by Denisha Ferguson
Although typically a non-profit organizations’ primary concern is with positively impacting the community that they serve, it takes money to make that happen. As with everything else in life and business, however- the greater the non-profit’s ambitions, the greater their financial need will be. This also means that the less money that they have, the more limited that they become in their ability to make impact. That is where grants come in. If you’re currently feeling the frustration of the gap between how you want to serve others versus what you’re actually currently able to do, here are 4 tips for applying for funding (that I wish I’d known before I got started).
#1 Research grants
When I first started looking into getting funding for my non-profit, Indiana Fashion Foundation, there was no list of grants that existed specifically for my city. If you have tried researching grant lists for your city and are hitting the same wall, check your non-profit division because they can help guide you towards grant opportunities that exist in your area.
Due to the lack of information available at the time, I did a lot of networking. This involved attending seminars, meet ups and other useful events that are tailored for non-profit organizations. Although this was pre-pandemic, you can still put you and your organization out there by simply calling the local funding agencies that you find in your research. Facebook groups are also great sources for information and potential collaborations. Be sure to keep a list or spreadsheet of all of the funding opportunities that you come across to make sure that all details are easily accessible to you and you don’t miss deadlines, for example.
#3 Get 501c3 status (or collaborate with an agency that has it)
Some grants require you to have 501c3 (non-profit) status before you can apply. The issue? This can take between 2-12 months. That’s not even taking into consideration the fact that grant application processes can also be very long. For example, I applied for a grant in January that I will not hear back from until June. An alternative, then, would be to get under a physical agent who already has their 501c3 status while you wait for yours to come through (which is what we did). During the period of time that you work with that agent, all legal obligations remain up to you and your organization. They will, however, perform duties such as accepting the money, making sure that everything is compliant and dispersing the funds. You would simply pay them an agreed percentage for these services e.g. 6-8%.
#4 Gather data and use it as evidence
The work of a non-profit is to positively impact the community. In order to receive funding, you need to be able to demonstrate to the funders how you do that so they can see exactly where the money will be going, who it’s going to help and what data you have to back that up e.g. giving 50 meals this year to homeless individuals or bringing in in over 1000 pieces of clothing for them. There is power in numbers, even if it is 2, because it allows you to say essentially: “this what I did with the resources that I have and then over the next several months- with your help- this is how we look to progress”.
The amount of evidence and data that you will have to produce varies from grant application to grant application. For example, some of them might ask you to submit your evidence (documents) through a portal with designated spaces for you to fill out and attach documents. On the other hand, some of them may want you to put together a proposal complete with charts.
When Indiana Fashion Foundation first put on Indiana Fashion week, our focus was on pulling the community together to show that this is what the people want. Given that we were running on a really shoe string budget and we didn’t have a method for people to just go in and enter data, we had paper surveys that we used to diligently capture data such as:
- What people paid to attend
- Their details (e.g. name, age and demographic)
- Case studies
- Testimonials regarding how the event impacted people within the community (written as well as in video format)
#5 Make sure to only apply to grants that truly align with your organization’s ethos and programmes
Grants tend to come with conditions. It’s not free money for you to spend as you please; so, if you said that you would use the funds for supplies or a particular event when you applied, that is exactly what the funders expect you to spend it on. Not only that, they typically want a report of how the funds were dispersed at the end of the funding period. Not complying with these conditions can either result in penalties or you’ll have to send that money back. As such, it’s imperative to only apply for grants that truly align with your organization’s ethos or programmes and not try to twist and turn them to suit you.
Denisha-Dlang Ferguson is a creative catalyst, event producer and fashion designer. She is the CEO of Indiana Fashion Foundation and produces Indiana Fashion Week. She combines research and creativity to help businesses and creators launch their ideas and events. She co-authored 2 books that reached #1 AMAZON Bestseller, You Can and Prayers for the Boss Babes, as did her most recent solo book project Year of The Creator. Her work has been featured in tv, magazines and websites like Thrive Global, Elephant Journal, Forbes and MTV’s Ridiculousness. She has been a guest on podcasts such as The Mindset Mastery podcast, Made in Indy, Do Boss and Motor City Woman. You can find out more at yearofthecreator.com and denishaferguson.com
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