Grant readiness is crucial to grant program success. Before you spend time searching and applying for grants, there are steps you want to take to ensure you’re in the best position to receive the awards you’re applying for.
Step 1 – Figure out what you’re trying to fund.
There must be a grant purpose such as a specific project or operational grant to support general program operations. According to Carole Berwald, GPC, a Certified Grants Professional with 25 years experience in grant writing and over 10 years in the behavioral health industry, the best time to apply for a grant is when you are clear about the purpose of the funding you are seeking. A special project or purpose that supports your organization mission is a good place to start. For instance, you may have identified an unmet program need within your mental health population such as aged out foster youth or domestic violence victims. You would research grant opportunities designated for this population.
You can also research types of funding such as capital or program funds. Berwald also stresses that grant funds are not a good source of revenue to cover an operational deficit. Foundations prefer to fund projects and programs that can demonstrate other stable sources of revenue. Grant funds are often used to enhance or expand existing programs or for one-time costs that will take your program to the next level.
Step 2 – Develop a budget.
Once you have decided on your grant purpose, you will need to develop its associated budget. A simple list of all direct and indirect costs is a good place to start. Direct costs include personnel salaries, benefits, travel, equipment, supplies, etc., needed to make the project a reality. Indirect costs include overhead expenses like building costs, insurance, utilities, etc. Once you find a grant you want to apply for, you will need to check the grant guidelines to determine what costs the funder will (or will not) fund and craft your budget from there. Identifying specific costs ahead of time will position you to better to locate an appropriate grant and accurately demonstrate your funding needs.
Step 3 – Identify other sources of income, if any.
Grantmakers want to see that you have money coming in before they will give you additional grant money. They want to make sure your agency is financially stable with enough revenue to implement and sustain the project they are funding. They will ask you to provide all sources of income for your project including fee for service, third party reimbursement, individual donations, other grants, and revenue from special events.
Step 4 – Gather Organization Information.
Grants are like business plans. Each application will tell you what kind of information to provide. Getting this information together before you start preparing your application will help you meet deadlines and requirements. Commonly requested information includes:
- Leadership bios/CVs
- Board of Director’s roster
- Audited financial statements
- IRS Form 990
- Organizational history/background
- Organization success stories and use cases
- Treatment population demographic data
- Documented program outcomes
- Annual reports
Step 5 – Designate or hire a grants researcher or writer.
Finding relevant grants and preparing very specific application requirements is time consuming and there is no room for error in its execution. You may have a capable staff member with the time to manage and grow your grants program who is willing to learn and champion the effort. If this is not the case, you may need to hire someone already experienced to do so. You can also ask other organizations if they have used any contract grant writers, or you can search the Grant Professionals Association’s consultants database.
Step 6 – Once an eligible grant is located, assess the deadline for the application and decide if it is achievable.
Deadlines are taken very seriously and there will be no submittals accepted after the deadline passes. Make sure you understand how the grant has to be submitted to ensure you build enough time into the grant writing process to meet format and submission requirements. Even if you hire an outside grant writer, you will still need to budget a significant amount of time to work with them to develop the proposal and complete the application.