Step 1: Understand Grants

Step 1: Understand Grants

First, define the need, build a coalition, and develop your project.

Begin by defining the need. What problem are you trying to solve? Why is the status quo not solving the problem? What community need are you trying to meet? Get statistics. How many people would benefit? Is another organization in your community providing the same or similar services that your project would address? If so, do not duplicate existing services that are effective. Instead, strive to work with that organization to help them enhance their services.

Next, build a coalition of other people who want to work together to make a difference. Speak up at community meetings. Talk to other people affected by the problem and get their support. The broader your group the better.

Then, develop your proposal. How will your action solve the problem? How will the organization be structured? What are the costs? Is there a more direct solution? Could you cut the cost and speed the results by using existing resources? For example, rather than rent out office space borrow a room at a local community organization. Many grants fail because they ask for construction dollars when what is really needed is an assessment or a business plan. It's fine to take small steps on a new project.

Second, look for grants that might fund your project.

Figure out which category of funding is relevant. If your project relates to education, check the grants offered by the federal Department of Education. The best listing of all federal grants is the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance, which is available online. You can look up grants by topic or agency name. Once you find a potential grant, read the eligibility criteria carefully. Check the date the application is due.

Before you begin to apply for a specific grant, call up the funding agency. Most federal agencies have local offices in or near Washington State. Make sure they are still accepting applications and confirm the due date. Ask if the criteria have changed. Find out what types of projects have been funding in the past.

Additionally, you should check to see if foundations or companies offer grants that could fund your project. It is important to diversify your search for grants.

Use this Funding Decision Matrix courtesy of the Washington State Department of Community to help you decide which grant opportunities to pursue.

Third, apply for grants that look promising.

Set a timetable. Divide up the work but have one person responsible for getting the final application in the mail on time. Ask several people to proofread your application (both from inside and outside your organization). Ask them if your proposal answered the questions posed in the grant's criteria.

Read our expert advice. A member of Senator Murray's staff wrote a guide explaining what funders are looking for. Read this document exclusively on our website: What Grant Funders Look For. And remember to keep copies of your application and supporting material.

Fourth, follow up - and await the results.

Make sure the funding agency has received your complete application on time. Understand that it may take the agency several months to select a winner. If your grant is not funded, ask the agency how you could improve your application. If your proposal is funded, use news of the grant as a springboard to attract more supporters and advocates. Either way, thank everyone who helped you complete your proposal. Whatever happens share the credit with everyone who made it possible.