Ambition is a great thing, but remember to temper it with a dose of reality. I work with many start-ups, so this post pertains mostly to that subset of clients. How do you know if you are ready to write a grant? What are your chances of getting a grant? Here are a few insights based on my personal experience.
Generally speaking a 501c3 non profit organization must be the recipient of the funds. If you are launching a start-up, you will have to register first with your state’s Secretary of State Office. Then, apply for a Federal EIN (Employer Identification Number) and then 501c3 status by filing IRS Form 1023. This can be a lengthy process so start the paper work asap. It may not be necessary to start your own organization which will also require by-laws, articles of incorporation and a board of directors. You may be able to partner with an existing non-profit in your community so consider that option as well. Don’t expect anyone to fund an ‘idea’. Your program needs to be well defined, have clear objectives and outcomes and ideally have some history in the relevant sector.
Business Grants/ Loans
The government (state, federal and local levels) have priorities which vary by region and year to year. One year the priority may be stimulating the ‘green economy’, the next could be developing a technology hub in a certain metropolitan area. And there are often opportunities for women-owned and minority-owned businesses, ranging from low income loans to venture capital for start-ups. A good way to start if you are a business looking for funding is to contact your local SBA office to see what types of programs are available.
Keep in mind that submitting a grant or loan application, if you do not have a solid business plan developed, will be a waste of your time and money. The most important and time consuming aspects of your business plan, and the sections that the reviewers will pay the closest attention to are 1) the market analysis; 2) financials. You need to clearly show that there is a need for your product or service in the target market you have identified. You will need solid, verifiable data. Same goes for the financial section; anyone can make a brilliant spreadsheet that shows profitability after 6 months. But your projections need to be based on realistic assumptions and these will be highly scrutinized.
Are you ready?
Ok, so now what? Don’t be discouraged if you are not quite ready to apply for grants. The truth is raising money should be viewed as an on-going task. Don’t rely just on government or foundation money to get your dream underway. Just do it! Start with what you have. Start small, develop your program, product or service and learn from your mistakes. You will be in a much better position to receive grant money once you have some real experience under your belt. Try some small/ grassroots fundraisers and engage volunteers in your community.
I can help…
I turn away or discourage clients on a regular basis because they are not quite ready to try for grant funding. Typically, I tell them, “I don’t want to waste your money!” Because I have started several organizations myself, both for profit and non-profit, I am familiar with the entire organizational life-cycle (including the demise phase! Remember, it’s better to fail then not to try). If you feel like you need assistance getting your organization or program off the ground I can help – by guiding you through the bureaucratic process, helping your define your mission, creating a communication plan (website and print), developing your program, creating a fundraising strategy, etc.
Call me for a free consult.