August 27, 2019
Three Tips for Grant Writing
In my role as a capital campaign consultant for the Episcopal Church Foundation, it’s not unusual to hear Vestry leaders hoping for grants to help pay for building improvement projects because…
“We serve our city in unique ways.”
“Our building is historically significant.”
“Our feeding ministry serves the broader community.”
Yes, but, in the world of grant-giving, the stark reality is that your congregation may not be all that special. When you identify a granting organization that will allow a church to apply (many don’t), expect the competition to be steep from established not-for-profit organizations. Agencies that provide food, clothing, health care, or other services as their main mission have honed their compelling “case statements.” A church that serves a community meal once a week or a free clinic once a month may be deemed to have a weaker case.
If you try the grant route, short of a really big miracle, don’t expect outside funding sources to pay for everything. Funders want assurance that those with the biggest stake in success (your congregation), are willing to help pay for a significant portion of the project. If a capital improvement project is larger than your congregation can afford out of its endowment, savings or annual budget, do not delay starting the capital campaign process. Getting underway will signal to outside funders that your congregation is serious about paying for a good share of the project.
Okay, with all that understood, here are the promised three tips:
First, write your case statement, without looking at a grant application. A case statement is exactly what its name implies: you are stating your case for why your church/ministry/project is worthy of outside funding support. It is critical to have all the facts in place, such as costs and a description of the project/ministry. The case should detail who is or will be served. Most important to include: WHY is this project/ministry needed? What would be missing in the world if this project/ministry didn’t exist? What impact is it making already?
Assembling all this information before you get started on a grant application will save you time in the long run. Added bonus: It is incredibly valuable to have your story in writing, so you can all stick to it! A case statement is a tool for consistent communication.
NOTE: If the Episcopal Church Foundation has been engaged to help your congregation with a capital campaign, our process and your assigned consultant will help you write a case statement (click here for more info).
Second, watch this ECF webinar: Writing Grants for Faith-Based Organizations. The Rev. Daniel Velez Rivera provides excellent advice. My favorite is: “Answer the questions.” That may seem obvious, but when writing a grant application, it’s easy to push forward your own priorities, rather than paying close attention to the priorities of the funder to whom you are applying. Your case statement is your truth, but you can emphasize the facts in which the funder is most interested.
Third, research before you apply to find foundations most likely to support your case. Sure, Bill and Melinda Gates are very generous in the area of education, but it’s highly unlikely they are going to give a grant to your church pre-school.
Local foundations are a better option. Visit a funding organization’s website and search for the types of projects or organizations it funds. No website? You can find a foundation’s history of giving on its most recent “Form 990” tax returns. To view these, create a free account at Guidestar.org, then search for the specific foundations in which you are interested.
Another great research tip: Call the Trust Departments of local banks and ask if they manage any family trusts that fund religious organizations. If the answer is yes, ask how to apply. This may not result in a huge grant, but it might result in a small one each time you apply.
These tips are offered to save you time and increase your grant writing effectiveness. May God richly bless your efforts!