Guest column by Meg Scofield, Two Coffee Cups Consulting in Washington, DC.

Your organization needs money to do its good work. A lot of nonprofits think grant writing is the way to raise a lot of money quickly. If you're a new nonprofit, it's important to understand that grant writing is just one part to successful fundraising.

What's the difference between fundraising and grant writing?

Simply put, fundraising is how you raise money (or "funds") for your organization. Grant writing is one type of fundraising activity. Grants ask foundations or government entities for support, whereas other fundraising activities might target individuals and businesses.

It's also important to remember that grants are often awarded for specific projects. These are called "restricted funds" and they must be used exactly as the donor specifies. On the other hand, the "unrestricted funds" that you raise from general fundraising activities can be used for any of your organization's expenses, such as staff salaries or rent.

Is grant writing hard?

Grant writing isn't easy. And competition is intense. Large foundations might easily receive thousands of proposals each year. Government agencies get even more. Yet, grants can be a viable fundraising activity for many nonprofits.

Are you detail-oriented? You have to be when writing grants. You'll need to research and find funders that are interested in your work. You'll have to write your proposals to each funder's exact specifications. And be ready for deadlines, lots of deadlines.

I'm a good writer, so should grant writing be my first step in fundraising?

Grant writing is easier if you're a good writer. Like all fundraising, grant writing is about telling your organization's story and asking someone to support your work.

However, most foundations want to see that your organization has a track record of success – including money raised – before they invest in your program. You need to have a strong base of support from donors before you apply for grants.

Okay, so what are some good ways to raise more money?

Fundraising has changed a lot. Fussy black-tie dinners and galas aren't the only option anymore. With social media and new developments like crowdfunding (using online avenues to attract lots of small donations that add up), there are many creative possibilities to explore. Don't forget to add the "donate now" function to your website so it's easy for people to give online.

Most nonprofits have an annual letter writing campaign (also called a "direct mail appeal"). Others will host special events (like fun runs, raffles and auctions) to raise money as well as awareness. Remember, events take time to plan, and they typically cost money to present. It's important to weigh the costs against the benefits when deciding to host a special event. And after your event, evaluate if the money raised was worth the time and effort. The answer will help you know where to put your valuable energy in the future.

As an alternative to special events, major fundraising (asking individuals for large gifts) can be an effective way to raise money. It's not quick and easy, though. This process involves identifying prospects, cultivating them as donors, then asking for a gift. "Making the ask" can be hard for some people, especially if it's a face-to-face ask. You'll need to have strong verbal skills. It helps if you're articulate, comfortable with asking others for something directly, and passionate about your organization's work.

Final thoughts

There's more to fundraising than writing a grant or "making the ask." Fundraising involves many different activities like telling your nonprofit's story, inviting people to events and getting involved with your organization, and simply saying thank you to your donors. Everyone in your organization – from staff to board to volunteers – can play a role in your fundraising success.

Meg Scofield is a Washington, DC freelance writer who specializes in technical writing and blogging. She's also a Certified Grant Writer.


Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

Here are three articles that will help you determine what types of fundraising activities will help your nonprofit achieve success in 2015.

Rate Yourself: Are You Ready For Fundraising?

10 Questions To Answer: Are You Ready to Apply for Foundation Grants?

Creating Fundraising Opportunities All Year Round

Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants and raise more money.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Third Sector Consulting can help you and your organization.