There is an art to grant writing that goes far beyond immaculate paperwork with all I’s dotted and T’s crossed. Successful grantsmanship includes knowing your organization’s budget, your community’s expectations and the ability to match your organization’s needs to the right grantor—fundamentals instructor Marci Asher seeks to share in her class, Grantwriting 101.
Asher has worked for nonprofit organizations since she completed her undergraduate studies in 2009, but she was not called upon to write grants until she took the position of Executive Director of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra in Richmond, IN, an organization whose livelihood relied on an annual grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. “This grant was 30% of the annual budget,” says Asher, “so there was a lot of pressure not to mess it up.”
One significant skill a grant writer seeks to master is how to tailor financial opportunities to their nonprofit’s needs. In some cases, pinpointing those needs is evident. “When I went on to work for Richmond’s Wernle Youth and Family Treatment Center the grant process got easier due to youth being the focus,” Asher recalls. “I wrote a minimum of one grant per month. Most times it was over that amount, depending on what became available and made sense for us to apply to.”
It was not until after she relocated to Seattle that Asher felt she accomplished her greatest grant writing feat. “My biggest win was a grant I wrote for Urban Family Center in south Seattle,” she recalls. “It was a partnership with other nonprofits and being backed by the school system we were serving. The total amount was $850,000 over 3 years.” Asher’s grant writing game has only improved since. “I currently work for The Arc of King County. We have been awarded $402,500. As a point of reference, I have applied for over a million dollars total and only received the $400K.”
Asher has found that part of making nonprofits sustainable lies in how an organization compartmentalizes each facet of their fundraising, something she calls a “silo.” Think of it as a nonprofit’s toolbox, only much more heavily reinforced and rooted deep below the surface of an organization. “I have always wanted to help better the nonprofits I work for and grant writing is a silo you need to have in order to be a good fundraiser,” she says. “Funding is the biggest issue of sustaining any nonprofit. There must be equal amounts of silos, i.e. grant writing, major donors, annual giving, community support and events. Of course, there are other issues, particularly if your mission does not match your programming, staffing, and lack of facilities.”
Presenting to the community as a durable and well-managed organization is another nonprofit silo. “Being established is a big deal,” says Asher. “Being established means having data, having good staff to back up your work and having a history to prove your work.”
Unity and an agreed vision are paramount for a nonprofit. According to Asher, if a nonprofit is successful at matching their programming to their mission, they are way ahead of the game. “Fundraising is really selling something,” she says. “If you do not have a product to sell, you are not going to be an effective fundraiser.”
The nonprofit ecosphere is populated with more funding resources than many of us realize and part of being an adept fundraiser is connecting with the appropriate grantor. Success in this process comes from an investment of time and hands-on experience. “The biggest challenge is finding grants that meet each other’s guidelines,” Asher notes. “I would say there was nothing in particular that made me good at grant writing other than practice. No one class prepared me other than the required writing courses I took for my undergraduate degree. Grant writing is really no different than fundraising in general. You need to know the people you are asking for funding and for them to conclude you are a good fit.”
A great part of Asher’s success as a grant writer stems not entirely from her business and marketing background, but her love of community. “This will be my first-time teaching grant writing,” she says. “I do know I love people and I love learning and this class will have both of those elements. I know you cannot teach without learning. I want people to walk away knowing that it is a numbers game, and not everyone can say ‘No’.”
Learn more about Grantwriting 101.