8 Signs You Should (or Shouldn’t) Pursue a Grant Opportunity

Grant funding is important for nonprofits, especially right now amid an ongoing period of pandemic challenges and associated economic turbulence.

Thankfully, most organizations have been able to move beyond the more urgent disaster fundraising phase of the pandemic and are looking forward to an exciting new year of programming and campaigning.

For smaller teams without dedicated grant writers, the top of the year can be the perfect time to shift focus towards grant seeking and writing stellar grant proposals. In the first months of the new year, the virtual fundraising and event tasks of the holiday rush will have calmed down, giving you more time to focus on securing new and diverse revenue sources for the coming year.

But how can you know where your efforts will be best spent? How can you prepare now in order to confidently identify the right opportunities to pursue?

For many nonprofits, the answer is to work with external grant experts to support the  identification and proposal processes. But there are still signs that every nonprofit professional should understand and be able to recognize when researching grants.

We’ll walk through the signs that might mean you should or shouldn’t pursue a grant opportunity, plus what you’ll need to get started on the right foot in the coming year. Let’s dive in.

Signs You Should Pursue a Grant

Let’s say you find a grant opportunity that appears to be a great fit for your organization. It’s in line with your programming capacity, has an achievable application deadline, and would provide an amount of funding that gets you excited for what you could accomplish. Excellent!

But remember that grant seeking is hard work that requires your team’s time and resources. Before committing to drafting a proposal for this grant, you’ll need to double check a few things.

Here are the top signs that pursuing a grant opportunity is likely a worthwhile use of your time:

  • You have an existing relationship with the funder. If you’ve received funding from this foundation or corporation in the past or have professional connections with a relevant point of contact, your existing relationship can help to give your proposal a significant competitive advantage. And if you don’t yet have a relationship with a promising funder, you can always work to establish one!
  • Your geographic areas of focus and/or missions are aligned. Does the funder focus on serving the particular geographic region where you’re located and conduct on-the-ground programming? More importantly, does their stated mission align with your own? If so, applying for this grant could be a smart move.
  • They have a track record of funding similar organizations and projects. Conduct some research into the funder’s track record. If they’ve funded organizations similar in size and mission to your own and have supported projects along the lines of what you’ll propose, your chances of securing funding could be strong.
  • Your mission and proposed project have a demonstrable need. How strongly can you make the argument that there’s a need for your programming in your community? Can you clearly explain to the funder that your project will have a measurable impact on your constituents? If so, your proposal should be able to stand out above others.

While these signs aren’t necessarily prerequisites that must all apply for you to succeed, they are still extremely important indicators of your odds. If a grant opportunity displays several (or ideally all) of these signs, going for it could be a smart move!

Think of it this way: While it might be possible to secure a grant with a shot-in-the-dark proposal, your team’s time will certainly be better spent pursuing opportunities where these signs do apply, making your chances of success higher.

Signs You Shouldn’t Pursue a Grant (or Should Proceed Cautiously)

On the flipside, let’s say you find a new grant opportunity that looks extremely appealing at first glance. But after digging deeper into the funder’s history, mission, and the grant’s scope and requirements, you decide that pursuing it won’t be worth your organization’s time and resources.

What are the red flags to look for? These signs generally indicate that your organization won’t be the right fit for a grant opportunity:

  • Your proposed project has a poor potential ROI. Funders want to allocate their support in the most impactful ways possible, so they look for projects that fill demonstrable needs and have measurable impacts. If you find yourself proposing an irrelevant or hard-to-measure project simply for the sake of securing a grant, chances are high the funder will pass on your proposal.
  • Your organization doesn’t yet have a connection to the funder. While connections aren’t required for securing grants and can be developed over time, they certainly help to catch the attention of funders. Other organizations applying for the grant possibly do already have connections to the funder that will give them a leg up. Again, focus on cultivating relationships with promising funders to increase your chances of success.
  • Your missions aren’t aligned. If your nonprofit’s mission is completely misaligned with a funder’s and its history of funded projects, your proposal will likely get little attention.
  • The funder has a “closed door” policy. Funders will sometimes explicitly say that they do not accept unsolicited grant proposals, meaning they’ll most likely reject any proposals that have not already been discussed together beforehand. These funders should be lower priority for your organization until you have a chance to reach out and cultivate relationships with them.

Again, these signs don’t definitively mean that your application has zero chance of success, but remember that you need to spend your time and resources wisely.

You’ll be able to maximize your own ROI from the grant seeking process by prioritizing opportunities that avoid the hurdles listed above. Understanding and recognizing these signs will help you to develop a more efficient and ultimately successful grant seeking strategy over time as you refine your strategies and build more relationships with funders.

What You’ll Need to Get Started

Once you’ve reviewed these green- and red-light indicators and determined that a grant is worth pursuing, there are a few essentials you’ll need to have:

  • Team bandwidth (or outside support). Before diving into grant seeking, make sure one or more team members have the capacity to make it a top priority. Outside grant experts can also help increase your capacity and ensure your team can stay focused on boosting fundraising revenue and connecting with donors.
  • Team willingness. As mentioned above, your relationships with funders can play significant roles in the success of your grant seeking efforts. Your leadership, senior staff, and program leaders should be ready and willing to learn about relationship cultivation and help reach out to funders as needed.
  • A grant management plan. Once you secure a grant, you’ll need a plan in place for executing your proposal, tracking results, and reporting back to the funder. If you’re unsure of where to start, the Grants Plus grant management guide covers the essentials.
  • Impact data. To make a compelling case for support, you’ll need to demonstrate that there’s a real need for your work and that your past efforts in the community have been impactful. Make sure your nonprofit actively tracks donation, campaign, and program data in an organized way so that you can use it when seeking grants.
  • Time. Finally, writing a winning grant application takes time. Make sure the team members involved will have a reasonable amount of time to complete it before the funder’s deadline.

These are essential resources when seeking any type of outside source of funding, including:

Simply put, you need the ability to devote time to grant seeking and the resources to illustrate your mission and proposed project in a compelling way.

But it all starts with knowing which opportunities are worth pursuing. Although any extra funding for your mission is generally welcome, remember that your time and resources are valuable!

External grant seeking experts can be excellent resources whether your team is stretched thin, you’re new to grant seeking, or you just want some extra guidance. They’ll be able to familiarize your team with the signs discussed above and walk you through the process of sifting through opportunities to find your next grant.

This post was contributed by Kari Elsila, a Senior Advisor at Grants Plus. Grants Plus has secured $200 million in grant funding for nonprofit organizations around the country since 2007. As Senior Advisor, Kari coaches and guides nonprofit leaders to be more successful at finding and securing grants from foundations, corporations, and government funders.

Kari is an experienced grant writer and editor who brings passion for the nonprofit sector and excels at crafting compelling cases for support. Prior to joining Grants Plus, she held positions in foundation relations and grants management at Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes. Earlier in her career, she worked at a Cleveland-area family foundation, which gave her valuable insight into the grantmaking process. Kari holds a BA from the University of Michigan in Social Science and a Master of Nonprofit Organizations degree from Case Western Reserve University.