Tag Archives: grant writing

How to use 990 tax forms for grant writing?

Writing grants can be a long, arduous process.  In this past blog, we talked about five steps for grant writing.  Once you have identified possible funders who share alignment with your organization’s mission and goals, you want to gather more information to make a compelling grant request.

Some helpful things to know about a possible funder before submitting a grant application are the following:

  1. Who have they funded in the past?Tax form image
  2. How much have been their grants?
  3. What have been the projects / services funded?
  4. Who is on their Board of Directors?

This research is not an absolute that would change your grant proposal but would help inform the overall approach and priorities to pitch. In general you want to know the types of organizations that they have funded in the past to see if you fit into the category.  For example, if the funder has only supported direct service organizations then they may not fund an intermediary organization. You would still want to ask the funder to make sure you fit their description of possible grantees but this might provide some good insight.

Secondly, it is really important to find out their typical grant funding range. You don’t want your ask to be too small when you could have asked for a higher amount based on their past funding. At the same time, you don’t want your ask too large if that is well beyond what they have funded.  Again, you still want to talk with the funder about what you are proposing, the need and an appropriate amount.

Third, it is helpful to see the types of projects that they have funded. Typically, the funder will list acceptable areas of focus and uses of the grant funds.  However, sometimes that information is not readily available.  For example, would the funder support capital projects, capacity building projects for the organization, or the types of direct services?

Fourth, grant writing is so much more than the technical writing and submission of grant applications.  It is really about building a relationship with the funder and grantee.  The funder is a partner and extension of the work of your organization.  As such, you will want to build a relationship with the funder including the staff and members of their board of directors.

Some funders do a good job of including this information on their website.  However, we find that not all of this information is readily available. A great tool that we turn to is finding the funder’s “Form 990-PF” tax return.

What is Tax Form 990-PF?

Tax exempt organizations must file some version of the Tax Form 990 with the IRS each year to maintain their standing. Non-profit organizations file Form 990, and private foundations file Form 990-PF. The “PF” stands for Private Foundation.

The 990-PF provides fiscal data for the foundation, names of trustees and officers, application information, and a complete grants list.  The last item is most helpful for your research.

The funder lists all of the organizations who received a grant in the past calendar year.  It essentially answers the three items listed above: who they founded, how much and for what!

The 990-PF can also be useful for relationship building with the funder. For example, an organization’s Form 990 includes the contact information for the private foundation if they do not have a website. In addition, the 990 provides the names of the people on the board and the officers whom you might know and start to build relationships.

Where can you find the Form 990-PF for Funders?

In today’s information age, there are some great online tools to find organization’s 990s.  

  1. Search Engines: You can search an organization’s 990 through different online search engines, such as Google by using keywords.
  2. Funder’s Website: Some funders will post their past 990s directly on their website, so start there.
  3. Foundation Center’s 990 Finder: they have developed an online search tool specifically for 990s. There are other organizations, such as Charity Navigator, that post 990s but they link back to the Foundation Center. 

If you are looking to increase and diversify your funding through grant writing, contact us.  We would love to learn more about your goals and see how we can accelerate your impact!

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How to Create a Fund Development Plan

At Transform Consulting Group, we know how stressful and time consuming it can be to find funding sources that match an organization’s mission and vision that are also sustainable for future growth. We have found that taking the time to create a fund development plan and have some additional resources on-hand can greatly reduce the stress and confusion related to finding (and landing!) funding.

In this blog, we will share some of the tips and strategies we use with clients to formalize their fund development plans.

Start with the END in Mind

Before you choose which fundraising strategy to pursue, you need a clear vision of where you (and your Board) want Shoes at Arrowsyour organization to be as a result of this funding ask. In order to know where you want to end up, start with these two steps:

Step 1: Review your Strategic Plan

Having a clear and updated strategic plan can be a very helpful resource in deciding which funding streams to pursue to support your organization’s goals.

Step 2: Identify Top Program and Financial Goals
  1. What are your program goals for additional funding?
    • Do you want more professional development for staff? To implement a new program? Expand your service capacity? Grow into a new geographic market or target population? Improve your year-end campaign?
  2. What are your financial goals for your organization?
    • Are you relying too heavily on grants and want to diversify your funding streams? Do you want to increase your cash reserve? Strengthen the financial stability of your organization? What are your overall goals for your organization for the next 2-5 years? Do you want to increase staff wages or benefits?

Having goals for your organization helps guide you to the type of funding to pursue.

How it’s Done

At Transform Consulting Group, we have divided the fund development process into three focus areas:

  1. Past: review past and current portfolio of funding to identify themes and potential opportunities.
  2. Present: review the current research, assess industry trends, and benchmark other successful organizations.
  3. Future: create and help implement a fund development plan based on your future goals.

Funding Analysis

Taking a look at past and current funding sources provides historical context into the types of funding partnerships, including opportunities for growth. During this funding analysis, it’s important to review the following:

  1. Funders over the past 5-10 years –  what they funded, the amount funded, and the relationship with the organization.
  2. Prospect list –  which groups or individuals did not agree to funding your organization and reviewing why.
  3. Financial statements – identify the current revenue sources by funding category and pros/cons of each to determine growth area(s) needed.

Research Benchmarks

It is essential to take some time to do an environmental scan of current research and new trends that can support your funding requests. Below we outline the flow of research:

  1. Research current trends in the industry that provide important context for the need for your organization.
  2. Benchmark other similar organizations for funding strategies and opportunities that you could possibly replicate.
  3. Identify the need for targeted funding strategies and sources based on your demographics and supporting research.

Create a Fund Development Plan

You made it! You have done your reflections and outlined where you want to end up. Now it’s time to put a plan in place.

Here are the three pieces included in a fund development plan:

  1. Create: You have done the work to get to this point, so now is when you put it on paper. Using the goals identified in your reflection and the findings from your research, outline prospective funding opportunities, target numbers, strategies, timeline, and responsibilities.
  2. Develop: Now that you have your plan outlined, you need to develop your funding tools (case for support, donor letters, funding campaigns, sponsorship packages, grant proposals, etc.).
  3. Implement:  It is a reward getting to this point! Whether this entails applying for grants, making the ask for shared services, or launching an awareness campaign, you are now ready to move forward!

Creating a fund development plan takes time and energy, but it truly pays off in the end. Being knowledgeable about your organization’s current state and future goals, the latest trends and community needs, and the appropriate funding sources to pursue will greatly increase your chances of being funded and the financial health of your organization.

Whether you are ready to apply for funding or have no clue where to start, we can help! Contact us today for more information on fund development strategies.

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5 Steps for Grant Writing

You have a grant that you want to apply for and submit an application. First, check out the types of grants available and our checklist to ensure your organization is ready before jumping into the grant writing process. Okay, now it’s time to start writing your grant!

5 Steps for Grant Writing

At Transform Consulting Group, we have identified 5 simple steps for grant writing:

1. Research: Spend time getting informed and researching grant opportunities. There are millions of dollars available through grants, and it can feel like a full-time job just trying to find them all! The purpose of the research step is to identify all of the potential funders who align with your organization’s mission and purpose.
Here are some good places to start in your search:

Foundation Grants:
Government Grants:
Trade Industry:

Within your organization’s area of expertise, there are “intermediary” organizations that are current with the latest news. Regularly check out those organization’s websites, sign up for newsletters, and monitor who is doing what or trends in the industry. They often will promote grant opportunities for your industry!

2. Monitor Grants: Once you have identified your “affinity” funders, create a list of those possible funders. In today’s information age, you can find out a lot about funders by monitoring their internet footprint. We recommend subscribing to funders’ social media channels and signing up for their newsletters. This will help you receive information about grant updates (e.g., changes in grant focus or new application information), receive updates about the status of programs, and be informed about their latest news. This will help provide great context to writing your proposals and developing a partnership with the funder.

3. Track Grants: You can pay for grant tracking software, invest in an internal database, or use basic Excel or Google sheets to track grants. We suggest tracking important information, such as the funder, their focus area(s), timeline for when grants are due, the point of contact, and any application details.

As you start to do outreach with funders and submit applications, you will want to track your grant application outreach. For example, you would include notes about who you talked to and their feedback.  When you submit an application, include the focus area, amount requested, and status. Having all of this information included in a shared system helps to keep your team on the same page and also creates a record history for future staff or contractors.

4. Develop Relationships: Most funders look to their grantees as a partner and extension of their mission. When working to develop a grant proposal to a funder, you want to first have a relationship with that funder. You can do this through a personal connection, social media outreach, cold calling, a letter of inquiry or by networking at different community groups and meetings. When looking to build relationships, we suggest focusing on the “program officer”.

Program officers oversee a “portfolio” of programs usually in a focus area, such as youth, environment, safety, etc. A program officer for a government entity would “manage” a grant program. At a minimum give them a call and schedule a meeting to learn more about their focus areas and goals as well as share about your organization and possible areas of alignment. Some next steps might be to invite the program officer(s) to an organization event to observe your services in action or learn about them. We liken this engagement to “dating” – a period of getting to know each other to see if there is a good fit!

The one caveat here is to make sure that you follow the grant guidelines. In most cases, government grants preclude you from communicating with the granting agency beyond asking clarifying questions related to the application. You may need to cultivate these relationships when there is not an open grant application. Always follow the grant guidelines to ensure that you do not disqualify your organization from submitting a grant application!

5. Submit: Winning grants involves submitting grants! You will want to carve time out of your schedule to regularly work on the items above and submitting grant applications.

In this blog, we discussed the low success rate of grant writing. Some studies suggest as low as 7% of organizations receive funding after submitting a grant proposal. While there is no silver bullet, we have found that following the steps above gets you on the path to success.

At Transform Consulting Group, we understand the different types of funders and their grant application process. We know what funders want and how to interpret and follow complex federal, state, or private grant applications. We are available to support your efforts at all levels of grant development, including the strategy, research, narrative, and final submission. Contact us today and let’s chat!

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Are You Grant Ready?

Do you have big plans for your organization and now just need the funds to get the ball rolling? We covered the different types of grants here – foundation and government grants – but how do you know if your organization is ready to jump into the grant writing process?

The competition for grants can be fierce, and most of the time there are more organizations applying for grant money than there is money available to award. Some numbers show that as low as 7% of organizations receive funding after submitting a grant proposal.

It can become very frustrating to put so much time and resources into the tedious grant writing process only to be turned down. At Transform Consulting Group, we work with our clients to make sure they have checklist-ss-1920focused on other key priority areas BEFORE taking the grant writing plunge. This leads to a much more successful process. Here is our checklist you can use to make sure your organization is grant ready:

Organizational Leadership:

Are your organization’s leaders engaged and on the same page? Do you have a Board of Directors who is actively meeting and contributing their time and talent to the organization? Funders might ask for a list of the Board members, their attendance, previous Board meeting minutes (especially noting if this new grant program was discussed), and percentage or amount that Board members give. If you’re concerned that your leadership may not be up to par, check out our Board Development services here.

Mission, Vision and Goals:

Do you have a clear mission, vision, and goals for the future? Make sure your organization has laid the proper foundation of your purpose, so that you can best communicate who you are. This also helps ensure that there is good alignment between your organization’s purpose and the funder’s goals.

Accounting Practices and Systems:

Do you have policies and procedures in place to ensure proper accounting of funds? It’s vital to have accounting practices and systems in place to make sure that any funding you receive is properly used and tracked. Funders may want to see a good track record of managing other funds.

Operating Budget:

Do you have a clear organizational budget that outlines your operating expenses and supports why you need additional funds? Funders want to know how will you use the money you receive from grants. They may want to see your organization’s full budget to determine how much of this grant will support the organization. Is this a large percentage of the organization or a small percentage?

Strategic Plan:  

Do you have a plan for the next 3-5 years?  How does this service or grant program that you are seeking funding for support your plan? You’ll need to work with your staff, partners, and stakeholders to evaluate the current position of your organization and set a plan for achieving short- and long-term goals. If you’re having trouble figuring out the direction of your organization, take a look at our Strategic Plan services here. We may be able to help!

History of Effectiveness:

Do you have a track record of accomplishing your goals and doing what you say you will do? Everyone wants to be on the winning team, right? When applying for grants, funders want to know that you are a reliable partner.

Organizational Capacity:

Do you have sufficient capacity (staff, infrastructure, and resources) to manage the program or services if you receive the grant funding? Before taking on more funding, you have to make sure that you have the capacity to handle it. For example, if you’re asking for funding to expand a particular program then you need to show your current staff or facility can handle it. If you don’t have the current capacity, then determine what you need to get there.

After completing this grant readiness checklist, you might determine that you are not ready yet. Applying for grants takes time, resources, and focus. It might be a better use of your time to work on one of the checklist items identified above. In the meantime, you can seek other funding to support your organization while you work on these items. Check out our fund development services and blogs for ideas of other resources to support your work. Contact us for help in becoming grant ready!

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Grants 101 – Types of Grants

We love seeing our partners accelerate their impact and serve their communities in a variety of ways. However, we understand the challenges you face and know that to do good work, you need money. Grant writing is one strategy for raising funds to accelerate your organization’s impact.

There are two types of grants: Foundations and Government, and both come with their benefits and challenges.

Foundations

Foundation grants can be community and public, private and family, or corporate. According to Giving USA, foundations gave $59.28 billion in 2016.

Giving-USA-2017-Infographic

Benefits:
  • Foundation grants are usually broad in scope. They cover a variety of causes and are offered to organizations of all sizes.
  • These grants are usually more flexible. There is often freedom in making the grant work best for your goals and needs.
  • Once you receive a foundation grant, you will realize how much more hands-on foundation representatives are with your organization. There is a relational aspect as you go through the process and utilize the funds.  
  • Often the application for foundation grants is less cumbersome.
Challenges:
  • Foundation grants have a limited timeline. They are typically for one-year and often for smaller amounts.  
  • Foundation grants are more relationship-oriented as noted above, which can be a benefit AND a challenge. If you are a recipient of a grant from a foundation, you will likely work closely with the people gifting the funds and are more susceptible to their opinions and ideas.

Government Grants

Screen Shot 2017-07-07 at 9.43.29 AM
Government grants are awarded at the federal, state, and local level. The federal government spends over $500 billion a year distributing grants to state and local governments. 

Benefits:
  • Government grants are usually awarded in larger amounts and are often gifted over multiple years.
  • Government grants are more stable funding sources, and you can use these grants to make goals/plans for the long-term impact of your organization.
  • Government grants can be a great way to scale and expand a program or service.
Challenges:
  • The guidelines and requirements for government grants at any level are often more prescriptive and rigorous than foundation grants.
  • Applications for government grants can be cumbersome and often require more information on your organization, track record of success and results, and strong systems in place.
  • The competition for government grants is often high.
  • There are usually more reporting and accounting requirements with government grants, which can be a challenging process to monitor.

funder_grantee6At Transform Consulting Group, we sit on both sides of the table. We work with the funders to develop, implement and manage funding programs AND grantees (or recipients) of those funding sources. We know looking for, writing, or applying for grants can become a daunting task so stayed tuned for future blogs with helpful tips for taking your next step.

Many clients approach us with unique challenges or opportunities when we begin working together. Because we have worked with the funders and grantees, we are able to bring a holistic perspective and understanding to our clients regardless of what side of the table we sit. This often leads to meaningful engagement and collaboration – which we love!

Is your organization ready to tackle a grant, but don’t have the manpower to work through the application? Are you wondering what grants are available for your specific cause? Contact us today!

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