How to find funding for your nonprofit or NGO during COVID-19 — Interview with our Grants team lead

Daniel Morton shares his advice on grant writing during a time of dynamic shifts and changing priorities.

Simbi Foundation, we rely on a group of energized, intelligent, charismatic, and handsome individuals (which may or may not include me…) to write grants and bring in funders for our nonprofit.

Heading up the team is Daniel Morton, an international development professional responsible for raising +five million dollars for his clients.

Beyond Simbi Foundation, Daniel specializes in fundraising for small and medium-sized NGOs in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Here’s Daniel’s thoughts on funding opportunities during COVID-19, the new normal in the grant writing world, and what NGOs and nonprofits can do to help navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

Hey, Daniel. How’s it going?

Hey Simbi Foundation! I’m pretty good, thanks.

Good to hear! Let’s get into it. What are funders doing right now? How have funding opportunities changed since the coronavirus outbreak?

Right now there is a visible shift towards COVID-related funding. Throughout the funding spectrum, I’ve seen funders aim to maintain their original mandate while at the same time moving towards putting a COVID lens on everything they’re doing.

So, if you were previously working with refugees, your new funding mandate may be: helping refugees prepare and cope with COVID outbreaks. If you were working with women and girls, then you’re funding opportunities might be moving to: how can we keep women and girls safe from lockdown-related domestic violence?

What are some of the best ways for grant writers and funding teams to respond to these changes?

That’s an interesting one. Everyone needs to start thinking about their program design — specifically, thinking about flexibility when administering programs and being willing to deal with a level of uncertainty. No one knows what the future is going to hold at the moment.

The example I like to use is airlines. Now that airlines don’t have as many passengers, they’ve kept planes in the air by flying cargo. In other words, they make use of their preexisting infrastructure, adapting to the new normal rather than going back to the drawing board. Likewise, NGOs can continue to run the same programs as before, but they have to think about adapting to coronavirus for at least the next funding cycle.

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How do you think that COVID-19 will change grants and nonprofit funding in the future — over the next year/three years/permanently?

It’s so hard to say! There are a bunch of uncertain factors: how long is the disease going to last? When will different regions regain control? When will international borders reopen, allowing people to reaccess to the global south, and administer their programs?

Long term, it’s clear there’s going to be a greater focus on innovations related to health, as well as an increase in health advocacy and policy — helping governments avoid being caught unawares by another pandemic.

In terms of the more fine-grain details, I do see funding dropping, and levels may decrease over the next period. We’re going to see more consolidation across the sector, as people work together to stay afloat. Smaller foundations may move towards health issues, or unfortunately hang up their hats. This will leave a smaller pool of bigger, consolidated organizations, which may not necessarily be a bad thing.

So, more working together, incorporating expertise, and innovating from the bottom up?

Absolutely — and looking even further ahead, I see things stabilizing and becoming far more normal than you might think. Post 9/11, for instance, there was a lot of talk about people not wanting to fly or work in skyscrapers anymore. That stayed about the same for five, six years, but then things began to regain a sense of normalcy. Post-COVID, we’re likely to see a much closer return to the baseline than many are predicting.

Of course, that’s strictly my opinion. As said, there really is no sure-fire way of knowing what the next few years may hold. This really is a completely unprecedented event.

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We’re in unpredictable times, where the pace of change can make long term planning difficult. Any tips for building flexibility/adaptation/responsiveness into a grant application?

I’d say that flexibility built into a grant application is always a good thing. Funders may well become more accepting of flexibility in future applications, acknowledging that a linear, predictable implementation may not be possible right now.

Doing things like providing two or three options is good; having a flexible timeline is even better. The ability to provide programs digitally is also a major plus. We may see a move towards more digital implementation in general — so having a program that can be implemented both on the ground and through software is optimal.

Anything with a clear digital component or at least the ability to move into the digital realm is going to make for a stronger candidate over the next while.

Who are your grant writing gurus, and do you have any habits/go-to tricks to help your writing process?

I look up to several people who have mentored me over the course of my grant writing — some of them still writing grants themselves.

Renee Black from PeaceGeeks provided me with valuable guidance, as did Michelle from Hope international Development Agency and Brad Hestbak from Big River Comms. All people who, while perhaps not well known on the global stage, greatly influenced my writing style.

A grant writing tip? Sit down and get it done! Pick a day and try to get the whole application out in one sitting. Then go and do something else before coming back and refining. Chip back, chip back, chip back — until you’re left with only the most effective content.

Some might try to fashion and insert every word, sentence, or phrase individually. If that works for you, then great. I prefer to start with the whole chunk of stone, then chiseling everything away that doesn’t add to the sculpture.

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Anything else you think grant teams/nonprofits eager to contribute to the global coronavirus response should be bearing in mind right now?

One of the biggest things all NGOs and nonprofits should bear in mind is that there’s no need to radically change your mission or vision.

COVID is such a global problem that it’s hitting in every aspect of society. Therefore, you can pick how your organization is going to specifically respond to any particular change brought about by COVID.

This is a better response than trying to fashion your organization as a blanket solution to coronavirus, or a major public health solution (unless you already were pre-COVID).

There’s the education and refugee sectors, which we at Simbi Foundation know are becoming radically affected. There’s a change in work habits; a rise in mental wellness issues. COVID is causing unprecedented political changes, not to mention raising questions over how we protect the environment going forward. How can we create a future safe from cross-species virus transmission?

There’s really no limit to how COVID might affect society, so whatever your area of expertise, your organization is still going to be able to operate and make a positive contribution.

Noted. Thanks for your time, and stay safe out there!

Thanks, you too!

For more insights and advice on keeping your nonprofit on track through COVID-19 and beyond, check out our other posts here on Medium or our site blog.

Education means a brighter future. simbifoundation.org.