’s highly likely that they’ll remain a fit for your organization once the current crisis subsides.

Once you’ve identified your targets, shift your focus to applying for funding and securing that crucial long-term support. Comply with any requirements. Then, craft an effective proposal by leveraging the tips covered in our nonprofit grant writing guide.

Even if the crisis isn’t dramatically affecting your organization, your proposal must make a compelling case that your work is relevant now more than ever. By effectively conveying your organization’s unique alignment with the foundation’s mission as well as your urgent need for funding, you’ll be more likely to secure their much-needed support.

Funding—especially grants—will only become more competitive as the needs intensify in our communities. We firmly believe that the organizations that will be the most successful in securing funds are those that are proactive about preserving relationships and continuing their grant seeking efforts.

To stop is to put your grant revenues and relationships with funders at risk—not only now but in the longer-term. Do all you can to continue communicating and cultivating opportunities. This way, your organization can keep fulfilling its mission and prepare for a future beyond the current circumstances.