Natural Resources Protective Association: Protecting the marine environment since 1977

Grant Writing Information

By Ida Sanoff

One of the greatest presentations we have ever seen began with a slide of an empty cardboard box. The presenter kept the image up on the screen for several minutes while everyone muttered, “What is this, a joke?” Then he began his presentation with the words “Think Outside the Box!”

Sooner or later, every non-profit will decide that they need funding. Maybe you want to educate people about how street litter ends up in local waterways. Or maybe it’s something bigger – you want to get a contaminated site cleaned up. Or an environmental education program for local teens. Think outside the box!

So where do you begin?

Step #1 – Describe what you want to do. (Summary)

This is far more complicated than it sounds. Avoid broad statements such as “we’re starting an educational program”. You need to do a little research. Let’s say you want to set up an environmental education program. What is the age of the target group – elementary school students? Middle school kids? High school? Adults? What do you want to cover – marine life? Salt marsh habitat? Let’s say you are focusing on salt marshes. Are there any in your neighborhood that you want to study? Are they flourishing or dying off? Or do you want to address why marshes are important and should be preserved?

If you are concerned about an abandoned industrial site leaching toxins into a waterway, what evidence do you have? Are there odors? Have you seen oily discharges on waterways near the site? Are there old chemical drums lying on the ground? You want to get the toxins cleaned up, but how are you going to get that done?

Step #2 – Have a plan.

If you are setting up an educational program, what resources are needed? Do you have a place to meet? What supplies will you need? Will you focus on classroom studies – films, simple demonstrations, focus groups, etc. or are you going on fields trips? If you have done a good job of defining your plan, by now you know that you will be focusing on salt marsh preservation. You’re planning for 15-20 high school age students and you will be focusing mostly on field trips to local marshes. You’re going to need funding for binoculars, water testing equipment, sediment sampling equipment, etc. It is easier to obtain funding for small projects than for larger more complex ones. Find out what resources are available at local schools – a partnership can benefit both of you. For example, a local college may be able to analyze the sediment samples that you collect.

On the other hand, if you are going to focus on getting an old abandoned industrial site cleaned up, you’ll need the help of other organizations as well as governmental agencies. How is this site affecting others? Are odors spreading to local businesses or homes? Are people fishing downstream from where the contaminants are leaching into the water? Are new shorefront residences planned for nearby areas? Are local elected officials aware of the problem? If you form a coalition with other non-profits, civic groups, etc. that have goals similar to yours, you may qualify for governmental funding.

Step #3 – Know your grantors and have a budget. (Budget)

It is very important to have realistic expectations. You are more likely to receive funding for field trips to salt marshes in your community than to salt marshes in other states. It will be easier to obtain funding for a single microscope than for twenty microscopes. And don’t just guess – find out what a suitable microscope actually costs. A grantor that is concerned about the health of marine habitats will be more likely to give you funding than a grantor that is primarily concerned with forests. If you are concerned about the industrial site, find out about foundations that focus on public health and safety.

Get to know your elected officials! Many city, state and federal elected officials have budgets and discretionary funds that provide funding for local non-profit groups. Local elected officials (or their representatives) frequently attend community meetings. This provides an excellent opportunity to meet them and get a dialogue going about your plans.

Step #4 – Locate sources of funding.

Network! Join with other local organizations to work on projects of common interest. Go to your local library. Check out online sources such as the Foundation Center , “a national nonprofit service organization recognized as the nation’s leading authority on organized philanthropy, connecting nonprofits and the grantmakers supporting them to tools they can use and information they can trust.” In NY State, Check out Grants Action News on the website of the New York State Assembly – look for the link to Grants Action News on the sidebar Or check out your state’s government website. Speak to your local elected officials. Find out about corporate matching funds. Talk to local businesses. Do a fundraiser and sell journal ads.

Step #5 – People need to know about your organization.

Spread the word about your organization and all of the fine work that you do. Ask local media to cover any meetings you have or events that you do. Today, it is very easy to email a short description of your event to local tabloids, neighborhood sections of newspapers, local cable stations, etc. Post meeting notices in local stores. Tell everyone you know about your plans. Your dentist’s sister may work for a major corporation that funds projects just like the one you are planning!

Step #6 – Write that grant!

Complete applications carefully. Consider having a friend from another organization review your application before you send it out. Did you provide a precise description of your project? Did you budget resources carefully? Is your math correct? Do the terms you use adequately describe what you are going to do? Will an educator lead your salt marsh trips? A teacher? An instructor or just a leader? Don’t be afraid to write multiple grants for the same project, if one does not come through maybe another one will.

Remember All Time Constraints….. Make sure you mail your Proposal with enough time to make it to the Grantor before the deadline expires, Most grants will automatically be dismissed if not presented with the confines of the time limitations.

Finally, remember that everyone has to start somewhere. Don’t give up. It’s not easy to get funding in this economy, but it can be done – funding is available! If a grant is rejected, try to find out why. It may be very easy to correct any shortcomings.