We were crunching our last year's numbers, and I realized that we had a success rate of 58%. Most grant writers average around 10% - 30%, and I was disappointed. Yes, you read that correctly. I was disappointed that our success rate was so high.
Let me explain.
But first, a disclaimer. It was a wonderful thing that we were able to win so many grants for our clients. Our goal is to help make the world a better place, and we do that by winning grants for nonprofit organizations who are out there doing the world-changing work. We want to get them funds! (For any of my clients reading this, I hope you all feeling a bit relieved.) However, we were able to win that many because many of our clients were going after the same funders that we have been applying to for the past 3, 5, 10 years. So why is that a bad thing?
To have a secure future, you must diversify your funding sources.
A couple months ago we were gearing up to apply to a funder that loves multiple of our clients and has provided substantial funding for the past 5+ years. Right as I was planning the projects for the month, I got an email from the foundation with news that one of their trustees had passed away. This foundation only had three trustees.
Because the foundation and the families were grieving and because the foundation was so small, they halted their application process. What that meant for my clients is that they could not count on funding from this particular foundation for the foreseeable future and will have to source those funds elsewhere.
Some folks have come to almost expect funding and have organized programming around those seemingly secure funds, and now all that planning was thrown right out the window. (What's that phrase about making plans and God laughing?) Fortunately for my clients, we are always researching new opportunities, and I think that we will able to fill that gap.
This was not the first time in recent months that something like this has happened. A foundation who absolutely adores one of my clients couldn't fund them this year because they didn't have the funds to do it, and they decided to award smaller grants to new-to-them organizations. They did urge my client to apply again next year, but if my client had planned their service around those "secure" funds, hundreds of Oklahomans would not have access to their life-changing services.
That is why diversifying funding sources is so so so important. Trustees pass away. Foundations close their doors. Leadership changes their funding priorities. Funds run out. Tax law changes. An intern from your organization accidentally insults a funder's child on Twitter, and they decide to never fund you ever again - well, I've not experienced that before, but you get the idea.
Nothing is secure about nonprofit fundraising.
The best way to ensure that the people you serve get the life-saving services they need is to have a wide range of income sources. Individual donors, event revenue, lunch and learns, fees for service (if applicable), grants, corporate donations, venue rentals, Facebook birthday fundraisers, and lemonade stands are just a few sources of revenue to support your organization. But within each and every one of those sources, there needs to a diverse array that is constantly growing and changing.
Specifically with grants, I always try to aim for a 30% success rate because that means organizations are stretching themselves. We are applying to funders that they have never applied to before (and sometimes that takes a couple applications before funding is granted). We are also applying to the "tried and true" foundations, but we are also laying the groundwork for future (repeat) funders.
Fortunately for my clients, we are constantly stretching and throwing our hats into many, many rings, so that when a foundation has to tell us no for the first time, people in need don't have to go without services.
This year I urge you to consider making stretching, diversifying, and a lower grant success rate your resolution.