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My secret to getting grants: Needs and strategies

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Mark Goldstein

Mark Goldstein

Mark Goldstein

Your ability to create positive results in your community – and to raise funds – is unlimited when you effectively articulate needs and strategies.

Grantmakers and individuals who contribute always listen for these two elements, even when they do not explicitly say so.

At the heart of any grant proposal or fundraising case is the need. A need is simply a condition or situation in which something is required.

In any fundraising request, the type of need that touches the heart of the donor has very specific characteristics: it is compelling, external to the organization, measurable, objectively documented and often has a “universal” quality that will appeal to many people.

When you ask for money, it is always best to “lead with the need.”

Particularly when funds are requested on paper, a common mistake is to start by introducing the organization or by describing what the gift will purchase.

For instance, I could endow my favorite nonprofit if I had a nickel for every time I’ve read an inquiry that begins, “I am writing on behalf of…,” or “I am writing to seek support for….”

A better start to an inquiry, if you work for an organization that helps the homeless, is: “Today, according to local experts, at least 2,000 adults in Acmeville will sleep without a roof over their heads.”

It doesn’t matter whether the request is for a new shelter, mental health counselling or operating funds.

You’ve begun the request in a way that honors the public benefit of your organization, clearly identifies the reason for writing, specifically details the situation and appeals to most readers.

It teases enough to encourage further reading, but does not use a gimmick to cheat the reader. There is plenty of time later on to tout the organization and detail the solution to the problem.

Once the need is established, it is important to clearly identify a strategy for meeting that need.

A strategy is a plan of action intended to accomplish a specific goal.

Ironically, very few grantmakers directly ask for a description of your strategy, though all want your organization to have one.

Strategies are often confused for what grantmakers do often request: goals (broad aims that may never be achieved), objectives (measurable aims), outcomes (measurable results) and activities (short term to-dos or actions).

A strategy is long-term, requires leadership decisions, is aligned with your organization’s mission, and is clear and defensible.

The homeless organization’s strategy might be to build a new shelter in order to provide temporary respite for those it serves.

Its goal is to ensure that all Acmeville residents have a roof over their heads, an objective is to serve 100 homeless people, an outcome is to improve their health by providing shelter every night, and an activity is to accept bids from three contractors to build the shelter.

The importance of needs and strategies extends far beyond fundraising.

All nonprofit organizations exist to provide a public benefit (a strategy that meets a need).

If nonprofit leaders do not agree on a need that the organization’s mission compels it to address, the leadership will never be able to completely agree on an effective solution.

If there is no strategy, it is impossible to work as a team to implement the best solution.


Mark Goldstein, CFRE, is president and CEO of Communication Mark, an Asheville, N.C.-based nonprofit consultancy.

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