Secrets to Winning Grants: Part One—Grant Readiness

by Katherine Metres

Are you wasting your time and/or money applying for grants, or poised to win lots of money? In this blog, I will share the three secrets to being on the happy side of this question.

Today’s blog post covers the first secret: grant readiness. Not all nonprofits are ready to win grants, and doing the groundwork is essential to your success.

Are all your legal filings in? You must have a 501c3, 501c6, or a fiscal sponsor with the same. You also need a state non-profit incorporation and state charitable registration. Finally you must have been filing your annual federal (990) and state tax forms on a timely basis.

If so, great. Are you doing something that is unique, or duplicating the efforts of other organizations? Collaborate with organizations doing similar work. To win grant funding, you need to meet a need no one else is meeting.

Are your financial properly kept and audited? Nonprofit expenses need to be accounted for on the non-profit model, not the business model. That means all expenses are allocated to either program services, fundraising, or operations. Program services are broken down by program. If your bookkeeper is preparing Profit & Loss statements for you, you have the wrong bookkeeper and should seek a specialist. (Ask me.)

Also, to win grant funding you cannot spend more than 40% of your funds on fundraising and operations—ideally not more than 20%. Finally, most foundations require audits of your financials, as do government agencies if you do a certain amount of business with them. The cost of this is typically $10,000, and no, audits cannot be done by a volunteer who serves on your board, due to conflict of interest. If such a large expenditure is not realistic for you, be aware that you will be ineligible to apply for certain grants.

Grant readiness also includes community presence. Do you have a website? Program activity reports? Fundraisers? Office space? Newsletters? The support of key local officials? You have no programs yet, you say? Stop. Grant funding usually flows in only after you have shown yourself of benefit to the community. While startup grants are available, they are extremely competitive and small in size (perhaps $5-10K); try family foundations. At least two years of program operations are typically required for most grants.

Finally, can you prove that you make a difference? You must have in place proper procedures for reporting results for beneficiaries. Measure and report outcomes, comparing before and after. Not sure how? Check,,, and for evaluation tools.

Stay tuned for next month’s installment of Secrets to Winning Grants. Your Edge for Success (YES)’ grant writing team members have won over $470M in grant funding. If you are grant ready and want to move ahead to the winning stage fast, contact YES to see if you qualify for a free consultation on outsourcing your grant research and writing needs to get senior-level talent for about half the cost of mid-level staff.

We hope this blog has given you your edge for success with the question, “How can we win more grants for our nonprofit?” What do you think? We’d love to see your ideas in the Comments section.

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