Securing government funding can be extremely advantageous for a nonprofit. It offers you a new funding stream beyond individual donations, private grants, and earned income, and it can make your organization look even more appealing to other potential funders. However, many nonprofits feel daunted by the seemingly complex, bureaucratic process of seeking federal, state, or local funds.
To help clarify the process, the Foundation Center held a special workshop on March 19 called Government Grants 101: Finding Support for Your Organization. The program was led by grant consultant Marilyn Hoyt and Queens College’s institutional development and major gifts officer Jeff Rosenstock. In previous postings highlighting our government funding workshops, we have featured information related to some of the technical aspects of seeking, applying for, and managing these funds, such as Discretionary Funding: How Does it Work?, Tips for Local Government Funding, and Finding Grants and Contracts from the City of New York. In this installment, meanwhile, our presenters included some great insight on one of the best methods for demystifying government grants, namely the importance of building relationships with government funders. Here are a few details.
Know your program officer. Every government agency, no matter how seemingly opaque, has a human face in charge of it, and an assistant as well. Find out who these people are, and find a way to meet them, or at least get to know them over the phone. You may be confused about application processes and unsure what your chances of success could be, but the simplest way to clarify your uncertainties is by maintaining steady, open communication with the people running the show, and ensuring that they are familiar with your nonprofit’s work as well. The program officer can answer any and all questions you have and provide you with feedback on your prospects for getting funded, and will become more likely to view your organization not as a faceless applicant, but as a human entity.
Be resilient and seek out feedback. If this is your very first time applying for government funds, the odds are that you will not get the grant the first time around. Don’t let that deter you! Your first application merely gets the ball rolling, allowing you to get your name out there and get some practice with the application procedures. The key is to follow up with the program officer after the rejection. Contact the agency and politely ask for some constructive feedback on why your application wasn’t accepted, and make note of the feedback you receive so that you can correct any missteps in future applications. After you have talked to the program officer, send a thank-you note for their feedback, and you’ll be ready to apply again. The important thing is to transform this from a bureaucratic process into an actual human dialogue, thereby making your proposal more than just an application.
Know your field and get involved. If a relevant grant opportunity is out there, try to learn what other organizations are also applying, or have received this funding in past years. This can give you some understanding of how your competitors’ work might differ from yours, and offer some insight on what your chances are and how you can improve those chances. It can also be useful to employ the expertise of your peers in the field as you’re crafting your application (assuming that your peers are not applying for that same grant). When you finish drafting an applications, have some colleagues and peers within the field review your work and offer feedback. Some of these people may have more first-hand knowledge than you do about what goes into a successful application, and their critiques can be valuable.
Finally, when you’ve grown accustomed to the process of applying for government funds, see if you can navigate your way over to the other side of the funding process. Grant applications are typically reviewed by panels of experts in the field; when you’ve gotten to know the people involved in the relevant government agencies, and other organizations in the field, try to become a part of a panel. You’ll get a new perspective on what goes into funding decisions and possibly learn some new ideas for your own future funding requests.
For more information on government grants, you can check out some of our previous blog postings on the subject, read our Knowledge Base article Where Can I Find Information About Government Grants?, which links you to a variety of resources, or view a webinar on navigating Grants.gov. Finally, for details on local New York City funding available for nonprofits, the NYC Government Assistance page can get you started on the right foot.
Foundation Center--New York