You’ve found a potential grant opportunity and are ready to apply for it. The grants process can be complicated at times but investing a little extra time in a few key areas can often make a significant difference in the likelihood of receiving funding.
Use this list to ensure that you write a strong grant application every time you submit one, making your program more likely to be supported.
1. Check that it’s a good fit
Foundations and grant programs choose their funding focus areas for a reason—make sure you understand first what the organization is interested in supporting. When looking for funding opportunities for the population your organization serves, make sure that a foundation’s goals align with the specific work your organization does. For example, a foundation seeking to serve veterans might be interested in funding financial literacy programming, rather than affordable housing for veterans.
Foundations will state their guidelines in various ways on their websites, so ensure the program you are seeking funding for fits squarely within the foundation’s guidelines. Even though we all hope to be able to persuade a program officer, your best chance at being funded will be when your work strongly aligns with the funder’s focus area and funding guidelines.
2. Reach out to a program officer
This brings us to our next point: if you are unsure of the fit, contact a program officer! Program officers are your contacts at a foundation. They often specialize in an area and will be happy to talk with you about how your program fits into their guidelines.
Contacting a program officer early in the process can be extremely helpful if you are uncertain about the fit or want to learn in more detail about the funder’s requirements and how your project aligns with what they are looking for.
3. Research who else they are funding—and for how much money
Once you’ve confirmed that your request falls within their funding guidelines, double-check that the amount you’d like to request is comparable to what they typically fund. While most foundations will specify their funding range in the Request for Proposals, doing a little extra research can help you get your ask (grant-speak for the dollar amount of your request) correct. Foundations are required to list all of their grantees on publicly available tax-exempt forms known as 990s, which are accessible online.
Create a free Guidestar account to search potential foundations you’re interested in approaching to see what kind of work they’re funding and in what amounts. While it can be disheartening to learn that a foundation gives out small grants, your request will fare much better if the amount you’re requesting is typical for that foundation.
4. Write a strong impact statement(s)
Grants are usually formatted as a series of questions about your program or organization.
At least one, if not more, of these questions will ask you to describe the population that your organization or program serves, as well as the program for which you are seeking funding. This is perhaps the most important part of your grant; it is your opportunity to help the foundation understand who your program participants are and why they require the foundation’s support. Help the foundation understand why your organization’s work is important to your community.
Note: Think about showing rather than telling: if someone your program has served is open to it, consider writing a success story about them, showing how your program helped them, and what it can do for others.
5. Set attainable goals
This is another important piece of the grant itself. The grant will most likely include a question about your program’s goals or projected outcomes for the upcoming year. Create targets that you can meet when developing your program’s goals for the year – you don’t want to have to tell the funder that you weren’t able to meet your own (artificially created) goals when it comes time to report out on your grant.
Discuss what good goals would be with your program staff – challenging yourself as an organization to serve more people in need is a good thing, but it’s not necessary to inflate your projected numbers to impress a foundation if you don’t believe you can meet those goals.
6. Review the required attachments
For each grant you submit, you may be asked to include several attachments, such as a program budget, an organizational budget, a list of your organization’s board of directors, and a list of key staff involved in the program and their qualifications. These requirements can vary, so review the list of required attachments early to understand what they are asking for—while they are often similar, many can request slight variations from what you may be used to submitting. Check these out early to avoid scrambling at the last minute—your finance coworkers will thank you!
7. Make a schedule
Some grants become available several months before they are due, but most give you one to three months to write and submit. You may only need a few weeks to write a renewal grant to a funder, or your organization may be developing a program while working to get it funded – make sure you allow enough time not only to write the grant but also for any project development that may be required before submitting the strongest request possible.
- Most grants today are submitted electronically through portals that require you to create an account—copy and paste the questions and character or word limits into a document that you can work off of so you don’t have to keep going back to the portal.
- Keep an eye on the word and character limits—almost all grants will have limited space for you to answer.
- Check out the portal early and don’t wait until the last minute to submit! Grant portals can get overloaded with 4:55 pm submissions. Save yourself the stress and submit a day early.