Of the over 700 nonprofit organizations in the Middle Tennessee area, most have thought about or prepared an application for a grant. Every funder has its own requirements when it comes to components of a grant proposal package, but there are some common documents that, when assembled ahead of time, can save you hours – days even – when preparing almost any proposal.
I’ve assembled the following list of documents that most nonprofits will need from materials and anecdotes provided by mentors and colleagues, as well as my personal experience with writing grant applications to Metro Nashville Government, the Veterans Administration, and other document-intensive organizations.
If you are a small NP and don’t know where to find these documents, and you’ve already checked with your Treasurer (if that’s not you!) AND your organization’s previous Treasurer (large NPs stop laughing – you’ll get singled out in a future blog :-), send me an email and I’ll try to point you in the right direction! Without further ado…
1. IRS 501(c)(3) letter (including EIN), along with the affidavit of continuing 501(c) status, if it exists. The King-Daddy. AKA, “The Letter of Determination” – most (though not all) funders require a copy of the 501(c)(3) letter. Many of those also request the affidavit, which shows that the nonprofit has successfully passed the probationary period (5 years) and is no longer “tentatively approved”. The most important document, this one is usually readily available.
2. Most recent Annual Report. The State of Tennessee requires us to file one each year, though you may have a more robust document with financials and “strategery” (pronounced stra-TEE-jer-ee… thanks Ben!) for your donors, board members, or other interested parties, including YOUR state if you reside elsewhere. You usually assemble this when you file the following…
3. Most recent IRS form 990 (or 3 most recent). I was SO glad to read that the IRS has changed filing requirements starting this year. For smaller nonprofits, who’s board is made up of actively engaged volunteers, there can be an awful lot of paperwork – in addition to everything else you do – for a small amount of actual revenues. Now, if your gross receipts are normally less than or equal to $25,000, you can send… a postcard. Even better, an ePostcard. Read more about the new 990 phase-in here, and always consult your accountant* or tax attorney for tax advice.
4. State Charitable Solicitation Letter. The infamous SCSL. No, actually, there’s no acronym for this document. You have it IF you ask for money AND your state knows.
5. Board Members/Leadership Team. You should have a short paragraph, a mini-resume on each of your board members, and one page resumes for your Executive Director, Program Director, and other key staff members. Funders want to know who these folks are, and what about their background makes them right for your mission. Find a way to tell them even if they don’t ask.
6. Budgets! You will often be asked to show not only the budget for the program you are trying to fund, but also the entire organizational budget. In fact, whether your grant request is approved, adjusted, or denied, many foundations will keep track of your budget and public-record 990 so that next year they can assess whether you kept your word about the programs you were pursuing. Drastic changes in revenue streams or spending patterns can often signal mission drift.
7. Most recent Audit (or 3). And keep this one fresh. I’m currently working on a grant that asks for both “the most recent audit” and “your 2008 audit”, depending on where you look in the application package. For my client, at the time of this writing, this is not the same document – 2008′s audit won’t actually be finalized until June! Make sure you understand these kinds of details, and clarify anything in the proposal that might be interpreted differently for different candidates. Oh, and get this electronic AND hard copy when possible, and always on your accountant’s letterhead.
8. Mission or Vision Statement. Bylaws. Charter. Articles of Incorporation. Not because you’ll need to provide these documents necessarily, but have the exact mission in writing so you can copy it into one of the first paragraphs in your proposal. And the other docs have dates, ethics, election/board selection criteria, etc. – you’ll need that stuff handy.
9. Program brochures and complete descriptions (including outcomes). Even most small-budget nonprofits I’ve met have at least a black-and-white trifold brochure describing a) what they do, b) why they do it, c) for whom they do it, d) where and when they do it, e) how they do it, and f) any awards, honors, accolades or other recognition the program has received. All the marketing stuff should be together in a binder somewhere, right where you can get to it. Electronic copies make the grant writers life even easier (hint, hint).
10. DUNS#. Fully half of the applications I’ve filed requested a DUNS. Click here to get yours quickly if you are on deadline and have neglected this item (thank you Dunn & Bradstreet for making this easy on procrastinators).
You aren’t currently pursuing a grant? Gathering these documents can take some time – all the experts recommend putting together a binder containing these items now and keep them nearby. In addition, this material will go a long way toward getting your nonprofit set up on GivingMatters.com (or, nationally, GuideStar.org), which I wrote about in a previous post. And having a profile on GivingMatters is now a prerequisite for a number of grant funders, including Metro Nashville – in no small part because they validate all of the documents listed above!
Be prepared so that you can…
*Day in and day out, your tax accountant can make or lose you more money than any single person in your life, with the possible exception of your kids. — Harvey Mackay