Answering the dreaded grant questionYou’re reviewing a local grant application for your nonprofit. You find the questions reasonably straightforward until you read: “How will you fund this program after the grant?”

You slide your hands off the keyboard and think, “How can I answer this? This is the perfect grant funder. Their goals match ours. We definitely need the money for this project.”

You have several ways you might develop a plan for after-the-grant. Consider creating your response around one of the following concepts. You will find using them increases the success of your applications.

1. We do not expect to need future grant funding.

Here is a collection of ideas about why you would write this response.

  • Determine if your application for grant funds can pay for one-time expenses. Requesting grant funding for one-time projects works for computer equipment, furniture for new additions, new roofs, unique staff training experiences, office set-up, the writing of a curriculum, and the like.
  • Request funding for a program that will produce income to offset the grant funding. For example, if you work with a dance company, propose funds for a new event that generates ticket sales.
  • Develop a pilot program. Pilots work when you have an innovative idea. It’s even better when a funder expresses interest in your providing a service. Your project may be so experimental that new grant funding will only be needed if the activity is very successful, something no one can predict now.
  • Will the grant pays for startup costs plus a large number of cases?  You may plan for your staff to provide the activity long-term. For instance, the team at Easter Seals found that developmentally disabled adults relied on expensive door-to-door transportation. With grant funding, they hired temporary staff to teach individuals to use the mass transit system. After the grant, as needed, the existing staff offered occasional classes for newcomers.
  • Will the grant funding reduce expenses? One circus nonprofit needed a set of stage lights. They successfully documented that the grant allowed them to purchase new lights, eliminate rental expenses, and cover the new lights’ maintenance costs.

2.  Yes, we will need additional funds, but you can take our plan seriously

Here are several situations when this answer will work:

  • Some funders support organizations over several years. Can your request take this form? For example, if your activity costs $30,000 a year, your grant request might be for $59,700 over three years. That is $30,000 or 100 percent for year one, $19,800, or 66 percent for year two, and $9,900 for year three. Your nonprofit will still need a plan to raise new funds over three years.  Multiple-year funding offers time for other development efforts to work.  This approach also benefits your organization by establishing a long-term relationship with the funder. It also provides greater stability for the program and saves time. You write one request instead of writing three.
  • Is other new funding be available? Local grant donors often help nonprofit groups by providing match money when their grant brings state or federal dollars to a community. In your application, identify the funding source and an expected timeline. Grant donors express less concern with continuation plans when their money is doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled.
  • Does this request build on a new idea in your field?  Can foresee the possibility of federal or competitive funding within eighteen months–you often can show that funding now will help increase your chances of getting funding on a national level later. This option is similar to the above match, but it takes place in front of the match availability. One economic development nonprofit created a school-to-work program with a local grant for $100,000. With the group’s early start and the boost of local commitment, the organization leveraged this funding to secure a federal grant of over a million dollars to continue the program.

3. We will increase our fundraising efforts.

This response is probably the most common answer grant readers read. When your grant is funded, the grant donor will expect you to follow through on this promise. If your organization fails here, your reputation and future requests to this and other funders may suffer.

Most people give a vague answer here. If you select this answer, be specific. The more details you provide with this answer, the better your odds of convincing the donor you mean what you say.

  • If you have access to operating grant sources, you may wish to discuss your plan to submit requests to these sources. In your application, identify the grant programs, your submittal plans, and an estimated request amount.
  • Do you plan to seek funds from individual donors? If you never raised funding from individuals, you will also need an internal action plan. Perhaps you can request a challenge grant. In this case, you must obtain matching funds from individuals before the grant funds are available. If you focus on individual donors, consider including budget items in this grant for expenses associated with developing or doing individual fundraising. For example, one faith-based group obtained funds for staffing, mailings, and setting up a development office.

4.  We don’t have plans to fund this program beyond the grant period

Here’s another option to consider and an opportunity to set clear future expectations.

  • Will you do this program one time? Although this is difficult, some donors, particularly near the holidays, grant these requests. A Salvation Army received a homeless grant to offer assistance to homeless families for sixty days. The families served, the donor, and the nonprofit thought the award had been worthwhile at its completion.

Long-haul Thinking

Develop a plan upfront for what will be done after the grant, even if a grant donor does not request it. If you can’t figure one out, choose a less ambitious start or forgo the grant. Identify another way to implement your activities. In any case, plan to follow through on any activities described in your application.

Creating a reliable answer to the inevitable funding question can help your organization obtain grant funding. “I rarely see a very effective answer,” shares  Wendy Hopkins of the Sarasota Community Foundation.

“The standard answer is, of course, increased fundraising. Rarely – do I see a bona fide plan,” shares Marilyn Howard of the Manatee Community Foundation.

These grant donors are not alone; grant donors report that they receive weak answers to this question. Your reliable solution will help you stand out from other applicants. Also, your planning will help ensure that your nonprofit organization has a plan for after the grant.

In any case, investing effort in this question can bring your organization closer to fulfilling its mission with those you seek to serve by obtaining the funding you seek.

Need more help developing your grant applications? Karen is available for a mini-consult to help your group find those essential words. Click here to contact her to learn more.

And, check out Karen’s Nonprofit CEO Library, a collection of resources for nonprofit CEOs and executive directors to answer your questions about nonprofit leadership issues.

For other sources of nonprofit income to augment your grant opportunities, read this article, Can Your Organization Obtain More Income?


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