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Recovering after COVID-19 funding losses

Especially this year, you may feel a burning urgency to land a grant right now to help get your organization through the end of this awful year. It might be a great time to focus on grants…but it depends on what you need most.

Usually, grants provide restricted income. This means that the funds can only be used for the specific purpose you outlined in your grant request. Most foundations do not fund general operating expenses or only will allow a small percentage (15%) to cover the administrative costs of overseeing a project. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new impetus for foundations to be more flexible about operating expenses, but most have not updated their funding restrictions officially.


Grants CAN help if your caseload as a non-profit has grown exponentially due to COVID-19. Tie the request directly to the current crisis and use good data in addition to moving anecdotes. Perhaps a grant to buy sanitizing equipment or personal protective gear would help? If your organization had to pivot to a new service delivery model or ramp up entirely new programs for the victims of COVID-19, that also might make a winning grant application.


Network among funders who know you. If you have a multi-year funder with a cordial relationship, they may have already reached out with support last spring. Stay in touch by sending regular updates, and within the context of your updates, any exact needs. Consider calling if your clients’ needs are urgent. Even if the funder is unable to help you, they may know of other foundations or individuals who can.

Make sure you are eligible. Successful grants are based on solid research. Make sure you match all the eligibility criteria, and that your funder has given to other agencies like yours. Even though COVID-19 has allowed many non-profits to access funding with fewer restrictions, foundations have mission statements that probably have not changed.

Be realistic about the amount you need. Most funders will not provide more than 15% of your operating budget, and the COVID-19 crisis has not changed that. Foundations are concerned about sustainability, even if that feels unfair in this climate. Unless your program officer encourages you to ask for higher amounts, keep it realistic.

Start with a real budget – even if you have to throw the old one out that you wrote in January. Don’t let the bad news define you. Let it help you define your true needs. Quantify the impact of any cuts you had to make, and the new challenges you may be facing due to COVID-19. You could have three or four columns of operational income and expenses, comparing FY 2019, Budget 2020, Revised Actual 2020, and Projected 2021.

Show that you already made the priority decisions. As this terrible year continues, many nonprofits are having to make hard decisions about staffing and programs. Even if your organization was lucky, it’s time for a gut check. Are there programs you need to shut down? More important programs that need to grow? Get your house in order before you apply.

Program pivots and potential partnerships. The pandemic has forced many non-profits to seek out cross-disciplinary services, even more so than in the past. Those fresh partnerships could lead to joint grant opportunities, particularly if your collaboration is a reaction to COVID-19 realities. For a grant funder, fueling cross-agency problem solving is an attractive investment. Make sure to write out a partnership agreement and review the eligibility guidelines for the funder prior to the ask.


For many non-profits, the loss of event income has erased as much as 50% of their budgets. If you are struggling with lower income due to cancelled events, this may not pull the heartstrings at most foundations. Simply put, the pandemic revealed that your income streams needed to diversify. If this is the case, grant writing might not help, and it’s time to hustle for some unrestricted year-end donations.


Target your event sponsors. If you had to cancel an event in 2020, you may have a head start on corporate partnerships or other sponsorships. Businesses may be open to other ways that their support could provide solid public relations opportunities outside of an event. Perhaps they could sponsor a food drive or a donation to your most prominent program? You won’t know unless you ask.

Consider program fees. Are some of your services qualified for reimbursements from insurance? Could you receive a local government contract for a pivot project related to COVID-19? Are there program charges that some of your clients could afford? If so, this could create positive cash flow for many years to come.

Establish or expand annual appeals for sustainability. Stable organizations don’t rely on only one or two income streams. An annual appeal that increases the number of donors to your organization or provides excellent advocacy information is worth the investment of time and resources. Your non-profit needs more than just grants – it needs donors. And, successful grassroots fundraising will improve your chances of landing grants in 2021.

It’s not too early to get a jumpstart on 2021 grant opportunities! Learn more about how we can help you win more grants with less stress – Work With Us.

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Grant Readiness

October 27, 2020

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