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How to improve your nonprofit's chance of getting mental health grant funding

Since the pandemic, the US government has provided additional funding sources to support the population's mental health needs. While the funding is plentiful, it is still very competitive. To improve your chances of securing a grant, address one of these four overarching themes: Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity; The Digital Divide; Strategic Partnerships; and Wrap-around support.

This article will give you some ideas on incorporating these themes in your following mental health grant proposal.

Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity

"What do inclusion, diversity, and equity” mean in building mental health programs and grant writing? McKinsey does a great job of defining each component.

Diversity relates to the people who benefit from your program. Diversity is defined as gender, age, ethnicity, physical ability, and neurodiversity. Diversity characteristics will be different for every organization and every community served. Improve your chances of winning a grant by 1) researching who is in your community using trusted data sources and then 2) reviewing your patient data to identify who is receiving your services. These two data points will help you identify the service gaps you should address in your program design.

For example, 65% of the people who go to your local hospital for a mental health issue are men, yet only 40% of those who seek treatment at your mental health facility are men. The gender difference may indicate that men are underserved in some way (insurance, outreach, access, social support, etc.). You can build solutions into your program design that help men get treatment.

Another often overlooked area is people who have different ability needs. A program that improves access for people with intellectual, developmental, neurodiversity, and physical needs will stand out. For example, adding technology will assist the deaf and hard of hearing; and having a plan in place that supports the presence of direct support workers will help people with I/DD.

Inclusion relates to who is providing your mental health services. Numerous studies have shown that patients from medically underserved groups such as Black, Latine, Multiple Race, Asian, and Indigenous people have better outcomes when they receive healthcare from another person of color.

The reasons for this are many.

For example, it may be easier for clinicians to understand cultural needs and norms, and it may be easier for patients to build trust and communicate with their healthcare providers. Therefore, it makes sense that mental health programs with service providers that reflect their patient population and community will be viewed more favorably than organizations with a mismatch.

But what can you do if your organization needs to reflect patient diversity?

Inclusive staffing is a common healthcare challenge because there are currently fewer doctors, pharmacists, and specialists from these ethnic groups than are White healthcare providers.

In this situation, your program should, at minimum, include training around cultural, ability, and gender differences and bias. To go to the next step, create equitable partnerships with local community groups that specialize in supporting underserved people in your patient population.

Equity means that patients get care at the level they need to succeed; it does not mean everyone needs the same services provided in the same way. Each person enters the healthcare system with unique personal and community experiences. Ways to address these differences in program design and grant applications include:

  1. Creating standards of care that may eliminate bias in screening and treatment;

  2. Providing wrap-around support to address barriers; and

  3. Including patients, caregivers, and community groups in the decision-making process through advisory committees, Board leadership, and review of grant applications.

The Digital Divide

The digital divide refers to technology gaps that keep patients from getting the healthcare and services they need to improve their health.

Most frequently, this relates to computer and internet access in the home. Both are data points the US Census has been tracking for years.

You may be surprised to know many of your neighbors do not have private access to the internet. In fact, in many lower-income and rural communities, more than 25% of the population do not have internet because they cannot afford it, or broadband and high-speed internet are unavailable.

If you offer telemedicine or video visits, consider providing needy patients with computers if your grant will allow it as a purchase. If this is not feasible, many successful programs provide traveling staff to go into patients' homes or satellite offices that patients can travel to.

The digital divide goes beyond the internet. Many people do not have a smartphone and data plan because of cost. In these instances, successful applicants provide smartphones to patients so that they can easily access their health providers and utilize remote scheduling and telehealth appointments. In addition, please ensure your website and video services are mobile-phone enabled.

Finally, a patient may have technology challenges that prevent them from using a phone or a computer. For example, they may have visual and auditory needs, which can be solved using 508-compliant software and tools with text-to-speech options.

Your patients may also need help to learn how to use the technology. One successful mental health program I've learned about incorporated technology training into their program. They would bring patients to a site and provide hands-on training, making it much easier to use the technology alone.

Strategic Partnerships

Meaningful, equitable, and significant collaborations are essential to your mental health program. Many grant reviewers and program officers want applicants to pay their collaborators. They also want to see project activities with partner involvement. Formalize your partnerships with Letters of Commitment or Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs), and include funding in the budget to improve your grant success.

Wrap-around support

Last, all competitive applications for mental health services should include wrap-around support.

Wrap-around supports are the things a patient needs for daily living. This can include transportation, childcare, help making appointments, food, financial assistance, housing, job training, peer support, technology, and other health and medical services. Bolstering your program with one or more of these features, which are relevant to your patient population, will improve your chance of winning a grant and having a successful grant program.

You may be wondering who in your organization could do this work. That is an excellent question.

Support workers are lay members of the community who usually share ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, and life experiences with the community members they serve. Common support worker positions are health navigators, peer coaches, advocates, and community health workers. Today, many federal grants provide direct funding for wrap-around support and healthcare support workers.


As you can see, getting a mental health grant includes many moving parts other than providing services. However, you likely have many of these benefits in place. Key features you will want to highlight are your organization's approach to Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity; The Digital Divide; Strategic Partnerships; and Wrap-around supports.

Creating a competitive edge from "what you have" is what we love to do at SGR. If you want to learn more about how Sidnae Global Research can help your nonprofit secure more grant WINS, please take our simple survey here, and we will get back to you within two business days.

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