Published on April 7th, 2015 | by Guest Contributor1
Photo: Rob and Jon Photography Studio
So You Want Grant Money for Your League?
By: Rebekah Havrilla (BluBellistic)
Many derby leagues are 501(c)3 organizations. Did you know that as a 501(c)3, you are eligible to seek out philanthropic support from individual donors, philanthropy organizations, corporations, and even the government (although that would definitely not be my first choice)? However, I would assume that the overwhelming number of leagues that are non-profits have never tried to obtain a grant or been very successful at the endeavor. First, a caveat – I am not a professional grant writer. My work with non-profits and fundraising has included drafting proposals and LOI’s (Letter of Intent) as well as grant research, putting together application materials, and helping organizations understand what they need to do in order to be fundable. This has allowed me to understand the larger processes of fundraising and grant making even though I may not be the world’s best grant writer.
There are over 130,000 U.S. donors that give out grants. So why aren’t roller derby leagues taking advantage of those resources?
First, I believe that there is a serious lack of understanding of how the grant process works. Many organizations think they can submit a basic proposal and have a check in the mail two or three weeks later. Nothing could be further from the truth. An average grant takes 8-12 months to obtain… and that’s AFTER all of the necessary steps have been taken to make sure the organization is suitable to be funded and attractive to donors.
Second, generally speaking, non-profit derby leagues do not know how to network appropriately and do not utilize their Board of Directors properly. Developing relationships with foundations and project managers takes time. There really needs to be a dedicated person at the league (who may or may not be a skater) who understands these processes and is willing to create and maintain relationships with donors.
Third, most leagues can’t or don’t have a development director. Good grant writers and development personnel are EXPENSIVE and this makes them prohibitive to access for most small non-profits. However, there are plenty of ways for leagues to learn about development and the grant seeking process at a minimal cost and I’m going to try and help you take some of those first steps.
What makes an organization attractive to donors? If I had to boil it down to one word, it would be transparency. Do you have a transparent organization? Some of you may be asking yourself right now, what does that even mean? What that means is, when a donor looks at your organization from the outside, what will they find? The things they want to see that matter the most are your financials, (Form 990), the accessibility of your leadership (who is on your board, etc.), and whether or not you have a solid mission statement and well-developed programs. Here are some questions that need to be considered in order to be an attractive, fundable organization:
- Do you have a strong mission statement? How much time did you spend on that mission statement? Mission statements should be short, clear, and concise, and are extremely important in conveying your purpose to a donor. If your mission statement is not compelling, you need to take the time to develop one that is.
- Do you have a strong Board of Directors (BoD)? I could write a whole different post about the purpose of BoD’s and how many young non-profits completely misuse and mismanage their boards and how that should change. Instead I’m going to tell you that the board is legally responsible for the oversight of the organization. This is extremely important since these individuals can be held liable for organizational wrong-doing. Board members should have enough professional experience to understand non-profit organization and management and the legal ramifications involved. Board members should also be well-networked in their respective industries and capable of bringing in funding and donations to the organization. It is an industry standard to have a minimum of three board members to be considered legitimate.
- Is your leadership listed on your website? Most leagues focus on the skaters and programs but neglect mentioning anything about their organization’s leadership. This is problematic since funders are going to check out your website and look for this information. You should consider having a webpage tab devoted to those in organizational leadership positions (this could easily be placed under most leagues’ “About” tabs on their websites). This page should include professional bios of your President/V.P. or Executive Director, all board members (including advisory personnel if you have them), and any other key organizational positions.
- Do you have a Guidestar profile? Guidestar is a site that provides donors with information about potential grantees. Many times, this is the first place a potential donor will look for information about a non-profit and if you aren’t listed, then you probably will not be considered for funding. Going through the Guidestar process of developing a good profile will also help you as an organization understand more about what funders are looking for.
- Do you have developed programs? Maybe you’re in the process of trying to develop new programs (i.e. Junior Derby or Rec Leagues). Do you have written language describing those programs including the need in your community, how you’re going to fill that need, and the manner in which you’re going to implement those programs? Do you have ways to evaluate whether or not your programs are successful? Before you even begin to develop proposals, you will need to be able to articulate these things on paper.
- Do you publish an annual report? Donors look for these since they (should) have tons of pertinent information about your programs and financials and when done correctly, can help to make the rest of the grant proposal process simpler since you have already taken the time to craft language about your programs and organizational structure and goals.
You may be saying, “Wow, this sounds like a lot of work!” and you’re right. It is a lot of work. But it’s a lot of work that should be undertaken if you want to be considered seriously as a grant seeking organization. If you aren’t looking to apply for grants, considering these questions can still help make your league more focused and organized and help with future planning and goals.
So now that you’ve done all this work and you feel like you’re ready to start pursuing funding, what do you need to think about?
First, how do we find funders that are interested in our types of programs? There is a great organization called The Foundation Center that catalogs every grant maker in the U.S. that has made grants in the past. They also provide free seminars (both in person and online) that can assist you in your search for funders. Yes, it’s going to take a little time to dig through their databases (and you should consider paying the $30 monthly fee for a month or two to get more comprehensive information), but unless you can afford to pay for a prospect researcher, you’re going to have to wiggle your way through their lists. Their search engine makes narrowing funders down relatively easy by using location, topic areas, and types of grants funded so don’t think you have to sort through 130,000 funders individually.
Second, do you know how to write a proper grant proposal? Many funders use a “common form” for their applications which will include the following:
- Title page and table of contents
- Executive Summary – 1 page
- Statement of need – 2 pages
- Project description – 3 pages
- Organizational information – 1 page
- Conclusion – 2 paragraphs
- Appendices and supporting materials (These usually include your IRS determination letter, financial documents such as your Form 990, information on your board and staff, and any supporting materials)
Just remember, if a funder has specific formatting requirements for submitting proposals, follow their instructions to the letter.
Third, do you know how to write a proper program budget? Program budgets should ideally only be one page and should include support and in-kind donations related to the project, personnel costs, direct and indirect costs, administrative costs, and information on how monies are to be raised if there is a gap between the program cost and the amount of support actually proposed.
Don’t forget, there is more than one type of grant and one type of funder. Maybe you’re looking for a grant that’s focused on capacity building instead of yearly program income. The Foundation Center website has tons of great resources available to you as a prospective grant seeker that covers all these types of grants and funders. They also have a sister site, Grantspace, that is of great use to potential grant seekers. Grantspace provides sample documents and templates as well as other online trainings that may be of interest as well as information related to fundraising and non-profit management.
There is money out there if you know how and where to find it and will put the time into making your organization attractive to funders. It takes a lot of legwork initially and can sometimes seem like the amount of work related to the potential outcome isn’t worth it for some leagues. However, once you land that first grant, the next five or ten will be much easier to obtain and at that point, you will have established yourself as a legitimate community organization that funders see as financially strong, stable, and sustainable. And that’s what we all want for the future of derby. Isn’t it?