Emergency Grants—Are You a Good Applicant?

When nonprofits are confronted with unexpected funding emergencies, grantmakers sometimes help them out of the bind. “If the freezer at the food bank breaks down, a local funder might jump in and solve the problem before the hamburger thaws out,” according to Barbara Floersch, chief of training and curriculum for of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles. “Grants to meet emergency needs aren’t unusual, but the factors that make you a strong competitor for any type of grant award also apply here,” she said. To be a strong applicant for quick-turnaround, emergency funding, here are a few points to remember:

Were you asleep at the wheel? If the food bank’s freezer breaks down when its one week out of warranty, that’s unexpected. But if the freezer has been barely limping along or is well beyond its expected lifespan, you can’t really claim the breakdown is unexpected. Funders make grants to competent organizations. If your organization has been side-stepping a critical, emerging problem rather than confronting it head-on, your request for emergency support is questionable. 

Do you communicate the impact of your work? When you consistently tell people about your organization’s work and the results it produces, you’re better positioned to request emergency funding. “The support of the public and the trust of funders is paramount,” said Floersch. “When grantmakers understand the critical nature of your work, they’re more likely to jump in to prevent a lapse in service.”

Never cry wolf. If it’s not an emergency, don’t claim that it is one. Funders expect administrators and board members to anticipate emerging needs and put reasonable, systematic plans in place to side-step full-blown crisis. A pressing need is not necessarily an emergency.

Focus on those you serve. The food bank’s need for a new freezer should never be the focus of an emergency funding request. The question is how the breakdown will affect the people who depend on the organization. Will hungry families lose access to the essential products that require refrigeration? How will that affect their health and well-being? The emergency is never about your organization. It’s about the harm or discomfort the situation will cause your beneficiaries.

Grantmakers understand that even nonprofits with attentive, proactive management can encounter unexpected and urgent funding needs. When your organization is well managed, has strong ties to the community, and has solid relationships with funders, you’re much more likely to get a prompt helping hand when a crisis occurs.  © Copyright 2020 The Grantsmanship Center.