So there you are, sitting at your non-profit desk, going about your non-profit business, when suddenly a man in a hat bursts through the door clutching a piece of paper. He is wild-eyed and out-of-breath.

Alarmed, you stand up, ready to spring into action. What sort of emergency has found you this day?

Panting and doubled over at the waist, the man holds out the paper to you, indicating that you should take it. “I’m from the Chamber,” he manages to blurt out, in between gasps.

You cautiously step toward him and reach out to take the paper. You cock one eyebrow, suspiciously de-crumpling the flyer. What could be the source of this man’s great haste?

The headline on the paper is printed in bold letters and a REALLY big font. It screams out “Grant Opportunity!”

Your heart instantly begins beating faster. Little beads of sweat start to form on your forehead. Your palms get clammy. “When? When?” Your eyes frantically dart about the page, searching for a deadline.

What? No. That can’t be right! What day is today? Monday? The grant is due, when? WEDNESDAY? Oh, $#!&! “There’s no time!” you scream out at the man in the hat. (Why is he wearing a hat, you wonder to yourself…)

“Sorry…we forgot… to get this out… last month.” The man looks like he’s about to pass out. “Must… keep…going. Must… tell…next…non…profit…” and he staggers out the door.

You stand there, in the middle of the room, dazed and a little confused. A grant application takes time. You have to gather material. You have to write a letter. You have to think about the entire presentation. How can this all be done within 36 hours?

Do as the Boy Scouts Do, Always Be Prepared.

Ok, has this ever happened to you before? Or at least something like it, maybe with a little less drama? Have you have ever found out about a grant opportunity with only a few days before it’s due? If you have, you know how difficult it is to get everything pulled together on such short notice.

Therefore, I want to recommend to you that you take some time now, while there is no emergency, to put together a few things that might make it easier for you, if such a situation did arise.

Here are a few things to prepare:

1. A generic grant application cover letter. You can always tweak it later, but if you write a really thorough template letter that clearly states your organization’s mission, a little about your group’s history, some of the general outcomes of your non-profit’s work with the clients, and a bit about your general needs, you will be in great shape once the clock is ticking. Remember, the more quality content you put into the letter now, the easier it will be to add, delete, and move around later.

2. A detailed wish list. You won’t know ahead of time what a particular foundation may be asking for, so I urge you to start working now on an exhaustive list of everything your organization would like to have but can’t afford on your own. This could include physical items, such as a vehicle for transporting clients to a commercial grade convection oven. The list should also include staff funding requests, building project estimates, and any professional training opportunities, to name just a few. Be sure to write a few sentences about each item and have a roguh cost in mind, so that when it comes time to put the official request together, you’ve already got a solid start to your application.

3. A testimonial sheet. Perhaps you won’t need such a document, depending on the foundation awarding the grant, but it never hurts to have a few glowing quotes about your organization at the ready. Make sure that each paragraph comes from a different demographic representative within your community- young, old, stay-at-home-mom, small business owner, banker, teacher, you name it. It will help you to have a wide array of positive comments about your group.

4. A well-laid out press clippings page. This might be a little harder to put together in a nice, little package, but you should have some recent newspaper articles about your group ready to put in the application. By seeing recent reports of your group’s activity, a foundation may impressed and look more favorably upon your application.  It can’t hurt.

5. Up-to-date financial records. Again, you may have to figure out exactly what each foundation is looking for when it comes to financial reports, but you should work with your organization’s bookkeeper to make sure you can produce up-to-the-minute profit and loss statements on short notice. You should prepare your group’s financial committee that you may need a report at anytime, so always be ready to print one off.

6. A plan for collaboration with another non-profit. This item is also a little tougher to plan ahead of time, but well worth the effort. I think it would be wise for you to start having informal, casual, hypothetical conversations with directors from other non-profits in your area about possibly working together on a project in the future if the conditions were ever right. Many foundations like to see two or even more non-profits working together, so if your surprise grant opportunity suggests a collaborative effort would be appealing, you should already have a few ideas in mind. All you’d have to do is pick up the phone and make a few calls to start the wheels turning on a group project.

Your Turn

What are some other items to have prepared ahead of time for a surprise grant opportunity? I’d love to hear what you think or have experienced. Please share in our comments section!

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Posted on 21 April 2011

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5 Comments For This Post

  1. Sandra says:

    Love your story! Oh, and I have been in situations when the deadline is a few days or less. These are great tips to be prepared for a surprise grant application, surprise site visit or surprise speaking engagement.

  2. Leslie says:

    Get your case statements in order for everything on your wish list. Go ahead and write a grant template for every funding opportunity. You can then tweak and customize what you need.

  3. Kirsten Bullock says:

    What a great story! Keeping a well-stocked grab file definitely helped me stay ahead of the game when I was writing grants. I also kept on hand a full ‘basic’ grant application that included history of the organization, reasons why they were the best organization to accomplish the goal of the grant application and the program plan.

    Thanks for these useful tips!

  4. Kirsten Bullock says:

    As a grants manager in a prior life, I was saved more than once by having an easily accessible grab file that included this information. Additional pieces that I tried to have handy was a complete project plan for each program, information about the organization (history and reasoning for them being the right group to address the issue) and needs statement.

    Thanks for these great tips!

  5. Betsy Baker says:

    I like a grant template. Most information stays the same in it such as history and mission, programs and staff and then you can cut and paste the sections you need. I managed to send out a LOT of applications (for the same organization) using this method just tweaking what specific funders wanted to see. It’s more work up front but then you’re not reinventing the wheel every time a new application comes due.


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