Planning Grants – How to Find Funding for New Project Ideas

How does your organization balance daily operations with the need to innovate and launch new programs? For most nonprofits, it’s tough. When you have a great idea that demands attention now, consider a planning grant.

Here are 4 Benefits of planning grants plus Action Steps you can take to pursue them:

Planning grants find funding for new project ideas

1. Planning Grants Offer The Gift of Time

Which of your precious resources is always in short supply? For many of us, it’s time. When you apply for a planning grant, you are requesting funds to support the time it will take staff (or consultants) to create a thoughtful, informed plan for a new project your organization wants to launch.

Imagine your nonprofit serves the homeless and wants to start a job-skills training program. You seek (and are awarded!) a $50,000 planning grant. Your organization can use that $50,000 in any number of ways to research and plan your new venture:

  • Hire a temporary staff person for several months to handle the duties of the person who will eventually lead your new program. Doing so allows your future program director the time and space to research other similar programs in your field, to talk with potential partners, to consider budget models and to organize all that great info into a detailed plan.

  • Hire a contractor to lead the planning process, to keep everyone on track and to conduct some of the above-mentioned research for you.

  • Travel! Get out of the office to gather information and inspiration. Send appropriate staff members to visit other organizations, to meet with vendors and to learn about potential pitfalls from other experts in the field.

Action Step:  Foundations are your best source for planning grants. Make a list right now of at least 3 foundations you’ve wanted to approach. These can be current or new funders – we’ve seen planning grant success with both.

2. Planning Grants are Manageable

A planning grant is like a mini-project with its full funding stream all rolled into one. When the grant period is over and the money is spent, your mini-project is over. You have not created new ongoing expenses for your organization to support in the long term, and there’s no need to renew planning grants year after year.

Action Step: Collaborate with your program staff to request adequate planning time. Think in terms of months, not years. Anywhere from 1 to 6 months is typical.

3. Planning Grants are Awarded Under the Radar

Few foundations publicize the fact that they provide planning grants. But ALL foundations want to support well-planned programs. Your job, as usual, is to ask.

The upside here is that your request for a planning grant will not be competing with 4,000 other nonprofits who responded to a well-publicized funding opportunity. No matter the foundation’s answer, you make progress by asking.

  • If this particular foundation has never made a planning grant before, you planted a seed.

  • You showed your organization’s good business sense by wanting to invest in research and planning time BEFORE launching a new program.

  • If you schedule an in-person meeting to inquire about planning grants, that meeting doubles as a cultivation touch point for deepening your relationship with the foundation.

Action Step:  At your next leadership/strategy meeting, bring up planning grants as a way to get new projects off the ground.

4. Planning Grants = A Tangible End Product

The pot of gold at the end of your planning-grant rainbow is… a project plan! Use this plan. Shop it around. Make it the basis for the fundraising you’ll eventually have to do for the implementation of your new program. In the next round of fundraising, your organization will look on-the-ball for having taken time to plan.

Action Step:  Once you have your project plan, knock first on the door of the funder who gave you the initial planning grant. This funder is already invested in the success of your program. Go back and show them the next steps you believe will make the project a reality. Ask them to suggest other funders who might be interested in lending their support, too.

What new project is your nonprofit launching? Could a planning grant help transform your idea into reality?

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