How El Refugio Grew Their Nonprofit with Grants

El Refugio had an operating budget of only $99K. They had to offer immigrants a place to stay at a neighbor’s house and limit services because they did not have the funding or capacity. Fast forward to 2020, where they raised $470,000 and now welcome every new client warmly into their service.

How did they grow so quickly? Through grants. 40% of their funding comes from grants. Patti Ghezzi, the Program Coordinator at El Refugio, shares the 7 steps they took to secure funding.

Step 1: Assemble a Capital and Capacity Campaign Committee

Select a committee of 6-8 members. El Refugio’s Committee consisted of the executive director, the program coordinator (Patti), three board members, a volunteer, and two mentors who were successful development professionals from other organizations. Committees of only 3-4 members will not be enough hands to spread the work lightly and they will be bogged down. Recruit from supporters you already have. Volunteers that are willing to learn and take action are highly valuable. And you give them the chance to have a legacy within your nonprofit and deepen the relationship.

Step 2: Create a Case Statement For Your Nonprofit

Created a document telling prospective funders who you are and why they should give you money. Focus on the problem your nonprofit solves and how additional funding would enable you to serve more people or provide services more effectively. Included a brief history of your organization, your core values, a list of board members, a list of institutional funders who have supported you in the past, and a few brief stories to illustrate the importance of your work.

Click here to learn more about writing the “Why” in your case statement.

Step 3: Start Networking With Large Foundations

While it can be intimidating to put yourself and your nonprofit out there, this is a very important step. There are six buckets of organizations you can tap into:

  • Family foundations
  • Faith-based foundations
  • Community foundations
  • Government grants
  • Nonprofit organizations that issue grants
  • Corporate and small businesses

Make appointments with several of the big foundations in your market, including any local community foundations. A community foundation holds many family foundations and provides broad regional leadership on the philanthropic scene. Any community foundation should be willing to make an appointment with any nonprofit in their area. While you may be too small to receive funding from the large foundation, the purpose of these meetings is to learn about the grant-making landscape and to get leads on family foundations that might be interested.

El Refugio consulted a large fundraising firm in Atlanta – Coxe Curry. Coxe Curry is where hospitals, universities, private schools go to find resources for their missions. El Refugio was too small for their services, but the results were connections and appointments to family foundations that would be a good fit for their mission.

Step 4: Track & Record The Foundations You Speak With

Create a simple tracking system of people within foundations you speak with. List all your leads from foundations and nonprofit organizations in a simple spreadsheet, including name, phone, email, and any deadlines if applicable. Then color code your leads. Yellow for warm leads. Blue for cold leads or foundations you have no connection to. Pink for foundations you have applied to—Green for foundations that said yes. And boring old white if they said no.

Step 5: Research for Hidden Foundations

Use a foundation directory online to find more foundations that might be a fit for you. If you are a small non-profit, check your local library to see if they have an active membership to a directory. Another option is to use a free trial and then cancel after the trial is over. Look for foundations that fund organizations similar to yours.

Step 6: Apply for Your Nonprofit Grant

Start applying, and apply some more, and then even some. Work your way down the spreadsheet and request meetings with foundations where you have a contact. Follow the process and deadlines for each foundation. If your application is declined, ask,

“Do you know anyone else who might be interested in our work?”

They will most likely have at least one new lead for you to add to your spreadsheet. Foundations tend to know each other and hang out with each other.

Step 7: Rinse, Wash, and Repeat.

Never stop searching, never stop networking, never stop asking. Your next funder is waiting for you around the corner. You have to initiate the relationship if you are truly passionate about funding your mission.

Some foundations will fund you year after year, so every year gets a little easier. El Refugio already secured $100K the second year of grant seeking because they had the foot in the door from the previous year’s efforts.

However, it would help if you always had new funders because some funders will only give you money once or twice, and then they will cut you loose. It’s nothing personal. It’s just the way they operate. They believe that once they give you a couple of years of funding, you should fly off on your own and not need them anymore and expand your own horizon.

In conclusion, assemble a small team to pursue grant funding.

There’s just too much work for you to do alone. Always look for ways to meet people on boards of foundations, work for foundations, or know people who have foundations. You are not begging for money. You are inviting the donor to be part of the important work your organization is doing. Stay on top of leads and deadlines with a spreadsheet or donor management software.

Finally, don’t get discouraged by rejection. It’s a normal part of the process. Patti experienced an unusually high rejection rate last year because she worked in a lot of cold leads, and she did not enjoy it at times. She thought they were never going to get funding again, but they did.

Thank you to Patti Ghezzi from El Refugio for sharing their process on how they grew with the help of grants. Patti is also President of Greater Good Communication, a consulting firm that helps organizations tell their stories and increase donor engagement. She has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Adoptive Families, Mother Nature Network, Georgia Trend, and other publications.