There are approximately 1.5 million nonprofits vying for funding from approximate 100,000 foundations every year. Standing out in that crowd requires a strong survival strategy.
There are a few core criteria that every funding source adheres to when sifting through grant applications. Those criteria can be summed up in the R.E.A.L. formula, as follows:
- Relevancy. Does your organization's application match up well with the donor's mission, vision and geographic limitations?
- Efficacy – If the funder gives you money, will their mission get the most bang for the buck from your organization, or will it just enable you to keep the lights on a little longer? Various sources have reported that between 30 and 60 thousand nonprofits disappear from the IRS database each year, prompting grantors to confine their support to those organizations that can deliver benefits well into the future.
- Accountability – Does your organization have a strong track record of transparency relative to your previous operations, outcomes and funding partnerships? Can you provide concrete examples to prove your successes and verify your financial data?
- Legitimacy – are you a legally recognized nonprofit with good references and strong outcomes?
Increasingly, as detailed in an article by Rick Cohen in the Nonprofit Quarterly, foundations are simply refusing to accept unsolicited applications. While some of that reluctance is due to recent economic factors, it is also due to simply receiving too many applications from organizations that obviously can't accomplish their mission.
Other foundations are adding restrictions to application requirements, such as not funding startups, or those whose current revenues are under a preset amount. Most have always required that you provide copies of the long form 990, indicating that your revenues are above six figures.
All prospective grantors use some sort of rubric, either written or implied, to separate the wheat from the chaff. Failing to deliver on funder expectations in any of the above areas can and probably will kill your application.
Some shortcomings I see often are a lack of data and an unprofessional public persona.
For instance, let's look at legitimacy. The first thing I do when approached by a new nonprofit client seeking grants is to look for them online. I'm looking for a website that actually tells me something about the organization and its key personnel and programs. I want to see some sort of evidence of positive outcomes. There should be a link to the financials and a copy of their determination letter, or at least the ability to request them.
I am also going to check all the databases for verification of their nonprofit status, including the IRS website, if necessary. While I also check out social media, the most important thing for me is to see if they present well on first impression, since I know that any funding source will be doing the same.
Grantors that ask for a website URL are going to click on the link. Even if they don't ask, they may well include your online presence as a scoring metric.
Master the R.E.A.L. formula and your funding success rate is going to go up dramatically.
Don't know if you will fit the formula? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org for a review.