Finding the Right Grant

Once you find a grant opportunity, it can be tempting to dive right into the nuts and bolts of the proposal. In fact, the time before creating a proposal is a critical step in the grant process. Not every grant is going to be the right fit for your organization. Since most grants take hours or days to complete, spending some time learning whether you have a chance at funding is a good investment.

Here is a checklist to use when researching a potential grant opportunity:

  • Do you align with the funder’s general mission alignment? Use filters in grant databases and websites to determine funder priorities. For example: healthcare, human services, education.
  • Do they accept unsolicited proposals or are grants by invitation only? Find this on grant databases, website, or 990. Do not try to apply if they do not accept unsolicited proposals; you are highly unlikely to receive any funding.
  • Do they have geographic restrictions? Find this on grant databases or websites. It is quite common for corporate funders to only grant within areas where they have offices.
  • Do you align with their detailed priorities? Spend time reviewing their website (including links to giving guidelines, history, etc.) and giving history via 990. Consider not just funding area but approach, values, politics, preferred populations, etc. This information can help you determine whether to apply for funding and how to frame your proposal.
  • Is their typical giving range appropriate for you? Use grant databases or 990s to find recent giving history. Are the grants large enough to be worth your time applying? Do other grantees have budgets comparable to yours?
  • Does their giving history over past 2-3 years align with your needs? If a foundation always funds the same organizations with no new recipients or giving seems to be random rather than aligning with their stated priorities, you might need to take a closer look. It is possible the foundation is primarily directed by the personal interests of a family or board members and your proposal may not be considered without a relationship. Also consider what type of grants they have tended to fund--general, project, capital, capacity, etc. Does their history match your needs?
  • Does the funder encourage contact prior to submitting a proposal? If so, reach out to share your proposal idea and see if they believe it is a fit.
  • How difficult is the application process? If you have determined that a funder may be worth applying to, review website and 990s for deadline and application instructions. If the first step is complex, you may decide it is not worth your time.

Resources: Guidestar, GrantStation, FoundationCenter, and are all tools for finding grant opportunities. Sometimes opportunities can also be found through a simple online search, local government websites, or grantmaker/nonprofit associations.

Submitting a Winning Proposal

If you’ve ever submitted a grant before, you know that proposals can often be long and frustrating. Maybe you’ve sat at your computer for hours, trying to explain your program in the perfect way (without exceeding the character limit!) or calculating complicated budget questions. By the time you reach the last question you might be tempted to hit submit and be done as soon as possible, but taking the time to put together a strong proposal can pay off--literally!

Here are a few tips to help make sure you are submitting the best possible grant proposal.

Writing Style

  • All writing should be clear, straightforward, simple. Remember, the reader is reviewing many proposals and may be skimming. It’s OK to restate yourself on important points. Beautiful writing and long sentences are not necessary.
  • Avoid jargon! You likely know much more about your mission area than the reviewer. Spell out acronyms, explain technical terminology, and avoid industry-specific language.
  • Review websites for a funder’s preferred language and use it. It is ok for proposals to different funders to sound different. For example, one may explain the same program by focusing on “supporting families on their path to self-sufficiency” while another may highlight how your organization “meets the basic needs of families in crisis.”

Data & Budgets

  • Use reliable external research to back up any explanation of why your program is important. Cite sources when space allows and save downloaded copies of all referenced materials.
  • Share your own data when available, including quantitative outputs/outcomes, qualitative data, and testimonials or quotes from participants/stakeholders.
  • Review the grantmaker’s funding restrictions and be sure your budget is only requesting the amount and purpose they typically fund. For example, if a funder does not pay for salaries, specifically note that grant funds will only go towards rent, supplies, etc. and not salaries.

Submitting a Grant

  • Be sure to save your portal login information in an easily accessible place and use an email address that will be checked frequently.
  • For online grant portals, copy questions into a word document and write/edit there. This makes it easier to edit, share, save for future grants, and avoid accidentally submitting too early.
  • Copyedit multiple times to check for spelling, formatting errors, etc. Some online portals will create issues with content that is copied from a word document, so review language in portal.
  • Unless otherwise specified, upload all attachments as PDFs. This avoids formatting issues and ensures the reviewer is seeing exactly what you want.

Download final submission so that you have a copy of what the grant is reading. Sometimes portals can be shut down or no longer save documents so it’s best to save your own copies of everything.