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A winning grants strategy is not one-size-fits-all.

This may surprise you but… There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to winning grants for your nonprofit.


What one nonprofit did to win a grant probably isn't the same approach that you should take. Why? Because each nonprofit is at a different stage of development.


Allow me to explain.


According to the Nonprofit Lifecycles Institute, there are seven stages of development for nonprofit organizations: Idea, Startup, Growing, Mature/Established/, Decline, Turnaround, and Terminal.


For the sake of today's talk, let's focus on the three stages I believe are crucial for winning grants.

  1. Startup: Startup nonprofits are those who have taken their idea for change and formally incorporated it by obtaining 501(c)3 status. They are mostly volunteer-led, and their board is comprised of close friends and acquaintances of the Founder/Executivr Director. These nonprofits are eager to do the work, but are just in the beginning stages of building impact.

  2. Growing: Growing nonprofits are those that have started to gain their stride. They’ve shifted from a volunteer-led staff to at least one part-time employee, and their board has shifted from close friends to individuals with professional expertise that the Founder/Executive Director may not know personally. Like startups, they have an unrelenting commitment to their community and have begun implementing simple programs alongside one-time activities and desire to scale and become sustainable. Although they have few formal systems in place, they have successfully raised money from multiple sources … and they finally feel that they are ready for grants because they've finally gotten some numbers under their belt (aka impact). The challenge with this, however, is that they probably haven’t created solid, fundable programs with strong compelling messaging and aren’t in a financial position to hire a grant writer (although they really want to work with one). The work of finding and writing grants all falls on the Founder/Executive Director.

  3. Mature/Established: Established nonprofits are those who have hit their stride and have the impact, systems, and staff to back them up. They’ve raised money from multiple sources, and understand they can’t just rely on grants. They are likely looking to achieve organizational sustainability, expand their reach, and diversify their grants portfolio. At this stage, they have a solid history of winning grants and just need an extra set of hands to help them win more. These types nonprofits are looking to hire a grant writer to help increase their cadence of grant submissions or to outsource their grants department completely.


If I was on your grants team, the first thing that I'm going to do is assess your stage of development instead of giving you a "blanket" strategy that may not be best for you. You need a customized focus for your unique stage of development.


Do you know what stage of development your nonprofit is in? Let me know in the comments.


P. S. Let me know if you want to talk about which strategies are best aligned for your nonprofit.


Sheleia, Your Grant Writing Coach

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