At the start of my internship at Precision NPO I had very little knowledge of grants, aside from the state grant I received for school. I had a vague idea of what grants were and what their purpose was. I had no idea the processes involved in searching for and applying for grants. To be honest, I thought the whole process couldn’t be that difficult. I had assumed that the initial research and gathering of evidence would be pretty simple. I figured the actual writing of the narrative would be the most difficult part. My time a Precision NPO would teach me otherwise. The process of locating and applying for a grant is beyond complex on the federal level. It can be equally as challenging on a foundation level, if you do not know what you’re doing.
For starters, searching through the internet to locate grants, such as the online database known as grants.gov, is no easy task. This requires a lot of time, dedication, imagination, and attention to detail. Then, as if that process isn’t difficult enough, you really need to know the right people to move forward, specifically on the foundation level. If you can’t get a contact on the board your letter of intent is virtually useless. All of this goes on before you even begin to apply for the grant. The next stages involve collecting the right evidence to prove why you deserve this money and making it say what they want to hear. This process involves collecting tons of paperwork and data. Without proper organization and laser focus, this process can easily become a circus. The federal grant process requires teamwork and good communication. Through my experience, I was able to see how vital this really is.
I went into this thinking it would be challenging but believing that grants were an appropriate way to distribute funding. But my experiences have altered my stance on this a bit. I found that this process was by no means easy, or even doable for some people. For instance, some of the clients we worked with would have never been able to navigate this process on their own. Schools and nonprofits that are so desperately in need of funding do not have the time or resources to dedicate to applying for grants. I also discovered, for smaller non-profits, if there is not a clear outline and strategic plan in place there is little chance of success. I still believe grants can be a great competitive way to offer funding, but perhaps the process should be redesigned to ensure fair competition. By making the process less strict, or by offering assistance free of cost, we may be able to tackle this problem. I am not sure exactly what is needed but I look forward to influencing the ever evolving world of grants. It will be interesting to see what the future hold for grants.
Liz Chell, MSW, LSW