Grant-seeking is not it. Let me clear the air right at the beginning. In truth, grant-seeking works best when your organization is already solid but needs funding to expand its capacity in some way (new program, expanded program, etc.)*
*(There are, of course, exceptions to this statement: many foundations are beginning to see the value of providing funds for general operations as well - but they STILL want to ensure that you are a solid organization - no foundation wants to be the LAST donor to a failing organization).
So, if you need money quickly; if you aren't solid; if you are aren't established...how do you raise money?
Of course, there are excellent ways of raising funds more quickly. Here are some ideas:
Fees for services.
According to the Urban Institute, the majority of funding for nonprofits comes from fees charged for services. For example:
Housing programs typically charge rent. This is often paid by a third party (Section 8 or other program) or by the client.
Reduced fees: Many organizations provide services (such as health care) at a low cost or on a sliding scale. It isn't enough to fully fund the program but it goes a long way.
Perceived value fee: This is a small fee charged for services designed to increase the perceived value of the service. For example: I once coordinated a program that provided free training for daycare employees. Our attendance hovered near 5-10 students per class. When we started charging $10 for each class, our attendance jumped to 25-40 per class! Why? The audience perceived that the service was more valuable because they had to pay for it.
Other fees: There may be hundreds of appropriate fees you can charge clients. Remember, you exist to SERVE those clients, not drain their pockets, so the fee will need to be appropriate for that audience.
Many corporate giving programs operate more like grants - you must provide a written application and wait. But check with your board of directors- perhaps their employer has funding they can steer your way. By the way, if you don't have any board members who are members of large local corporations - get some! Many corporations only donate to organizations their employees are involved with. In fact, many corporations will actually HELP you find one of their employees to be on your board!
Individual donors have far more funds available to donate than foundations. They can just be harder to cultivate. However, they are more likely to make a donation for emotional reasons; they probably won't require that you fill out a form and apply by a certain deadline; and they probably won't make you write formal reports, etc. once they give you money.
Stakeholders: Make a heartfelt appeal to the people related to your organization - your stakeholders. Your board, volunteers, etc. and let them know you need financial assistance. Ask then to donate themselves as well as solicit donations on your behalf.
Luncheon: I recently attended a luncheon put on by a local nonprofit organization. It lasted less than an hour but they were able to have several speakers, videos, etc. in that time and - of course - the last item was an invitation to write a check to the organization. Beyond raising money, they also built many relationships with prospects.
Gala: There is an entire industry around nonprofit galas. If you are going to do a large-scale gala, hire a professional coordinator or make certain you know what you are doing. A lame gala not only doesn't raise much money, it also makes your organization look bad.
Direct Mail/Social Media Campaign: Again, there is a science to raising these funds and it is worth hiring a consultant to help you do it effectively.
Luncheons and galas are great fundraising events but, with some creativity, you can come up with lots of other ideas for events - races, community garage sale, contests, volunteer days, etc. are all great ways of connecting with future donors and raising funds quickly.
In short, grant-seeking is just ONE way to raise money. There are actually many ways of raising funds and many of them are less time consuming and more "profitable" than grants.
For instance, I met with a nonprofit executive director once and, in the course of our conversation, he said he could raise $20,000 at a luncheon very easily. Based on the model of his nonprofit and his ability to raise that kind of money on the basis of his own charisma and connections, I advised him to not even bother with grants!
Grant-seeking is a great strategy for long-term funding. I always say that the right time to start a grant strategy is three years ago. Nonprofits have to be established, have a history of operating in the black, have numerous years’ worth of outputs and outcomes and have audited financial documents over the course of 3+ years - just to name a few.
Recently, I met with the executive director of a nonprofit that is not even 6 months old. He understood that in order to start seeking grants down the line, he needed to get his organization in tip-top shape before he sought his first grant. Usually we don’t work with clients so early in their organization’s histories, but this is was a great example of getting a head start on a grant strategy.
You can do that too. If your organization is not quite old enough to meet some of the requirements for funders, you can establish a strong foundation to help you in the long-run.