The Role of Grant Writing for Nonprofits

woman grant writing for nonprofits
learning about grant writing for nonprofits to win grants

Why Grant Writing for Nonprofits is Important

Nonprofit organizations, as their name implies, don’t earn money like normal businesses. Legally, they cannot rely on sales or paid-for services, known as unrelated business activities, to maintain their nonprofit status. Instead, they must earn their income through “related business activities” which are events related to their mission statement. Many nonprofits rely on fundraising, membership fees, and donations. Notably, these funds are rarely enough to maintain projects, pay staff, cover upkeep costs, and allow for sustainable growth. Especially not for new or small organizations. That’s where grant writing for nonprofits comes in.

Grants allow nonprofits access to funds that allow them to start up new projects or programs. For example, if a community center wants to add a new afterschool program for their local teens, they’ll need to cover the costs of hiring instructors and/or supervisors, supplies and furniture, and marketing. There may also be additional fees for licensure and higher upkeep costs. The final estimated cost to start and maintain this sort of program may land somewhere in the thousands. A small community center in a small town may take months to raise this kind of cash.

Where Grants Come In

A grant, however, may cover most, if not all, of those expenses upfront. Businesses and individuals alike offer grant programs that nonprofits can apply for and fund such programs. And, best of all, the money does not need to be repaid (as long as it is used correctly).

The downside of relying on grants is that the process is extremely competitive and time-consuming. Hundreds to thousands of nonprofit organizations all apply for the same limited pool of cash. New nonprofits often struggle as older organizations have pre-existing relationships with funders in addition to years of proof of their success and value. On top of that, the process can be grueling, especially for inexperienced writers.

Most nonprofits need or could benefit from having an on-staff grant writer. However, hiring a professional can be extremely costly due to their value in the nonprofit world. Thus, if you’re starting an organization or are currently working for one, knowing all about grant writing for nonprofits can help you and your cause a great deal.

Understanding the Role of Grant Writing for Nonprofits

Above, we mentioned that grants allow for sustainable growth and new programs or projects. If you have an established program working now and have no desire to add a new one in the foreseeable future, you can and should still learn about grant writing for nonprofits before you need it.

Truly, the needs of your community are bound to change with time. Perhaps, you may even see your community as a whole grow. Consider the people your nonprofit currently serves. Perhaps it’s the local youth or veterans or the homeless population in your area. Now consider what other services they rely on, beyond your nonprofit.

You Need to Be Prepared

Do the kids enjoy going to the local community center? Is there currently a transportation service taking the veterans to and from the hospital? Is there a shelter or safe place for your homeless community members to sleep? To eat and bathe? If so, what would happen if your community lost those resources? You may see the people you serve being faced with new struggles and obstacles. You might not be able to help right away, but you can be prepared to help by knowing how to write grant proposals and find funds for those new services.

On the other hand, what if a new organization shows up and begins offering the same or similar services as your nonprofit? Would your nonprofit survive the competition, or would you need to diversify your offerings?

Ultimately, you want to ensure that your nonprofit stays relevant and helpful to your community. To do so, it’s important to know about one of the major components of running a successful nonprofit. Indeed, funding is one of the major reasons many nonprofit organizations fail today. Keep reading to learn more about grant writing for nonprofits.

woman holding a paper that says "make a change"

Why Grant Writing Skills Matter

When many people start to learn about grant writing for nonprofits they can be both surprised and overwhelmed by how specialized and complex the process can be. Indeed, a successful grant proposal often requires a strong combination of creative and technical writing skills. You must be capable of writing a complex, well-structured narrative that delves into fact, history, research, and storytelling. It needs to be interesting, factual, and emotional. It needs to call the readers, the funders, into action and give them a reason to care about the work you’re doing.

In addition, most funders mandate that you follow their strict guidelines, which may differ somewhat from funder to funder. Some applications can take pros between 80 and 200 hours to fill out. Something as simple as incorrect formatting may disqualify you from a grant and harm your relationship with a possible funder. After all, these people are trusting you with hundreds or thousands of dollars with no financial return or guarantee of success. They want to know the people they’re entrusting the money to can follow directions and care about what they’re doing.

And, on top of that, the more successful grant writers know how to socialize and build relationships with their funders. Good relationships increase the chances of funders prioritizing your grant proposals in the future or even deciding to support your nonprofit by way of donations.

Professional Grant Writers are In-Demand

Considering how vital grants are to a nonprofit’s success and sustainability, you don’t want to push all of that work onto an inexperienced employee. Nor would you want to take it all on yourself without some sort of training.

As we mentioned before, bringing on a professional grant writer is expensive. Truly, new and small nonprofits can rarely afford the cost. Thankfully, between professional courses and online content, you or one of your staff can learn all about the process.

Online content, while free or cheap, will only take you so far if your writing or research skills need serious improvement. Many people today struggle to find trustworthy sources given the vast amount of information available online. And few people are natural-born writers. In addition, with no one to give you feedback, part of your learning curve may be trial by fire. Truly, grant writing for nonprofits is grueling enough when you’re trying to piece it together on your own.

However, it’s better to utilize whatever resources you can if you cannot yet afford more professional training. Just be prepared – even professional grant writers will see more failures than successes. Grant writing success ranges from 10 to 30% on average.

charity table; grant writing for nonprofits

Considering the Impact of Your Nonprofit

When thinking about grant writing for nonprofits, you are forced to face the impact or hypothetical impact of your organization. While most nonprofit leaders have good intentions at heart, many have unrealistic plans or ideas of what they can do. Grant writing can sometimes reveal the limitations of your work in painful, but necessary ways.

On the other hand, the research and data you gather can help invigorate you. Running a nonprofit is hard, time-consuming work. You might not be able to see everyone you’ve helped from behind your desk. Truly, seeing those numbers on the page and the difference you make can help you get the wind back in your sails and get you thinking about what to do next. And it might even show just what your next project should be.

What Grant Failure Can Show You

Unfortunately, when grant writing for nonprofits, you’ll likely face more rejections than anything else. But you can always learn from the failures and improve your program for the next application. Truly, you may walk away from a grant proposal failure with the knowledge that your idea needs to be altered in some way. Maybe you missed a serious expense or need to rework something that funders don’t like.

Ultimately, you may discover that your really cool, helpful idea isn’t realistic (right now) or maybe even possible. It can be a harsh reality check, but one that will stop you from wasting hundreds or thousands of dollars on a program that ultimately won’t help anyone.

This aspect of the grant writing process can be painful, but, overall, extremely helpful. Once you know what you’re doing when writing grants, you’ll be better at figuring out where the problem lies, even if the funders don’t provide feedback.

Overcoming Challenges

One of the major reasons you should invest resources into learning about grant writing for nonprofits is the major challenges organizations face. We’ve briefly discussed the lack the resources nonprofits face and how difficult grant writing can be but, unfortunately, that just scratches the surface.

In addition, new nonprofits may seriously struggle to find quality grants and funders. Indeed, part of the process revolves around finding relevant grants, which may not always be obvious. You’ll have to research funders thoroughly to learn about their goals and focuses. Ultimately, you will spend hours researching each company or individual and learning about their current goals (which may change regularly). As an added frustration, getting access to funder databases also costs money; new organizations might not be able to afford the membership fee right away.

The next challenge lies in how often the funding landscape changes from year to year. Not only do funders change interests, but the industry you’re working in may see a new trend that you’re not interested in following. Notably, right now, the world is talking about AI, using AI in new ways, and even considering replacing jobs with AI chatbots. Some funders will follow those trends, even if you don’t want to. Changing trends may change how relevant and realistic your program is within the blink of an eye.

Lakewood University

Lakewood University offers a 16-week online grant writing certificate program. Students in this class learn how to navigate the world of grant proposals and funders. In addition, they’ll hone their writing skills and discover how to write persuasive, emotional, and informational arguments. Students may also work on their real-world grant throughout the program, getting expert advice through the course. Ultimately, graduates leave with the skills needed to succeed in their careers.

Lakewood University is an accredited online school that offers a variety of degree and certificate programs. We have rolling enrollments and asynchronous courses. In other words, you don’t have to worry about missing a lecture or running late to class. If you plan on enrolling in college while working, Lakewood University offers the flexibility you need to earn your degree.

Don’t hesitate – reach out to our admissions department today to learn more!